A cultural models approach to understanding body fatness perceptions and disordered eating in young South Korean men

Lawrence T. Monocello*, Jason M. Lavender, Lauren A. Fowler, Ellen E. Fitzsimmons-Craft, Denise E. Wilfley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objective: The eating disorders field has been limited by a predominant focus on White, Western women, and there is growing recognition of the need to understand cross-cultural variation in key constructs (i.e., ideal body types). A transdisciplinary, cultural models approach systematizes the incorporation of an “emic” perspective (a culture's own understandings of phenomena) into assessments of relationships between body shapes and eating disorders. Method: Eighty-one young South Korean men aged 19–34 years living in Seoul participated in this research. A cultural model of body fatness was identified using cultural consensus analysis during 18 months of ethnographic, mixed-methods fieldwork. Participants also completed questionnaires assessing age, height, weight, sexual identity, university prestige, body dissatisfaction, eating disorder symptoms, and cultural consonance with the Korean cultural model of the ideal male body. Variation in these factors was analyzed using a series of chi-squares and analyses of variance with the culturally defined categories of body fatness as the independent variables. Results: Cultural consensus analysis found that young South Korean men are consistent in identifying categories of “too thin,” “balanced,” and “too fat.” The “balanced” category contained the lowest proportion of high-prestige university attendees and the highest average cultural consonance. The “too fat” category was characterized by the highest levels of body dissatisfaction and dieting, as well as proportion of probable eating disorders. Discussion: A cultural models approach identified culturally important factors and patterns in disordered eating among young South Korean men and may be effective for understanding eating disorders in other populations not typically studied. Public Significance: This study applies a systematic, “emic” perspective to young South Korean men's body ideals. Young Korean men share a cultural model of body fatness, and this model frames how they experience risk for eating disorders. This study demonstrates a method for incorporating culture into research on eating disorder risk.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Eating Disorders
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • South Korea
  • body ideals
  • cultural consonance
  • cultural models
  • eating disorders
  • emic validity
  • ethnobiocentrism
  • men

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