Thinness in Asia : eating disorders in Singapore as seen through anthropological eyes Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/w3763978x

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  • There has been a growing interest in eating disorders among Singaporean medical professionals since the 1990s, and the Singaporean public is also starting to become aware of the risks of these conditions. This ethnographic research on eating disorders in Singapore, conducted in 2001, however, found that the majority of the informants with these conditions have struggled with a lack of understanding from others. This thesis aims to increase understanding by bringing these under-represented sufferers' voices to the forefront. This thesis focuses on the immense fear and guilt about gaining weight that are shared by these individuals. Unlike medical science, which usually considers such fear and guilt to be pathological, this thesis looks at these emotions as cultural by using the anthropological theory of feelings as well as the theory of the body politic. By illustrating how thinness has become an ideal image for Singaporean women in the past twenty years, cultural components of these feelings become readable to those without eating disorders. This thesis recommends two ways to increase understanding of the informants' inner struggles. First, medical science should consider culture a possible cause of eating disorders, since the exclusion of culture from the etiology legitimizes a lack of understanding on the part of those without eating disorders. Secondly, instead of asserting that appearance is unimportant, those without eating disorders should acknowledge that appearance plays an important role in human lives across every culture. Furthermore, they need to understand that while society superficially encourages people to accept themselves as they are, it stigmatizes fatness more forcefully. Lastly, they need to consider that the dieting industry often exploits medical science to justify its image of the ideal female body.
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