The Sociological Aspects of Eating Disorders

By Samantha Lentz

When you hear the words “eating disorder” what does that bring to mind? A friend? A family member? Maybe yourself? The horrible truth is that most people can think of at least one person in their lives that those words have been a reality for. It is a severely touchy subject, especially in today’s society.
The most common eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Anorexia Nervosa can be elucidated as “a psychological and possibly life-threatening eating disorder defined by an extremely low body weight relative to stature, extreme and needless weight loss, illogical fear of weight gain, and distorted perception of self-image and body” (Ekern, 2017). Bulimia, on the other hand, can be defined as “a psychological and severe life-threatening eating disorder described by the ingestion of an abnormally large amount of food in short time period, followed by an attempt to avoid gaining weight by purging what was consumed. Methods of purging include forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, and extreme or prolonged periods of exercising. Often, in these binge/purge episodes, a woman or man suffering from this disorder will experience a loss of control and engage in frantic efforts to undo these feelings” (Ekern, 2017). These are two very debilitating diseases and it is imperative that societies are fully aware of the impacts they can make on an individual, family, or even a whole community.

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Society is a big influencer on everyone, especially children and teens. Things like advertisements and social media are very impactful in the eyes of a young person, especially when it comes to body image. An article stated that “Earlier this year, psychologists found robust cross-cultural evidence linking social media use to body image concerns, dieting, body surveillance, a drive for thinness and self-objectification in adolescents” and that “Millions of followers embrace their regimens for diet and exercise, but increasingly, the drive for “wellness” and “clean eating” has become stealthy cover for more dieting and deprivation” (Simmons, 2016). The idea is that social media has given everyone a false image of what beauty is. People strive to look like the models and other public figures that they see on social media platforms. Too many individuals have taken dieting and being supposedly healthy to a whole new dangerous level that impacts their body, mind, and even those around them.
With that being said, this affects society at the micro, meso, and macro levels. The micro level is the individual. The individual is affected in immense ways. First of all, their mindset is greatly altered. They view themselves as not being good enough, beautiful enough. This causes unhealthy changes in diet, such as very little food intake, or binging and purging. Doing so takes a major toll on the body. Very low body weight can be a result, and they may be more prone to other diseases such as anemia, abnormal heart rhythms or other issues, absence of a menstrual cycle, gastrointestinal problems, electrolyte abnormalities, kidney failure, or even death (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017). The person tends to not realize what they are doing to the body, as they only see the healthy, “skinny” body they desire. This person is a daughter, son, brother or sister, friend, you name it, they matter to somebody. The meso level for this issue is the family, or those the person is in the presence of. The family and loved ones of a person with an eating disorder may feel at a loss. Witnessing this disease progress within their loved one is not an easy task, and many times they may not realize what is happening. They may feel guilt, as if it is their fault, but it is important to stay grounded and to know the signs and symptoms to get them help immediately (Farrar, 2014). It takes a toll on everyone, even whole communities. However, there is a macro level to this. Eating disorders affect the entire world. No matter the city, state, or country, they are very much present. Social media is everywhere, and therefore people everywhere are unintentionally forced to see glorified ideals for beauty and body image. For example, 10-15% of Americans suffer from some type of eating disorder, and specifically around ten million American women suffer from eating disorders (Mirasol, 2017). That should be an eye-opening statistic. Eating disorders are very prevalent and today’s society may be to blame.
Decades ago, the ideal body type was that of Marilyn Monroe, who maintained a truly healthy weight. Nowadays, young girls or boys and teens see models, celebrities, or other people that they look up to all over social media. They are made to believe that beauty is something it is not, that you have to look a certain way or see a certain number on the scale. Children are easily influenced and of course want to look like the people they look up to and see every time they go on the computer or their cell phone. Instead, children should be taught to be their own kind of beautiful and to feel comfortable in their own skin. Unfortunately, today’s society does not always work that way and can drive individuals to self-hate, depression, and eating disorders.
From a sociological point of view, the conflict theory can be used to approach the issue, as people may feel a sort of inequality compared to those that they see on social media. This is at the fault of society, and extreme structural change needs to be made immediately to eliminate such inequality. Also, the symbolic interaction theory is quite relevant to the situation. This theory deals with human interaction and how individuals affect each other. People who post on social media may not even realize that they are affecting how someone views their self-worth and/or body image. Society teaches people to absorb the things seen on the internet and the like, but fails to properly inform people of how they may affect a person on the other side of the screen.
Eating disorders are an extremely terrifying societal issue. It is sometimes uncertain who around you is suffering. This is a rather sensitive subject, and not something to joke about, as too many innocent people have suffered from Anorexia or Bulimia nervosa, or something of the sort. Eating disorders not only affect the individual with the disease, but their loved ones as well, and has become a widespread issue internationally. Sociological theories, such as the conflict theory and the symbolic interaction theory, can be used to interpret disturbances in societal norms like this one. This issue in society is one that should be more aggressively brought to everyone’s attention, because every human being should be more cautious with their words and the things they post on social media for everyone to see.


Resources for Getting Help:  https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/resource-links


 

Works Cited

Anorexia nervosa. (2017, August 23). Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia/symptoms-causes/syc-20353591

Ekern, J. (2017, May 01). About Anorexia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes & Articles For Treatment Help. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/anorexia

Ekern, J. (2017, May 01). About Bulimia: Signs, Symptoms, Causes & Articles For Treatment Help. Retrieved November 29, 2017, from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/bulimia

Home. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://www.mirror-mirror.org/families.htm

Mirasol Eating Disorder Recovery Centers . (2017). Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://www.mirasol.net/learning-center/eating-disorder-statistics.php

Simmons, R. (2016, August 19). How Social Media Is a Toxic Mirror. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from http://time.com/4459153/social-media-body-image/

 

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