How Girl Power Can Protect Young Women Against Eating Disorders
By: Angie Woodward
Society has sure done a good job of inflicting some serious body image issues upon the women of America. The unrealistic images that young girls and women are expected to emulate from magazine cover to movie screen, on so-called ‘reality’ shows and seemingly anywhere else you can put a picture of a toned, tan happy young (or young looking) woman. Why is so much stress put on women to attain a certain ideal of thinness? Is it because we want mothers to be fit in order to raise healthy babies (and many of them)? Or is it because women are conditioned to believe they must be fit in order to find a mate?
The answer to that question could fill a hundred of these articles.
What we do know right now is that conceptions of women’s ideal body image are often represented by unattainable and sometimes unhealthily thin women who often use cosmetic surgery or dangerous dieting methods to achieve their look.
One consequence of this is that many young women are driven to form eating disorders. Is an unhealthy concept of body image the culprit in every instance that eating disorders emerge? No, of course not. Some eating disorders are related to other issues, often an expression of punishment. But society pushes women to an extreme in their expectations of looking a certain way, and sometimes that leads to anorexia or bulimia, which can have tragic outcomes.
Eating disorders are the mental health issue least likely to receive treatment, and yet anorexia has the highest mortality rate.
A recent study completed by Appalachian State University and reported by the National Institutes of Health sought to discover measures or ways of thinking that could protect women from body image issues and predict whether or not eating disorders would present themselves.
They looked at women who described themselves as feminist and women who have high self-efficacy as two groups that might be capable of withstanding the pressure to succumb to disordered eating and body image issues.
Feminism is generally described as the cause to attain equal rights for women in society. That applies to a broad cross section of actual legislation, equal pay in the workplace, freedom from harassment and a more vague aspiration to be less oppressive about issues such as body image and the portrayal of sex roles in popular media.
Self-efficacy is similar to self-confidence. It is described as a person’s belief in her ability to succeed in a given situation. Essentially, a person is presented with a task and they don’t have to wonder whether or not they will be able to complete it.
Feminism Alone Can Only Get You Part of The Way There
Young women with feminist beliefs were likely to have a healthy concept of body image. This might mean that if they were unable to attain the societal construction of the unrealistic female ideal, they were less likely to be troubled by it. Feminism clearly helps women find some relief from the pressure of society, but in some cases, disordered eating was still encountered.
Young adult women who possessed a strong sense of self-efficacy, when compared to women with feminist belief systems and a control group, emerged as a highly accurate predictor of healthy eating habits.
So, if you want your daughter to be free from eating disorders, encourage her to develop follow through on tasks. Encourage her to assess problems analytically and approach problems with a solution-oriented mindset.
Eating disorders are too dangerous, and body image issues are too disruptive, to risk the possibility of serious consequences from ignoring those behaviors.