Research Paper: Eating Disorders and Gender

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[. . .] People who suffer from low self-esteem, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, perfectionism, or who has a troubled or difficult emotional relationship have an increased likelihood of becoming anorexic or bulimic. However, more than either of the other two forms sociology and the pressures of society have more impact on a young woman than anything else. Eating disorders are generated by an incorrect psychological perception of the self. A press release from the May Clinic stated:

The modern Western cultural environment often cultivates and reinforces a desire for thinness. Success and worth are often equated with being thin in popular culture. Peer pressure and what people see in the media may fuel this desire to be thin, particularly among young girls (Staff).

In the modern period, the ideal woman is one who is thin. Her thinness is equated with beauty and those who are not thin become labeled as ugly and unattractive. Negative body image is intrinsically linked to the formulation and formation of eating disorders (Smolak 16). A desire to be thin can become an obsession.

There are eating disorders which affect people all over the world, particularly in countries which are considered part of the western world. In such parts of the globe, there is a universal psychological impression that thin is beautiful which leads to eating disorders. The countries of the west were the first found to have eating disorders and this led to its being considered a western problem. This has been further proven by the fact that countries which have become westernized after periods of isolationism have reported incidences of eating disorders. For example, both Japan and the U.S.S.R. were nations which had isolated themselves from western influence for a long period of time. However, once they became open to western industry and western media the influences of iconography and the culture of the western world found their ways in both positive and negative instances within eastern countries (Cummins & Lehman 217). Throughout the world, eating disorders have taken hold of young women who had otherwise been healthy and well. It is believed that one or two out of every 100 female teenage students will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in her young life (Teens). Teenage girls are far more likely to become ill with a condition than males. More than 24 million people in the United States alone have been diagnosed with some form of eating disorder (Battiste & Effron). This astronomical number only takes into account the millions who have sought help for their condition. There are still millions more in the world that suffer from their condition without seeking outside help and will likely die from complications of the disease; a number which increases exponentially over time.

Researchers Lewison and his colleagues interviewed several college girls at various universities who were questioned when they were between the ages of 18 and 23. The scientists also investigated the comparison for the likelihood of full-syndrome or partial-syndrome eating disorders. The researchers found that approximately 3% of the population that they interviewed had some form of eating disorder when they were 18, a number which had been halved by the time they turned 19. Those who were still affected by an eating disorder at 19 were highly likely to continue to suffer from the condition by the time they reached the age of 23 (Lewinson 1286). Age and family history are also major factors in the development of illnesses. Young women before the age of twenty will be more likely to become ill than those who have reached intellectual, emotional, or legal maturity. Another research investigation performed in Australia by G.C. Patton and R. Selzer questioned girls who were between 14 and 15. They were able to determine that young girls who had experimented with dieting and other forms of weight loss by this time in their lives would be far more likely to become affected by an eating disorder than girls who had not (Patton & Selzer). It has been established that most people who develop eating disorders are between the ages of 13 and 17 (Teens). This is a highly emotional point in a young person's life where hormones are imbalanced and puberty forces both physical changes and the realization of changes in others. Differences in body types are made visible and young women who do not conform to what society tells them is perfect or beautiful will find themselves even more unhappy and dedicated to forcing their bodies into the type of beauty that society demands of them.

The modern media helps to enforce the gender-based biases against larger body types. In her article entitled "The Empire of Images in our World of Bodies," author Susan Bordo discusses the various ways in which our lives are entirely saturated by the visual iconography of our consumerist society and the universal psychology this creates. Specifically, Bordo is majorly concerned with the ways in which the perceptions of the human body within a society tend to conform to the immense saturation of body types that are presented in the visual culture. Beautiful people in the modern sense of the word beauty have to be thin. To be beautiful, a person must have specific characteristics as defined by the sociological majority. There are no instances of individuality and uniqueness but instead the women are forced into cookie-cutter versions of what is considered beautiful and made to become thin to the point of starvation. Anything that is considered outside this norm, such as women retaining a natural look or if they happen to weigh more than the many emaciated actresses on television or in films are considered ugly beings to the public mindset and thus undesirable. Bordo's thesis is that the celebrity iconography of the popular culture dictates the self-perception of the population because it perpetuates a mythos of what is beautiful. Further scientific investigation into this subject has shown that the media's portrayal of beauty has a heavy influence on the self-images of young women and men in the world today. In a test conducted by R.A. Botta, 214 teenage girls were questioned and Botta determined that a staggering 17% of a person's own self-image and 33% of how a person determines beauty in terms of thin or heavy is influenced by the media. In the modern age, students are surrounded by media more than at any other time in human history (Botta 25). They have pictures on their phones and televisions and computers which they take with them wherever they travel. Everywhere in the world they are seeing images of what is accepted as beautiful by the majority of the population who share their culture. If they do not fit up to this ideal, they can easily become distraught and depressed. Therefore, there is a further desire to emulate what they see on television, in magazines, and in films. Young girls in particular want to look like the person they see celebrated by their society, which is what society says is beautiful.

Women have been heavily marginalized by the masculine powers of the social structure. Throughout much of human history, men have been in positions of power over women. This power forces the women into a position where they are controlled in everything from the home to the workplace. In the past this was even more pronounced. The interpersonal and social interaction of male and female is proven to be highly dominated by the members of the male gender. Before the 1900s, women where in charge of the home and men were in charge of everything outside the home, including business and politics. Now women are able to vote and hold some positions of power but are still marginalized by their male counterparts. Even today, the highest-paying jobs are most often given to men and women are very often paid far less even if they perform the same duties as men. Positions of power, such as executives or political offices are often given to men even if a woman is more qualified because of the stereotypes ingrained in the social psyche relating to the female gender. In June Jordan's article "A New Politics of Sexuality," she discusses various ways in which the male gender endeavors to oppress the female sex and does so in all aspects of life including both the business and personal realms (1). Just as women who are not thin are considered unattractive, so too women who behave outside the realm of what the male power base feels is appropriate will be considered somehow improper or wrong. According to Jordan, the gender that a person is born to have will dictate the whole rest of their life in terms of how they are treated by their same and then the opposite gender. The situation has improved in that women of the modern period can now be elected to office or can… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Eating Disorders and Gender.  (2012, November 19).  Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/eating-disorders-gender/9845644

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"Eating Disorders and Gender."  Essaytown.com.  November 19, 2012.  Accessed July 18, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/eating-disorders-gender/9845644.