Meanings of thinness and dysfunctional eating in black South African females: A qualitative study
Objective: 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.
Method: Four (n=4) urban state highschools 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.
Results: 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.
Conclusion: 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.
Keywords: Meanings of thinness; Eating disorders; Non-western, South Africa