Home Institution

University of Dayton

Publication Date

Fall 2006

Program Name

Kenya: Development, Health, and Society

Abstract

Acts of personal decoration or even body modification for the purpose of attaining a cultural norm of “beauty” have been undertaken in every human society for centuries. In certain societies, however, people engage in acts or practices to obtain such cultural beauty only at the expense of individual and community health. The current eating disorder epidemic in the United States, based on the Western beauty ideal of an extremely thin woman, is an example of such destructive behavior in the name of beauty. With the current phenomenon of globalization, Western cultural norms, including the beauty ideal, are spreading around the world at an increasingly rapid pace. In this context, this study first examined the extensive prevalence of images depicting the Western beauty ideal in media and advertising in Kenya, noting the time frame of their introduction and target audience. Next, the extent to which these images have been internalized as “ideal” by Kenyan women and teenage girls in Nairobi was evaluated through survey and discussion, including an attempt to determine if such internalization was damaging to their physical and/or mental health. Results indicate a complex, transitory understanding of “beauty,” in which traditional concepts of African beauty mold with the Western beauty ideal in different ways across generations. Nonetheless, exposure to the Western beauty ideal has undoubtedly contributed to a culture of body dissatisfaction and weight obsession that is moving in the direction of the eating disorder epidemic in the United States, especially for young women in Nairobi with consistent access to media.

Disciplines

Gender and Sexuality | Psychology

 

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