Black South African women have once more been flagged up as being on the brink of an eating disorder crisis, as the latest research reveals that their male counterparts, who once idolised fuller-figured females, now prefer thinner, Western-looking women.
Psychologist Julie Seed from Northumbria University presented the findings of her latest study at the British Psychological Society Psychobiology Section Conference.
The study will fuel anxieties raised in earlier studies, which showed high levels of body dissatisfaction and unhealthy weight-control behaviours among contemporary black South African females.
A total of 40 men from the University of Zululand in Kwa-Zulu Natal took part in the study to establish their current preferences for female body shape and size. The men's ideal was found to be virtually the same as that of the women who had taken part in earlier studies. The men showed a strong preference for women to be tall and slim, with a flat stomach, narrow waist and long, slender legs. They also preferred women to have long hair.
Julie Seed from Northumbria said: "In our earlier studies, we found the girls to have a very negative body image and a strong desire to be thinner. Many were trying to lose weight and some were abusing laxatives, diet pills or making themselves vomit.
"When we subsequently interviewed the girls to find out why they now wanted to be thinner, one of the main reasons given was to attract men. There was a strong belief that men now preferred thinner women, and the girls felt this left them with little choice but to try and become thinner. Sadly, this study shows that they were correct in their assumption. The men do prefer thinner women - what they are describing is pretty much a Western woman, right down to the current trend for long hair!”
She added: This is the first study to date to focus on the role played by men in what is currently happening in the black community in South Africa. It shows that men are indirectly determining women's eating attitudes and behaviours to some extent.
"The mixing of cultures that has taken place in South Africa since the abolition of apartheid has resulted in increased competition among females, and responding to changes in male preferences for female shape and size is a perfectly natural thing to do, in evolutionary terms. Unfortunately, when preferences move towards thinner, narrow-waisted women, with flat stomachs, there will always be an increased risk of eating disorders developing, just as they have done in the West. It's just a shame that this is happening in a culture where big has historically been lauded as beautiful.”
The current study forms part of a larger, collaborative project involving Northumbria University, the University of Zululand and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.