Conspiracy of silence: Cultural dissonance as a risk factor for the development of eating disorders in second generation South Asian women.
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This exploratory study examines whether traditional South Asian cultural practices, norms and values influence body image and body dissatisfaction in Canadian South Asian women, and whether these factors are involved in the development of eating disorders in this ethno-racial group. Eight second generation South Asian women, between the ages of 21 to 29 years, who have sought help for, or have been clinically diagnosed with an eating disorder, participated in a face-to-face unstructured interview. The main research question addresses whether second generation Canadian South Asian women experience cultural conflict with regard to traditional group norms of family, household values, and/or arranged marriage practices. Determining whether the societal pressures of balancing these two cultures of East and West create mental health tensions, which manifest as body and self-concept distortions, was a main focus. Other key concepts implied in the analysis include denial, stigmatization, gender inequality, intra-familial competition, and intergenerational conflict in relation to mental health and body image. Using feminist perspectives and transcultural models as theoretical frameworks, analyses reveal that body image distortions for these women stem not entirely from a pursuit to be thin as previous research has hypothesised, but rather from a multitude of pressures they face in relation to others in their lives. In a constant attempt to please others, follow familial and cultural expectations, and contend with restrictions, these women have sacrificed their own freedoms for their family’s honour, even though their needs and desires may differ. This cultural tension creates a feeling of disconnection and alienation leading to mental pressure, and may be a strong factor for the development of self-dissatisfaction, and ultimately eating disorders, for young South Asian women.