Monday, June 12, 2017
Does Culture Affect Body Image?
By Susan Morlock, MA, LPC
How much does culture effect body image? Studies consistently support that there is a strong connection between culture and how women view their bodies, both positively and negatively. This can have a profound effect on one’s self-esteem over time.
If we look at African American culture, women and men tend to value a “thicker” body shape. One can see this in Black actresses and role models. Black women tend to not endorse the thin-body ideal and have less body dissatisfaction. Even if a Black woman has a higher BMI she tends to still have higher self-esteem then other cultural groups. Studies show that Black mothers tend to convey their positive weight-related views and, in turn, these views are shared among peers. Overall, Black women take pride in their bodies which sets them apart from some other cultures.
Women in Asian countries encounter body image issues as well. A September 2016 article in Japan Times noted that eating disorders among women 30 to 50 years old has been increasing because of the pressure to be “skinny.” However, some are challenging this norm, including Japanese artist Naomi Watanabe who helped create the “pochakawaii” (chubby and cute) movement.
Young people in Iran are running into pressure to be thin as well as noted in an article published in the Archives of Medical Science in 2013. The researchers found that both high school boys and girls tended to describe themselves as either “overweight” or “obese” even when their weight fell within what was considered to be normal parameters.
Generally, Latin-American women tend to view larger hips, thighs, and butt as a sign of good health. This culture views size 2, 8, or 12 all the same and curvy as good. Jennifer Lopez is a good example of someone considered be a role model for beauty among many Hispanic women and men. Family gatherings tend to be around traditional foods, there is a focus on eating and care giving as a ritual not discussions around body weight and dieting.
A global study of body image found that Mexico is the most “body-confident” country in the world, followed closely by Turkey and Ukraine. A study of Puerto Rican immigrant women found that weight gain was looked on with favor and as a sign of prosperity.
Among women of European origin, especially young ones, there appears to be a strong drive towards being thin. The media has had a strong impact on women and how they view themselves by comparison. This group tends to have the highest rates when it comes to having eating disorders among all the ethnic groups.
There are of course many other cultures in the United States that impact women and how they see themselves however, there has not been a lot of research to establish a relationship between body image and culture. As you can see, culture can have a positive or negative effect on how women view themselves so we can only assume this most likely has an impact among all cultures. Communicating early and often with your children on how they feel and view the way they look is important in any culture and may have the biggest impact and effect on how women see themselves as an adult later in life.
Susan Morlock, MA, LPC is a staff therapist at The Awakening Center. She has specialized training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Trauma Therapy using EMDR, Discernment Counseling, Internal Family Systems, and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Her areas of expertise include anxiety, depression, stress and anger management, job and career concerns, eating disorders, and relationship issues. She can be reached at 773.929.6262 ext. 20 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.