Towards an anthropology of anorexia nervosa: Meanings of thinness and dysfunctional eating among black females in Johannesburg

01 November 2019 → 31 October 2024
Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO)
Research disciplines
  • Social sciences
    • Medical anthropology
    • Social and cultural anthropology
    • Anthropology not elsewhere classified
Project description

The trend in public opinion to conceptualize anorexia nervosa as an illness of the white, female upper-class ignores its occurrence in atypical communities. In South Africa, accounts of anorexia among the black population have been reported since the 1990s. However, current knowledge on these cases holds some considerable gaps. First, there is unclarity on the prevalence of anorexia among black South Africans, as different research methods are used in comparative studies and the diagnostic tools used are Western-based, which leaves socio-cultural variations of anorexia undetected. Second, there is a lack of proper case descriptions. This is problematic because non-Western anorexia does not always follow the symptomatology described in the DSM. Third, only little attention has been given to the meanings of thinness and dysfunctional eating in the particular South African context. This project aims to tackle those gaps by adding a medical anthropologist viewpoint to anorexia in black South Africans. A literature study will be carried out on existing studies. Also, ethnographic fieldwork through participant observation and qualitative interviews will be conducted in a clinical and non-clinical setting in Johannesburg. By describing cases in their socio-cultural context, a more inclusive understanding of black South African anorexia can be established, which is relevant for both sufferers and therapists as well as for transcultural psychiatric research on eating disorders.