Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Science


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Treena Orchard


This study explores socio-cultural influences that impact South Asian women’s self-perceptions and eating behaviours. The findings revealed that cultural gender ideologies played a substantial role in shaping the way women view themselves and their bodies. The analysis of interviews conducted with seven South Asian-Canadian women between the ages of 19-29 years, demonstrate that women’s perceptions of their own physical appearance is framed within the context of their South Asian cultural identity and cultural norms. This study was approached through the lens of post-colonial feminism by examining cultural factors that contribute to South Asian women’s increased risk for developing eating disorders. Notions of beauty and body, the cultural importance of marriage, and social commentary appeared to amplify the degree to which women experienced body dissatisfaction and influenced them to monitor their bodies and modify their eating behaviours to meet social and cultural expectations. Cultural ideologies that defined beauty, most notably skin tone and body shape/weight, were traits that the participants described as attributes of their physical appearance that they struggled with managing. Social commentary by other South Asian also had a significant impact on the way South Asian women perceived their bodies. Criticisms about their body shape or weight, and the darkness of their skin tone were common elements of negative commentary they received. These characteristic of South Asian beauty ideals appeared to be associated with a women’s aptness for marriage. Beauty was associated with the ability to find a husband that ranked high on social status, wealth, and attractiveness.