Socio-Cultural Factors


Misleading Message

Nowadays, slimming has become a trend in Hong Kong. Many people follow a unique standard of the body figure and believe that “thin” means beautiful and successful; “fat” means failure, ugliness and low self esteem, which may induce dissatisfaction to one's body figure. Slimming TV series always present the so-called “standard” body figure in front of the audience and use the “successful case” to symbolize high self-esteem and being successful in work, social life and relationship. However, it provides a paradoxical dream to the audience that once you get “slim”, you can resolve everything in your life. On the other hand, they also exaggerate the problem of being fat which induce a sense of fear. However, when people think analytically, all the messages they said are only an advertisement for promoting their products or services.


Body Dissatisfaction and Drive for Thinness

People of different social background may have different concepts as to what is “beautiful”. However, for most of the times, it is easily affected by the media. One study indicated that ever since TV was introduced to Fiji Island in 1995, 69% of the girls started to diet and 15% started to develop the habit of vomiting 3 years later. The girls hoped very much that their body figures were as slim as the TV models' which increased the risk of developing eating disorders [19]. The result showed that media actually affects our value and behavior [20]. Besides, the frequency of watching TV series and movies might predict body dissatisfaction; and the frequency of watching music video might predict drive for thinness [21]. Audience may internalize the image showed on TV as a standard for themselves, and start dieting to strive for this “ideal” size even though they are physically in normal size.


Extreme Dieting Methods and Wrong Beliefs

Research showed that extreme dieting practice was highly correlated with bulimia [22]. It might be a factor to sustain the binging problem too (Fairburn, 1997). We can find the above results in our hotline data. Almost 95% of patients practice extreme dieting in an irrational speed before the development of bulimia. Slimming and beauty companies choose some artists to be their spokesperson; and claim that participants can loss many pounds and inches in a short period of time. The most fascinating point is that the process is very easy, that people can eat whatever they want, that they need not to do exercise and take medicine but still the effect can last for long without any side effects. Many people are attracted by these claims and are very eager to try but do not realize that the methods used in the slimming process could actually be risk-taking. Originally, it is normal and healthy for someone who is overweight to be on diet. However, the advertisements do not mention about what is medically defined as “fat” and “obesity”, but only focus on weight reduction and speed. They also ignore individual difference, such as height, bone mass and heredity. People in general may not know if they use unhealthy dieting method, such as extremely low calories-intake, it is easier to rebound to original weight, or even heavier; they will be more easily prone to catching bulimia nervosa psychologically speaking.


[19] Becker, A. E. (2004). Television, disordered eating, and young women in Fiji: Negotiating body image and identity during rapid social change. Culture Medicine and Psychiatry, 28(4), 533-559.

[20] Tiggemann, M., & Pickering, A. S. (1996). Role of television in adolescent women’s body dissatisfaction and drive for thinness. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 20(2), 199-203.

[21] Fairburn, C. G. (1997). Eating disorders. In D. M. Clark & C. G.. Fairburn (Eds.), Science and Practice of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

[22]Polivy, J., & Herman, C. P. (1985). Dieting and binge eating: A causal analysis. American Psychologist, 40, 193-204.