I am doing the 10 Things that Will Make You Think, Speak, And Act program several times this week, and so I thought I would share another one of the things that struck me in the research for Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina.
As I was conducting the research for Hijas, I had several women reveal their battle with eating disorders to me. One of the dominant feelings they had was sheer loneliness and even ostracization. In the Growing Up Latina Survey, 15.6% of the women reported having an eating disorder at some time in their life. When I talked to some of those women, I was struck by the ways that our culture sometimes exacerbates the problem of disordered eating while mocking the illness as “not Latino” in nature. The young women who were treated for their eating disorders were treated as anomalies by both their caretakers and their loved ones, sometimes even judged as too acculturated and, thus, flawed enough to begin disordered eating.
But disordered eating is not the domain of just non-Latinos. Recent research from SCAN’s Pulse—a journal for sports, cardiovascular, and wellness nutritionists—showed that Hispanic girls have an equal or higher risk of disorder eating compared to white girls. In a Minnesota study of eighty-one thousand high schools, Hispanic girls reported the highest incidence of disordered eating habits (including skipping meals, binging, purging, or using laxatives or cigarettes to lose weight or suppress appetite). The truth is that disordered eating habits —of all types—are not the province of only the white culture, as many minority cultures wish to believe. We, as an American community, have a responsibility to more directly acknowledge and address this issue in a compassionate and comprehensive way. Treatment facilities and counselors have a responsibility to become sensitive to the nuances of various cultures so that they may better assist those who suffer from these illnesses.