Eating disorders among women is a real social concern today because the media and Hollywood promote this unhealthy life style. When it comes to attitudes toward this topic many people consider thinness to be attractive and think that’s how women should look. Without a change in attitudes then many women will continue to meet the socially acceptable way to look even if they are risking their health. Research also shows that media plays a role, but women who suffer from psychological problems stemming from their past could be at the greatest risk of acquiring the disease. Many times this disease is not taken seriously and prevention has been ignored because our culture has considered it ‘normative’ for women to have body image dissatisfaction (Moulding, 2007).
Eating Disorders in Women Today
According to Chambers and Alexander (2002) researchers approximate that 1 out of 5 and 1 out of 11 young women suffer from an eating disorder. They also state that according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Work Group on Eating Disorders they believe that up to 3.7 of females will become victims from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime. Moulding (2007) states that eating disorders are more prevalent in western countries. She says this could be due to women wanting to enter the work force more and not be considered just a stay at home wife. Thinness is their way of seeking power outside the home.
There are many different factors that contribute to eating disorders in women today. According to Caregaro, Degortes, Favaro, Nardi, Santonastaso, Soave, Tenconi, and Zanetti (2007), there is a connection between short people and eating disorders. This is due to social disadvantages and it can lead to psychological problems. They also say that few studies have been used to see this connection, but still in these few studies the results of this link are significant. Chambers and Alexander (2002) say that in the past media has played a big role in eating disorders, but they argue that also the fulfilment of psychological or biological needs are important too. Chambers and Alexander also discuss Brumberg’s two-phase approach: the recruitment phase and the fulfilment phase. Brumberg says that during the recruitment phase is where the media plays a big role and this is where intervention should take place. Young women should be brought aware of the impact that media images have on them. Also that using the media to develop this awareness has been effective. During the fulfilment stage is where psychological or biological problems may be key in creating the eating disorder based on these media images.
Other factors researchers believe have an impact on how eating disorders start is by Hinrichsen, Morrison, Waller, and Schmidt (2007) who state a person’s core beliefs and imagery working together cause bulimia. These core beliefs and imagery are from disturbing pasts maybe even abusive. The victim may feel inadequate or have some issues with the fear of abandonment. These images are usually from their past and start the same time the disorder did. Another similar study was done on attachment and how those with eating disorders suffer from self-protective strategies because of negative relationships with their parents (Ringer & Crittenden, (2006). They asked questions that pertained to past experiences like memories of rejection from their past.
Social Change Theories
There are several different theories that focus on social change, for instance, functionalism, conflict, and interpretive or symbolic interactionism. The theory that relates the most to eating disorders is interpretive or symbolic interactionism theory. Interpretive or symbolic interactionism focuses more on the image of people rather than on society by altering their behaviour because of someone else. The interactionist sees the world as people interacting together in a certain order. They also see people as playing certain roles during this interaction.
This theory demonstrates how others have an effect on how we act because we observe others and want to learn or be like others. When we observe others being rewarded for a certain behaviour then we too want to copy the desired behaviour.
Since prevention of eating disorders is not always a big priority there needs to be an action taken place. More research needs to be done on why women tend to have body image dissatisfaction. The proposed action would first utilise a questionnaire on the effects of media images and past relationships of these young women. These questions would range from how they view their own body compared to the media to past feelings including hurt, illness, fear of abandonment, and separation. These participants would be young girls who suffer from an eating disorder and a control group of those without an eating disorder.
After collecting this preliminary data then we can see what has the biggest impact on eating disorders, the media or past experiences. With this information, we can start to see what type of preventions should take place. If it is a combination of the two or if the media plays the biggest part then we should start to find ways to use the media to help these young women instead of hurt them by launching campaigns to show that these body types are on realistic.
Funding for this research program would be from a local business that would like to donate money and materials to help make and distribute the questionnaires.
How psychologists Can Play a Role in Social Change
Psychologists can play a very significant role as change agents while taking in ethical considerations and by taking or not taking action. According to O’Neill (2004) when we solve and learn about a problem it depends on how we perceive the problem. He also says that when we are doing research or practising we need to be conscious of our own biases. We need to see who benefits from our actions by considering others biases too. Also when we are conducting work we need to be insightful to others requests when it comes to social change. This could be being sensitive to existing problems or topics and making sure that all benefit from the outcome. Lastly, O’Neill (2004) describes that the work of an individual psychologist may set the standard for all of the psychology and that they should be cautious when asking questions and conducting research.
Lately, the role of values in psychology have been discussed a lot more, but there is no specific duty put on psychology (Prilleltensky, 1997). Prilleltensky also goes on to say that we need to come to a consensus on what role values and morals play by performing an investigation. In an earlier article Prilleltensky (1989) describes psychology as influential in preserving the societal status quo. It does this by backing the leading social values in society, circulating values in value-free scientific declarations, and depicting an individual apart from previous situations.
In an article by Marsella (1998) he takes a different approach on the subject of psychology and social change agents. He looks at the world becoming a “Global Community” in psychology. Marsella describes the world as coming together because of advances in technology like telecommunications, mass transit, and the connection between economies. He says that now psychology can come together into one major area of knowledge and make an impact on values and morals.
With this knowledge, we can see that psychologist can play a significant role in promoting social change. Even though some doubt that one individual can accomplish social change others feel empowered to make it happen. We can do this by conducting questionnaires and sharing findings of different social problems today. Including effects of the media and past experiences that cause eating disorders.
This action would be feasible because eating disorders affect all cultures in the industrialised countries. Also doing a questionnaire like this is easily done and would not cause a lot of discouragement from the community and the participants.
Positive and Negative Outcomes
Some positive outcomes would be to take a deeper look at the causes of eating disorders and help come up with solutions to help prevent the disease. There also maybe some negative outcomes that may arise. This may include not enough evidence from the questionnaire to come to some type of conclusion. Therefore a new group of participants or possibly knew questions would have to be used.
Evaluation of Action
By doing this proposed action we can come to a conclusion to what some of the issues or causes for eating disorders are. With this information, we can start prevention and education for these young women and families. If the media is to blame then we need to use the medium against itself to help stop the problem instead of making it worse.
http://web.grinnell.edu/courses/soc/s00/soc111-01/IntroTheories/Symbolic.html http://www.colorado.edu/communication/meta- discourses/Papers/App_Papers/Nelson.htm
Retrieved March 18, 2008
Alexander, S., M., Chambers, K., L. (2007). Media literacy as an educational method for addressing college women’s body image issues. Saint Mary’s College, 490-497. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.
Caregaro, L., Degortes, D., Favaro, A., Nardi, M., T., Santonastaso, P., Soave, M., Tenconi, E., Zanetti, T. (2007). Association between low height and eating disorders: Cause or effect? International Journal of Eating Disorders 40:6 549-553. Retrieved April 4, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.
Crittenden, P., M., Francoise, R. (2006). Eating disorders and attachment: The effects of hidden family processes on eating disorders. European Eating Disorders Review 15, 119-130. Retrieved April 15, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.
Hinrichsen, H., Morrison, T., Schmidt, U., Waller, G. (2007). Triggers of self-induced vomiting in bulimic disorders: The roles of core beliefs and imagery. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy: An International Quarterly, 261-272. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.
Marsella, A. J. (1998). Toward a ‘global-community psychology’: Meeting the needs of a changing world. American Psychologist 53(12), 1282-1291.
Moulding, N., T. (2007). “Love your body, move your body, feed your body”: Discourses of self-care and social marketing in a body image health promotion program. Critical Public Health, 17(1): 57-69. Retrieved April 15, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.
O’Neill, P. (2005). The ethics of problem definition. Canadian Psychology/Psychology Canadienne, 45(1), 13-20.
Prilleltensky, I. (1998). Psychology and the status quo. American Psychologist, 44(5), 795-802.
Prilleltensky, I. (1997). Values, assumptions, and practices: Assessing the moral implications of psychological discourse and action. American Psychologist, 52(5), 517-535.