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Dieting and Culture

One of the strongest predictors of dieting in pre-adolescents, adolescents and adult women is body dissatisfaction. Body dissatisfaction and dieting behaviors have been fostered by a clash between unrealistic cultural imperatives to be thin and biological realities that preclude most women from ever achieving the shape standards portrayed in popular women’s magazines.

In the past 50 years, the perceived cultural ideals of feminine beauty have become even thinner with the burgeoning dieting and weight loss industry successfully marketing the vision that ultra-thin shape ideals are attainable. This is evidenced by the industry’s annual revenues in North America, which are estimated between $35 and $50 billion.

There is compelling evidence that women in Western culture increasingly have been socialized to view their body weight or shape as a marker for attractiveness, self-esteem, social desirability and competence. The impact of Westernization and globalization has propagated the gaunt standard of beauty to non-Western countries and has, coincidentally, led to the proliferation of dieting and dieting disorders.

Studies have shown that as young women from other more weight-tolerant cultures (e.g., Egyptian, Japanese, and Chinese) are assimilated into “thinness-conscious” Western culture, weight concerns and dieting behaviors in the previously weight-tolerant cultures increase.

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