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

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.

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Correspondence to Eileen P. Anderson-Fye EdD.

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Anderson-Fye, E.P. A “Coca-Cola” Shape: Cultural Change, Body Image, and Eating Disorders in San Andrés, Belize. Cult Med Psychiatry 28, 561–595 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11013-004-1068-4

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Keywords

  • body image
  • eating disorders
  • Belize
  • adolescents
  • globalization