Anorexia and Social Factors
Anorexia is an eating disorder that evolves from either a distorted body image or the desire to control the environment. Often the sufferers are women in their teens or early twenties but men also fall victim to this disease. Many also theorize that the control of the environment and distorted body image are influenced by anorexia and social factors such as the media and fashion industry.
In today’s society a great deal of emphasis is placed on a woman’s appearance and physical aspect of the person. To the point that not only is anorexia and other eating disorders recognized by the psychiatry departments of medicine but it is also recognized by the television industry as portrayed in some of the more recent reality television shows.
Weight also becomes an issue in some forms of athletics such as wrestling, jockeys, gymnastics and other sports where balance and physics play a major role. The plight of the young gymnast has been played over and over in the media with each Olympic year. Eating disorders and high physical demands stunt the growth of these young girls, delay puberty and stop menstrual periods.
Peak performance levels are ranked not only on actual performance but also on conformation to a specific body type for the sport. Other social factors that affect the development of the disease is the avoidance of an adolescence body shape changing as she matures into a young woman. By decreasing calorie intake and damaging the growth and development of muscle and bone she may be able to stop the development of hips and a waist and also deny her emerging sexuality.
Psychologists have also found that group psychology plays an important role in the development of eating disorders in adolescent girls. Losing weight in order to fit in with the ‘in’ crowd or racing to see who can fit into a certain size jeans can trigger an eating disorder in a child who is already prone to the psychological stressors using eating as a coping mechanism.
Anorexia nervosa has no cultural, racial or age limits but there are those groups who appear to be more prone to the illness. Females are more commonly affected than males; Caucasian women are more commonly affected than Hispanics, Blacks or Asians; and the most common age group is between 11 and 20 year olds.
Women who suffer from anorexia nervosa are also often perfectionists. They set high standards for themselves as well as have a strong need for approval from others. This need for approval has found its way on to the Internet through chat rooms and groups which people suffering from anorexia visit to find encouragement to perpetuate their illness. Their need for perfection can be distilled to the ‘perfect’ body weighing in at less than 100 pounds and unable to do the other activities their peers are participating in because they don’t have the strength to work through them.
Social media also plays a part in the perpetuation of a distorted body image. Reality modeling shows term women who are size 8 or 10 as ‘larger’ models for larger women. Television shows don’t keep stars who put on weight and they are written out of the script. People of average body weight are not featured. The tabloids make a mockery of anyone caught outside their home having gained more than 5 pounds.
With all of these cultural and social factors pounding at the doors of already psychologically growing girls it isn’t too much of a leap to understand how women who already are prone to perfectionism or who have a need to control an out of control environment turn to the one place they believe they can be successful and achieve control.
National Eating Disorders: Factors that May Contribute to Eating Disorders
Health Science Journal: Cotnribution of Social and Family Factors in Anorexia Nervosa
Adolescence: Sociological Factors in the development of Eating Disorders
Better Health Channel: Eating Disorders
MayoClinic: Anorexia Nervosa