n African Journal of Psychiatry - Meanings of thinness and dysfunctional eating in black South African females - a qualitative study : original

Volume 16, Issue 5
  • ISSN : 1994-8220



This study qualitatively explored local meanings of thinness and dysfunctional eating in black adolescent females in the rapidly westernizing socio-cultural context of post-apartheid South Africa.

Four (n=4) urban state high schools in KwaZulu-Natal were selected from which 40 subjects were sampled from Grades 9-12. Focus groups were conducted following a semi-structured interview and analysed using Constant Comparative Analysis.
Subjects reported a wide range of different meanings for thinness, which included traditional idioms of distress and typically western pressures towards thinness, which was particularly evident in the multicultural schools. Subjects also reported a wide range of dysfunctional eating practices (such as purging) which were underscored by a wide range of motivations, including traditional practices and western body image concern; and which did not tend to follow patterns of 'dieting' that are typical in affluent, western societies.
Western pressures towards thinness may be blending with traditional idioms of distress and culturally sanctioned rituals of remedial purging and social over-eating, thereby placing this group at particular risk for a range of dysfunctional eating patterns that may not follow typically western paradigms or diagnostic systems.

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