Latina women represent another rapidly growing majority in the United States yet are also underrepresented in the ED research. Some researchers have believed that Latina women are protected from being dissatisfied with their bodies because, similar to African American cultural values, larger women are considered healthy and wealthy in Latino cultures (Kempa & Thomas, 2000). Other researchers have suggested that adherence to more traditional gender roles and a strong cultural focus on physical appearance may lead to higher prevalence rates of body dissatisfaction among Latina women. In addition, Latino cultural values, including the importance of machismo (dominance of men), religiosity, and simpatia (creating conflict-free situations), may explain why some Latina women may potentially engage in disordered eating behaviors as an expression of their anger and alleged lack of power within their cultural group (Grabe & Hyde, 2006; Kempa & Thomas, 2000).
A summary of the research on Latina women suggests that Latinas might not engage in dietary restraint behaviors, yet across all other measures of ED symptoms (e.g., weight and shape concerns), their rates of ED symptoms are similar to those of their White female counterparts (Alegria et al., 2007; Arriza & Mann, 2001; Shaw et al., 2004). Thus, whereas some have thought that Latina women may be protected from internalizing the thin ideal, they still appear to report body and eating behaviors and attitudes characteristic of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder that, again, reinforce the fact that cultural factors may no longer protect women of color.
Another important factor to consider when working with Latina women is the fact that Latina women have the second highest obesity rates in the United States. Some researchers have suggested that the acculturation process, a process of adjusting ones own cultural values and belief systems to accommodate the norms and values of a different, more dominant group (Kim & Abreu, 2001), is partially to blame for the obesity problem among Latina immigrants. That is, researchers have found that more time spent living in the United States has increased the potential for obesity among Latina women and children because they are exposed to unhealthy dietary patterns and sedentary lifestyles in the United States (Gordon-Larsen, Harris, Ward, & Popkin, 2003; Wolin, Colangelo, Chiu, & Gapstur, 2009). The acculturation process may also cause Latina immigrants to turn to ED symptoms to cope with the tension of living in a new culture that focuses on thinness versus the Latina culture's emphasis on being curvaceous (Franko & George, 2008). Thus, an exploration of the acculturation process may be helpful when working with Latina women who struggle with eating, body image, and weight concerns. A more in- depth discussion of acculturation as a risk factor for women of color is provided in a later section of the chapter.