American beauty: Professor explores changing body images and ethnicity

By By Jack Lewis

By Jack Lewis

In a lecture at the Women’s Resource Center, Pamela Hardin gave some insight on the health and body expectations of Pacific Islanders, particularly Tongans, in Utah.

Last Wednesday, Hardin discussed her research on how Tongan women view their own body image, eating disorders among Pacific Islanders in Utah and how this has been affected by American culture.

Guidelines for healthy body structures outlined by government health agencies ignore ethnicity, Hardin, an assistant professor in nursing, said.

“Obesity declarations may be our next form of colonization,” Hardin said.

Pacific Islanders make up one of the largest ethnic minorities in Utah, and the state has the second-largest number of residents of Tongan descent in the country, behind California.

Hardin interviewed 41 Tongan women in Utah to draw conclusions from how they feel about body structure. She said she was concerned about not merely analyzing individuals, but Pacific Islander society as a whole.

Although differences of opinion occur in societies, she drew several conclusions on the ways Tongans adapt to life in America.

Being skinny in Tonga is not considered beautiful as it is in the United States, said one of the women interviewed. But globalization and immigration to America has changed this feeling for many.

Public-health guidelines ignore the fact that Pacific Islanders can have a higher body mass index and be just as healthy as their Caucasian counterparts with lower index rates, she said.

A diverse audience participated in Hardin’s presentation at the Women’s Resource Center.

“It was a very interactive,” Hardin said of the experience.

Lecture organizers said they were impressed by the large number of men who attended.

“The discussion was interesting,” Joe Sartori, a recent graduate in exercise and sports science, said. “Body image from a Pacific Islander’s view has not been studied in great detail.”

The presentation was different from what junior Whitney Ellison, majoring in health promotion and education, said she was expecting-in a good way.

“This is a passion of mine, and it opened my mind to new horizons,” she said.

Hardin is currently doing further research on young women in the local Pacific Islander population.

The Women’s Resource Center is sponsoring a series of lectures about body images in American society.

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