Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Anthropology

First Advisor

Heather Williams

Abstract

In a world of immense variety and dramatic difference in physical beauty, western cultural conceptions of attractiveness have gone against the grain by shunning those whose appearance falls outside of the narrowly defined ideals. Slender, toned bodies, well‐defined jaw lines, and strong features represent attractiveness in this culture and are propagated through constant reminders in popular media. In this environment, a person who meets the high standards of beauty and body size also demonstrates good health, self‐control, moral integrity, drive, and a number of other qualities that are praised and desired in this culture. Ironically, the increase in glorification of an ultrathin, toned body coincides with an increase in average body weight and caloric intake, due to industrialization, economic changes, and mass production of cheap, unhealthy, calorie dense foods. This incongruity between what is being demanded and what is being consumed has led many individuals to become fully immersed in obsession over food, appearance, and mechanisms through which they can control their bodies. For some, this obsession leads to healthy eating and increased activity levels, for others it becomes a revolving door of crash diets and weightloss medication, and in extreme cases eating disorders. Within this paper, I suggest that in an environment where being physically attractive means everything, there may be a biological precursor that drives a person to eating disorder pathologies. Research suggests that prevalence rates for some other disorders, such as mood, anxiety, and personality disturbances, are relatively high in persons with eating disorders and vise versa. While these maladaptive practices have not been restricted to late 20th century western culture, they are contained in areas where these high standards of beauty perpetuate. Unfortunately, in the wake of a globalized culture, dieting behaviors and eating disorders emerge internationally.

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