Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 561-595

First online:

A “Coca-Cola” Shape: Cultural Change, Body Image, and Eating Disorders in San Andrés, Belize

  • Eileen P. Anderson-FyeAffiliated withCenter for Culture and Health, Neuropsychiatric Institute, University of California Email author 

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Eating disorders have been associated with developing nations undergoing rapid social transition, including participation in a global market economy and heavy media exposure. San Andrés, Belize, a community with many risk factors associated with the cross-cultural development of eating disorders, has shown remarkable resistance to previously documented patterns, despite a local focus on female beauty. Drawing on longitudinal person-centered ethnography with adolescent girls, this article examines why this community appears exceptional in light of the literature. First, community beauty and body image ideals and practices are explicated. Then, a protective ethnopsychology is proposed as a key mediating factor of the rapid socio-cultural change among young women. Finally, possible nascent cases of eating disordered behavior are discussed in light of their unique phenomenology: that is, having to do more with economic opportunity in the tourism industry and less with personal distress or desire for thinness. Close, meaning-centered examination of eating and body image practices may aid understanding and prevention of eating disorders among adolescents undergoing rapid social change in situations of globalization and immigration.


body image eating disorders Belize adolescents globalization