, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 561-595

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

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Abstract

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.