Body image, body size, and Samoan ecological and individual modernization

A. A. Brewis, S. T. Mcgarvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Idealization of slim bodies is a powerful cultural value in economically advantaged Western societies, and this value appears to be taking global dimensions. To examine the relationship between increasing ecological and individual modernity and acculturation to slim ideals, Samoans living in three environments with different degrees of modernization (Samoa, American Samoa, Auckland) were compared on actual and perceptual measures of body size. Women in more ecologically modern settings selected significantly slimmer ideal body sizes, and they also had the largest bodies on average. One significant finding is that the value placed on slim ideal bodies was less pronounced among Samoans who live in environments where they represent the dominant ethnic group. However, disregarding setting, Samoan women who engaged in non-traditional occupations displayed slimmer ideals than those with traditional women's occupations, but had the same mean body sizes. The male pattern is distinct from that of women, as men in both more and less modernized ecologies selected similar mean ideal sizes of male bodies. Men in non-traditional occupations and those with more education idealized larger male bodies than their peers, and also had greater average body size. The Samoan case indicates that acculturation to slim ideals may occur rapidly and can occur without the increase in body size that is generally associated with biological modernization of populations. Further, the relationship between modernizing ecologies and changing body image in Samoans appears to be highly sex-specific, influencing women to a greater degree.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)105-120
Number of pages16
JournalEcology of Food Nutrition
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Adiposity
  • Body image
  • Eating disorders
  • Modernization
  • Polynesia
  • Samoans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Food Science
  • Ecology


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