Brazil Confronts a Growing Eating Disorder Epidemic
> 1/15/2007 2:48:27 PM

For evidence of the ever-expanding influence of eating disorders around the globe (a topic covered frequently by AADT), look no further than Brazil, whose longtime female beauty standards have come to mirror its neighbors to the north with tragic results.

The Brazilian obsession with beauty is legendary; its number of registered plastic surgeons is second only to the United States and it has long served as a hotspot for international travelers looking for more affordable cosmetic procedures. The  country is also famous for producing a disproportionate number of fashion models, and its industry has recently fallen under fire for several high-profile deaths attributed to anorexia.

Long-time standards for Brazilian beauty seem to be changing, at least in terms of the physical goals young women set for themselves. Victoria's Secret superstar Gisele Bundchen, a Brazilian with German ancestry, is the most widely recognized model in the world, and her figure is closer to the up-and-down aesthetic favored by the European and North American fashion industries. The problem is relatively new to Brazil, and a strange dichotomy exists within the country: some impoverished segments of society have been gaining weight at a considerable rate due to a cheaper diet heavy on carbohydrates and low on fruits and green vegetables, but government programs aimed to feed the poor and undernourished have long been and still are a central issue in Brazilian politics. As many as 11 million people rely on these programs for food; government estimates list 8 percent of the population as dangerously underweight due to poverty, and yet, for a country that has traditionally valued the well-fed, full-figured woman as a sign of prosperity and comfort, low body mass now signifies wealth and beauty.

In national surveys, Brazilian men still widely report their attraction to the traditional bottom-heavy, "guitar-shaped" figure, but the fashion industry's influence is unavoidable for many young women. They buy more diet pills per capita than those of any other country, and the FDA has repeatedly warned of the dangers of untested dietary aids from Brazil. Though it seems relatively new, the eating disorder problem has become so prevalent that recent episodes of the country's most popular soap opera focused on a teen dancer suffering from bulimia.

One historian argues in generalization that these fashion adaptations are part of a societal sea change:

�This abrupt shift is a feminine decision that reflects changing roles� as women move out of the home and into the workplace, she said. �Men are still resisting and clearly prefer the rounder, fleshier type. But women want to be free and powerful, and one way to reject submission is to adopt these international standards that have nothing to do with Brazilian society.�

Unfortunately, the price of adopting these standards for many young women is self-doubt, declining physical health, and in the most extreme cases, loss of life.

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