How might a sociologist account for the high incidence of eating disorders among women?
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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.
'Powerlessness and dissatisfaction can be replaced by the self-satisfaction, social approval, and sense of accomplishment won through weight and shape control.' (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. 'Women internalise the fashionable body image, recognising that how they appear affects how they are valued and treated' (Brown & Jasper 1993 p19) Women are willing to risk their health in a desperate attempt to achieve an attractive appearance because they 'are seduced by the promises of happiness, success, and love that thinness is presumed to fulfil' (Seid 1989). Studies have also shown that control can be a contributing factor towards men developing eating disorders but the control is generally not the pressure of appearing powerful to society as a whole, 'it is the broader issue of identity as well as those of appearance that seems to give rise to the eating disorders' in males (Gordon 1990 p65)
It would run aground, losing the bulk of its advertisers.' (Wolf 1990) In conclusion, a sociologist would account for the high incidence of eating disorders among women because there are many pressures from the media to change body shape in order to achieve a more attractive appearance which will lead the achievement of, it is portrayed, a happy and perfect life. Respect and power within society is also portrayed as achievable through the control of weight. Although equality has been gained in many aspects for some women's lives, others feel that they have little control over their actions because of the still very prominent male dominance in society, so to counteract this lack of control they find another way to obtain control through the management of what the consume through food. 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. The basis for much of the female prominence is due to feelings of inadequacy which is caused by influences in the surroundings of women.
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