TV changes a society … in its image

From “Bhutan and Fiji: The Elusive Influences of Television” in NetFuture #93, quoting The New York Times of 20 May 1999:

Meanwhile, a widely reported study by researchers at the Harvard Medical School documents some changes in Fiji associated with the 1995 introduction of television. These changes have to do with young women’s eating habits and ideals of beauty.

It is traditional in Fiji to compliment someone by saying “you’ve gained weight”. As a New York Times story puts it:

“‘Skinny legs’ is a major insult. And ‘going thin’, the Fijian term for losing a noticeable amount of weight, is considered a worrisome condition.”

But in just the three years from 1995 to 1998, according to the Harvard study, the number of secondary school girls reporting that they had induced vomiting to control weight rose from three percent to twenty-nine percent. In a country where dieting was hardly known and calories were a foreign concept, it now appears that more teenage girls go on diets than in America. “Young girls”, writes the Times reporter, Erica Goode, “dream of looking not like their mothers and aunts, but like the wasp- waisted stars of `Melrose Place’ and `Beverly Hills 90210′”.

“One girl said that her friends ‘change their mood, their hairstyles, so that they can be like those characters’. ‘So in order to be like them, I have to work on myself, exercising, and my eating habits should change.'”