Intergenerational variation in cultural models of body size in Puerto Rico

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Culture informs ideas about healthy and acceptable body types. Through globalization the U.S.-European body model has become increasingly significant in local contexts, influencing local body models. While Puerto Ricans have

Culture informs ideas about healthy and acceptable body types. Through globalization the U.S.-European body model has become increasingly significant in local contexts, influencing local body models. While Puerto Ricans have historically valued plump bodies - a biocultural legacy of a historically food scarce environment - this dissertation investigated shifts in these ideals across generations to a stronger preference for thinness. A sample of 23 intergenerational family triads of women, and one close male relative or friend per woman, were administered quantitative questionnaires. Ethnographic interviews were conducted with a sub-sample of women from 16 triads and 1 quintet. Questions about weight history and body sizes were used to address cultural changes in body models. Findings indicate the general trend for all generations has been a reduction in the spectrum of acceptable bodies to an almost singular idealized thin body. Female weight gain during puberty and influence of media produced varied responses across age groups. Overall, Puerto Ricans find it acceptable to gain weight with ageing, during a divorce, and postpartum. Thin bodies are associated with beauty and health, but healthy women that do not resemble the thin ideal, submit themselves to dangerous weight loss practices to achieve self and social acceptance. Further research and direct interventions need to be conducted to alter perceptions that conflate beauty with health in order to address the `normative discontent' women of all ages experience. Weight discrimination and concern with being overweight were evident in Puerto Rican everyday life, indicated by the role of media and acculturation in this study. Anti-fat attitudes were stronger for individuals that identified closely with United States culture. Exposure to drama and personal transformation television programs are associated with increased body image dissatisfaction, and increased exposure to variety shows and celebrity news shows is associated with increased anti-fat attitudes and body dissatisfaction. In sum, the positive valuation of fat in the Puerto Rican cultural body size model in the 1970s has shifted toward a negative valuation of fat and a preference for thin body size.