Eating Disorders

This is an essay that i did for my degree on eating disorders.

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  • Created by: Brodie
  • Created on: 20-03-10 13:39
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90% of all people with eating disorders (such as Anorexia and Bulimia)
are female (British Medical Association 2008)
How might a sociologist account for the high incidence of eating
disorders among women?
Eating disorders can only be applied to people who have the option to eat, generally they live in a
society with an abundance of food, such as the United Kingdom or the United States, but they choose
to control their intake of food to a dangerous level. Although eating disorders are considered to be
mental illnesses there are several contributing, social and cultural, factors from the external world
which drives people to want to achieve a slim body. In post modern society the common appearance
of an attractive woman was one of a larger woman because being slim was a sign of insufficient
nutrition and poverty. The idea of a slender figure originated in the late nineteenth century within
middle-class women. Anorexia was first reported in 1874 in France but it did not become prominent
until the past thirty or forty years. In more recent times it has become increasingly frequent in young
women. (Gibbens 2006 p253)
The high incidence of eating disorders among women has many influential factors. There are
pressures from the media and the developing world for women to look specific way. The modern
idea of thinness as attractive and healthy which is `so pervasive in Western societies that it often
goes unchallenged, despite the fact that it has not always been, nor is it everywhere the case.'
(Brown & Jasper 1993 p16) The current `Widespread preoccupation with weight, dieting and
exercise has escalated to such a degree that it is an accepted, encouraged and rewarded aspect of
social life.' (Brown & Jasper 1993 p16) Evidence has shown that women in western society are much
more at risk of eating disorders that women from other societies, `but the degree of westernisation
women of all backgrounds are exposed to seems to increase their risk.' (Dolan 1991)
The media has had a huge impact on the increase in numbers of eating disorders found in women. The
developments in mass communication through television, sophisticated advertising and magazines
ensured the promotion and consumption of new ideals for the appearance of women throughout the
western world. `The result was a greater emphasis than ever before on outer image, both instead
of and as a measure of inner worth.' (Brown & Jasper 1993 p27) These developments in
communication have an enormous affect on how and what women considered beauty because of
images that have been edited using computer software, even after the production team has
selected an already attractive women, creating a false, unachievable goal. Women started to
compare themselves against women that they saw in the media, advertising and fashion, hence
`self-esteem becomes deeply connected to body size and shape.' (Brown & Jasper 1993 p19) This

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Although software is also used to refine and improve
images of men, the image which is portrayed is usually of a muscular man and the images are
presented in fewer numbers and are not usually aim completely at men. The experiences and
reinforcements for men as children mean that they do not develop the same intensity of complexes
as women.…read more

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Brown & Jasper 1993 p17) There has been a reduced emphasis on women's fertility since
the industrialisation of western society, `and as women experienced advances in economic, political,
and social life, thinness came to symbolise wealth, independence, and freedom.' (Brown & Jasper
1993 p18) This has resulted in a strong inner drive to obtain the perfect body image so secure the
life that they aspire to.…read more

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The social situations and pressures which people are put under may have a large influence on the
development of an eating disorder. One example of this is school where it was found that `anorexia
nervosa typically affects young, well educated middle-class females.' (Crisp, Palmer, & Kalucy 1976)
School may play a large part in this with many middle class students studying at same-sex institutions
where the competitive pressures may be heightened.…read more

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Male eating disorders are much less prominent because of a
difference in pressures from the media about body image, with males being more driven towards
muscle than weight control, and the superior roles that they play within society also contribute to
males avoiding the feelings of a lack of control. A backlash of this social power is that males feel they
cannot show weakness, which contributes to many men not seeking help for an eating disorder.…read more

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