Feminist perspectives on eating disorders  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Feminist perspectives on eating disorders reveal that there are societal links between the etiology of eating disorders and the oppression of women. Feminists do not necessarily believe that society is the sole cause of an eating disorder, but that societal influences definitely play a role in these addictions (the craving to control one’s body and the euphoria established through weight loss or controlled food in-take) and that eating disorders thrive in this type of environment.


When World War I (as well as World War II) began, many women had to work out of the household because their husbands were fighting in the war and the family needed financial support. Many women took jobs that were deemed masculine, including the production of war supplies. In reaction to this advertisers began to heavily market their products to women, to make them feel more feminine while doing “a man’s job”. The marketing industry boomed with the growth of advertising in magazines.

Until the 1920s women in America were kept “under wraps”, wearing clothing that covered almost every inch of skin (other than hands and heads). After getting the vote women began to wear clothes that displayed their arms and legs, heightening the issues of body image. Women grew concerned about the appearance of their limbs and tried to keep them smooth and desirable. The voluptuous ideal figure changed, and women were expected to be more slender. Inevitably, this is when the dieting craze began.

From this point forward women in the media grew smaller and smaller. In 1965 Vogue introduced Twiggy, known for her large eyes, long eyelashes, and thin build. The media began to focus more on women’s bodies and because there are few positive female role models in the media, women tried to imitate these figures just as children do.

With the average model weighing 23% less than the average woman, ideal body image becomes virtually impossible (Wolf, 184). At any given time 25% of American women are dieting (Wolf, 185). Between 5-10% of American women are anorexic(Brumberg, 20). Between 90-95% of anorexics and bulimics are women (Wolf, 181). On some college campuses 1 in 5 women have an eating disorder (Wolf, 182). It is also reported that 5 to 15% of hospitalized anorexics die while in treatment, one of the highest fatality rates for mental diseases (Brumberg, 24). These alarming statistics further prove that our culture affects eating disordered behavior and allows these behaviors to thrive.

Feminists want to take action against the harmful images the media uses against its viewers. Few efforts have been made to reverse this epidemic as women have been desensitised to such images to the point of harmlessness. Recently, the cosmetic manufacturers of Dove have promoted their “Campaign for Real Beauty”. This campaign uses many different body types to advertise their products, including overweight women, older women, and women with imperfections. Tyra Banks has also made efforts to expose the “less than ideal” body types. Banks has taken advantage of her fame to promote different body figures. The new talk show host has publicly defended her recent weight gain and attempts to deliver the message that being sexy has nothing to do with being thin. However, it is evident that Tyra Banks would have not been hired by Limited Brands to model for Victoria's Secret if she had had a "less than ideal" body type in the first place.

Media has also been linked to poor body image and eating disorders in women. Magazines, TV shows, and various other advertisements show thin models as having the "ideal body type" for women. These media can then enforce poor eating habits and eating disorder-like behavior.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Feminist perspectives on eating disorders" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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