Bon Bon Fatty Girl
A Qualitative Exploration of Weight Bias in Singapore
Maho Isono, Patti Lou Watkins, and Lee Ee Lian
“You've put on weight, haven't you?” is a common entrée to conversation in Singapore, where casual remarks about body shape and size are widely accepted. This chapter explores how such remarks affect individuals, particularly young women in this culture. Results from a qualitative study are discussed in the context of the existing literature on weight bias in personal spheres. The discussion also speaks to Singapore's efforts to address eating disorders and forge a more adaptive approach to weight and health.
Since gaining independence in 1965, Singapore has seen dramatic economic development. This increase in wealth has coincided with an increase in weight among its people. Between the 1970s and 1990s, Singaporean males and females became 34.5% and 19.3% heavier, respectively (Jin-Jong, 1999). Meanwhile, “obesity in students from primary, secondary, and pre-university schools showed an almost three-fold increase from 5.4% in 1980 to 15.1% in 1991” (Toh, Chew, & Tan, 2002, p. 335). In 1992, the government conducted a national health survey of cardiovascular risk factors, using the widely accepted yet problematic criterion of body mass index (BMI) > 30 to define “obesity” (Prentice & Jebb, 2001). This survey revealed that 5.1% of Singaporean adults exceeded a BMI of 30. A 1998 follow-up survey showed that this rate had increased to 5.9% (Toh et al., 2002).
Interestingly, eating disorders have also increased considerably in recent decades, with a sixfold rise in documented cases between 1994 and 2002 (Ung, 2005). In contrast to “obesity,” no national statistics have been gathered. Once unheard of, two case reports appeared in the early 1980s (Kua, Lee, & Chee, 1982; Ong, Tsoi, & Cheah, 1982). Over a decade passed before publication of a third study (Ung, Lee, & Kua, 1997). As presentations increased, health-care professionals garnered resources to treat these problems, establishing an eating disorders clinic at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 1995. Lee, Lee, Pathy, and Chan (2005) recently published findings derived from 126 patients with anorexia nervosa who came there or to the Child Guidance Clinic. They appeared quite similar to anorexia nervosa sufferers in Western societies; most were females (91.3%), single (92.9%), and teenagers at the time of symptom onset. Subsequently, Ho, Tai, Lee, Cheng, and Liow (2006) analyzed