Eating Disorders and Gender Research Paper

Eating Disorders and Gender

There are medical conditions which more commonly occur in one gender over another. These conditions can be either mental or physical. Very often, they are both mental and physical conditions. Certain medical situations are extremely severe and can potentially result in serious harm to the body or perhaps even death. There are certain conditions which being with a mental impression, a false belief that has been ingrained within the mind which then manifests itself in the body of the individual. One of the most common and most disturbing types of condition is known as an eating disorder. By this term, it is meant that the patient suffers a mental conditioning which makes them either unwilling or unable to eat in a healthy manner resulting in either over or under eating and malnutrition. Eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia are the result of psychological issues on the part of the individual afflicted. They appear far more often in females than in males as a direct response to the psychology of the majority of society which imposes itself on the women of the world. What had once been considered a problem which only faced white women, the epidemic of eating disorders has transcended age and ethnicity to become a universal problem, sometimes even transcending gender boundaries and affecting men.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder according to the age-old adage. In certain times of history, a large woman was considered beautiful. Fleshy arms and legs with large breasts was the image that all women aspired to. A large woman meant that she was well-fed and very logically was in possession of a good deal of money and resources (Bates 1). This soft-bodied woman was however also vulnerable because she was unable to run as fast or exert herself physically. Her opposite, a hard body was a woman who had to work in the field and had little food to eat. In the modern era, the opposite perception is the case; those who are thin are beautiful and lusted after and women who are more full-bodied are considered unattractive. This new perception began around the mid to late 19th century. At that time, science and medicine began to grow in importance where before mythology and religion had been the major explanatory force in a person’s life. In the middle 1800s, women were in the throw of a repressive Victorian regime where they were even more oppressed than perhaps ever before. They were meant to remain in their specified domestic sphere as opposed to participation in the outside world. They were marginalized and forced into isolation sometimes by doctors or psychiatrists who were becoming more popular and used more often. Part of this indoctrination into their separate sphere demanded a strict adherence to medically-prescribed diets. For women, this meant that they were not allowed to eat much meat but men were encouraged to eat more. This lack of meat denied women much needed protein and iron and made them physically weak, which was what men wanted, for men to be weak, subservient, and completely dependent on their strong men.

There are many different types of eating disorders which can affect people of all social classes, racial types, genders, and age groups. Most of the eating disorders either feature people who do not eat enough food or those who overeat. The most common disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder (National1). Other conditions which are classified as eating disorders are rumination (painless regurgitation of food), diabulimia (deliberate manipulation of insulin levels by diabetics), pica (eating things which are not foods such as chalk or paper), night eating syndrome, orthorexia nervosa (where patients obsessively avoid eating unhealthy food to the point where it interferes with their day-to-day life), drunkorexia (avoiding food calories to have more room for alcohol-based ones), and pregorexia (extreme dieting to control weight gained during pregnancy). There is also a branch of eating disorder which is known as EDNOS or eating disorders not otherwise specified. Up to 70% of all eating disorders fall under the title of EDNOS (Battiste & Effron). This is because most people who suffer from an eating condition do not completely fitting into the restrictions of one classification or another. One young woman is chronicled in an ABC News special where she said, “My symptoms didn’t match bulimia. So then thy diagnosed me as anorexia, binge / purge type, because there are two different types. And then I didn’t meet the weight criteria for anorexia” (Battiste & Effron). Most people are classified as EDNOS patients because their symptoms either overlap or are asymptomatic of either anorexia or bulimia. Like other eating disorders, EDNOS can be extremely fatal. According to researchers, 5.2% of all EDNOS patients will die, a number that is higher than the fatality rates for either anorexia or bulimia (Battiste & Effron). Many of the sufferers will die from starvation or the effects of malnutrition, but a great many will die because of complications from the disorders which often impact the organs of the patient.

Anorexia nervosa is a very dangerous eating disorder characterized by refusing to eat or in consuming very little food; certainly not enough to sustain life. This condition is the one most commonly thought of when dealing with eating disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

Many people with anorexia nervosa see themselves as overweight, even when they are clearly underweight. Eating, food, and weight control become obsessions. People with anorexia nervosa typically weigh themselves repeatedly, portion food carefully, and eat very small quantities of only certain foods. Some people with anorexia nervosa may also engage in binge-eating followed by extreme dieting, excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting, and/or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas (2).

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by: extreme thinness, a “relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight,” “distorted body image, a self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight,” lack of menstruation in young girls, teens, and women, and a failure to eat much food and reluctance to do so (National 2). More serious symptoms can appear over time including thinning of bones, hair and nails becoming extremely brittle, dry or yellow skin, fine hair growing all over the body known as lanugo, anemia and muscle weakness, and constipation of great severity, low blood pressure and difficulty breathing. Even worse can be the damage to the heart, brain or other bodily organs, and even might cause a woman to become infertile. The longer a person has an eating disorder, the more damage that will be done to the body of the patient.

Another eating disorder which affects a large population of people is the condition known as bulimia nervosa. This is characterized by frequent and recurring episodes where a person will engage in eating a large amount of food which is followed by aggressive and obsessive behavior which compensates for the overeating. According to Steve Bloomfield of the Eating Disorders Association:

Sufferers of bulimia often present a happy front to the world but they usually feel deeply unhappy, experiencing strong emotions and erratic mood swings. They may endure extreme anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, shame and guilt. Away from others they may feel isolated and helpless…The irresistible urge to binge causes most of the behavioral signs of bulimia, although the binge eating sessions tend to occur when the sufferer is alone and able to binge secretly (69).

Those with bulimia engage in a cycle wherein “binge-eating is followed by behavior that compensates for the overeating such as forced vomiting, excessive use of laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise, or a combination of these behaviors” (National 3). Binging which is a massive intake of food over a short period of time is followed by purging which is the forced removal of those food stuffs through some artificial means, usually in self-induced vomiting or in taking of massive amounts of laxatives to hurry digestion. Some of the effects of this condition include chronic sore throat, worn tooth enamel from constant exposure to stomach acids, acid reflux, dehydration, and intestinal distress from abusing the laxatives. Some people who suffer from binge eating disorders do so without the expunging methods which characterize bulimia.

There are three potential reasons which serve to explain why people become sick with eating disorders. The Mayo Clinic identifies them as biological, psychological, and social. Genetics and biology can impact a person and their likelihood of getting an eating disorder. If a person has a family member with a condition, science has shown they are more likely to develop one as well suggesting a possible genetic propensity for the condition (Staff). Researchers have been able to prove a relationship between serotonin levels and the likelihood of an eating disorder. Serotonin is a chemical made by the brain which may have an impact on a person’s self-esteem or self-awareness. A person with psychological or emotional problems is more likely to develop an eating disorder than someone without such illnesses (Mazeo & Bulik). People who suffer from low self-esteem, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, perfectionism, or who has a troubled or difficult emotional relationship have an increased likelihood of becoming anorexic or bulimic. However, more than either of the other two forms sociology and the pressures of society have more impact on a young woman than anything else. Eating disorders are generated by an incorrect psychological perception of the self. A press release from the May Clinic stated:

The modern Western cultural environment often cultivates and reinforces a desire for thinness. Success and worth are often equated with being thin in popular culture. Peer pressure and what people see in the media may fuel this desire to be thin, particularly among young girls (Staff).

In the modern period, the ideal woman is one who is thin. Her thinness is equated with beauty and those who are not thin become labeled as ugly and unattractive. Negative body image is intrinsically linked to the formulation and formation of eating disorders (Smolak 16). A desire to be thin can become an obsession.

There are eating disorders which affect people all over the world, particularly in countries which are considered part of the western world. In such parts of the globe, there is a universal psychological impression that thin is beautiful which leads to eating disorders. The countries of the west were the first found to have eating disorders and this led to its being considered a western problem. This has been further proven by the fact that countries which have become westernized after periods of isolationism have reported incidences of eating disorders. For example, both Japan and the U.S.S.R. were nations which had isolated themselves from western influence for a long period of time. However, once they became open to western industry and western media the influences of iconography and the culture of the western world found their ways in both positive and negative instances within eastern countries (Cummins & Lehman 217). Throughout the world, eating disorders have taken hold of young women who had otherwise been healthy and well. It is believed that one or two out of every 100 female teenage students will struggle with an eating disorder at some point in her young life (Teens). Teenage girls are far more likely to become ill with a condition than males. More than 24 million people in the United States alone have been diagnosed with some form of eating disorder (Battiste & Effron). This astronomical number only takes into account the millions who have sought help for their condition. There are still millions more in the world that suffer from their condition without seeking outside help and will likely die from complications of the disease; a number which increases exponentially over time.

Researchers Lewison and his colleagues interviewed several college girls at various universities who were questioned when they were between the ages of 18 and 23. The scientists also investigated the comparison for the likelihood of full-syndrome or partial-syndrome eating disorders. The researchers found that approximately 3% of the population that they interviewed had some form of eating disorder when they were 18, a number which had been halved by the time they turned 19. Those who were still affected by an eating disorder at 19 were highly likely to continue to suffer from the condition by the time they reached the age of 23 (Lewinson 1286). Age and family history are also major factors in the development of illnesses. Young women before the age of twenty will be more likely to become ill than those who have reached intellectual, emotional, or legal maturity. Another research investigation performed in Australia by G.C. Patton and R. Selzer questioned girls who were between 14 and 15. They were able to determine that young girls who had experimented with dieting and other forms of weight loss by this time in their lives would be far more likely to become affected by an eating disorder than girls who had not (Patton & Selzer). It has been established that most people who develop eating disorders are between the ages of 13 and 17 (Teens). This is a highly emotional point in a young person’s life where hormones are imbalanced and puberty forces both physical changes and the realization of changes in others. Differences in body types are made visible and young women who do not conform to what society tells them is perfect or beautiful will find themselves even more unhappy and dedicated to forcing their bodies into the type of beauty that society demands of them.

The modern media helps to enforce the gender-based biases against larger body types. In her article entitled “The Empire of Images in our World of Bodies,” author Susan Bordo discusses the various ways in which our lives are entirely saturated by the visual iconography of our consumerist society and the universal psychology this creates. Specifically, Bordo is majorly concerned with the ways in which the perceptions of the human body within a society tend to conform to the immense saturation of body types that are presented in the visual culture. Beautiful people in the modern sense of the word beauty have to be thin. To be beautiful, a person must have specific characteristics as defined by the sociological majority. There are no instances of individuality and uniqueness but instead the women are forced into cookie-cutter versions of what is considered beautiful and made to become thin to the point of starvation. Anything that is considered outside this norm, such as women retaining a natural look or if they happen to weigh more than the many emaciated actresses on television or in films are considered ugly beings to the public mindset and thus undesirable. Bordo’s thesis is that the celebrity iconography of the popular culture dictates the self-perception of the population because it perpetuates a mythos of what is beautiful. Further scientific investigation into this subject has shown that the media’s portrayal of beauty has a heavy influence on the self-images of young women and men in the world today. In a test conducted by R.A. Botta, 214 teenage girls were questioned and Botta determined that a staggering 17% of a person’s own self-image and 33% of how a person determines beauty in terms of thin or heavy is influenced by the media. In the modern age, students are surrounded by media more than at any other time in human history (Botta 25). They have pictures on their phones and televisions and computers which they take with them wherever they travel. Everywhere in the world they are seeing images of what is accepted as beautiful by the majority of the population who share their culture. If they do not fit up to this ideal, they can easily become distraught and depressed. Therefore, there is a further desire to emulate what they see on television, in magazines, and in films. Young girls in particular want to look like the person they see celebrated by their society, which is what society says is beautiful.

Women have been heavily marginalized by the masculine powers of the social structure. Throughout much of human history, men have been in positions of power over women. This power forces the women into a position where they are controlled in everything from the home to the workplace. In the past this was even more pronounced. The interpersonal and social interaction of male and female is proven to be highly dominated by the members of the male gender. Before the 1900s, women where in charge of the home and men were in charge of everything outside the home, including business and politics. Now women are able to vote and hold some positions of power but are still marginalized by their male counterparts. Even today, the highest-paying jobs are most often given to men and women are very often paid far less even if they perform the same duties as men. Positions of power, such as executives or political offices are often given to men even if a woman is more qualified because of the stereotypes ingrained in the social psyche relating to the female gender. In June Jordan’s article “A New Politics of Sexuality,” she discusses various ways in which the male gender endeavors to oppress the female sex and does so in all aspects of life including both the business and personal realms (1). Just as women who are not thin are considered unattractive, so too women who behave outside the realm of what the male power base feels is appropriate will be considered somehow improper or wrong. According to Jordan, the gender that a person is born to have will dictate the whole rest of their life in terms of how they are treated by their same and then the opposite gender. The situation has improved in that women of the modern period can now be elected to office or can enter higher education, but there are still stereotypes about gender which hinder their efforts. Even though much of society has changed, women are still psychologically minimized as the weaker sex, which effects how the world responds to them as a gendered whole rather than as individual people. With all the progress that has been made, women are still seen as physically weak and intellectually inferior to the men who work alongside of them. The subjugation of women has been a major part of what leads them to become afflicted by eating disorders.

Minimizing the importance of women goes back to pre-history. In biblical times, women were regarded as inherently evil and malicious. Since the creation of Eve, women have been blackened and blamed with man’s downfall. According to the story of the Garden of Eden as described in the Book of Genesis, when God made Eve out of Adam’s rib, he told them both that the garden granted them many riches and pleasures, but that they must never eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. The story is well-known. Instead of abiding by God’s will, Eve was misled by Satan who had disguised himself as a serpent and convinced her to consume the apple in clear defiance of God’s orders. By consuming the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, Eve brings about the expulsion of Adam and herself from the Garden of Eden and their subsequent dooming to a life of hardship and toil in the outside world. Her consumption is considered the first act of sin and Original Sin is why men and women must suffer, must propagate through physical interaction, and why women must go through the unpleasantness of menstruation when they are not pregnant with children. Consequently, all living women are socially and religiously connected to her and her act of greed (Schwertley 1). By extension, the eating of food is also related to the sinning of woman and her subsequent association with evil. Sociologists who examine this religious question pinpoint the even as an important one in the ideology of a thin beautiful one. In order to make up for the eating of the apple, women must now refuse to indulge themselves in the act of eating. Only by self-denial can they make up for Eve’s transgression.

One of the greatest dangers for young women with eating disorders is that the condition will go unnoticed by family and friends. Part of the condition is mental and those who have eating disorders will rarely if ever self-diagnose and seek help without the intervention of others (Hook). When a thin girl loses forty pounds, it is automatically seen as suspicious and those around her are likely to get her some help. However, if a girl begins being over two hundred pounds and then drops forty in the same unhealthy manner as the skinny girl, by starvation, medication, excessive exercise, and purging, then she is unlikely to receive help (Girardot). Instead, she is congratulated for the weight loss which encourages her to go further. She does not get help, but instead the idea of thinness as acceptable and necessary are reinforced and the need to continue with her disorder further ingrained into her psyche. Therefore even within the gender profile, women are stratified based on their body types. Women are supposed to have solidarity in considering eating disorders because of the proclivity for affliction in their gender. Yet, when the person affected is heavy to start with, she is not regarded in the same ways as a thinner girl would be.

Anorexia and bulimia are widespread and rampant conditions which affect people around the world but despite their universally acknowledged dangers, there are still people who develop the disorders and even group which support and encourage people in their anorexia or bulimia. There are websites devoted to women becoming anorexic and encourage others to follow their example. They mislabel this medical condition as a lifestyle choice called Ana rather than understanding it as an eating disorder (Gailey 93). These people believe that anorexia allows them to have a degree of control over an otherwise chaotic life, similar to those who practice cutting or other forms of self-abuse. Websites dedicated to the Ana lifestyle have message boards and chat rooms where young women can discuss their conditions and compare their unhealthy weight loss. They also serve to encourage women into continuing a lifestyle which family or friends understand to be dangerous. Part of what keeps women from seeking help for eating disorders is the pressure from loved ones, but when this support is replaced by other people with disorders who support their unhealthy choices then they will not seek help but will continue on the path to self-destruction.

Females are not the only people affected by eating disorders although the majority of the victims are women. Perhaps 10-15% of all sufferers of eating disorders are men although thre may be more. Traditionally, males with such conditions have been far less likely to report it or to seek help than their female counterparts. Men with eating disorders most commonly suffer from a mental condition known as muscle dysmorphia which makes them see themselves unrealistically. According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

[It] is characterized by an extreme concern with becoming more muscular. Unlike girls with eating disorders, who mostly want to lose weight, some boys with muscle dysmorphia see themselves as smaller than they really are and want to gain weight or bulk up. Men and boys are more likely to use steroids or other dangerous drugs to increase muscle mass (6).

Although not nearly as common as female eating disorders, male conditions can be just as serious and very much as deadly.

Certain groups are more likely to become afflicted by an eating disorder than other groups. For example, athletes and dancers are especially likely to develop a disorder. In these fields, there is additional pressure to be thin and svelte both because of appearance and because it impacts the performance of the individual. Female teens involved in sports like gymnastics, ice skating, and ballet are pressured by coaches, their parents, and their peers to maintain an ideal body weight (Teens). In order to be successful in these sports are artistic forms, a certain body type is encouraged and even demanded. Those who are not thin enough but still want to participate in something like ballet are going to suffer great amounts of pressure from all those around them.

Western expansion into other parts of the world has encouraged anorexia and bulimia to spread into non-western countries. It has also spread past the first known victims of the diseases, which were young white women. Researchers and scientists who focus on the field refer to this as the “Western Contagion Effect,” as if the ideas of the western world were infecting those in other parts of the earth (Herrin & Matsumoto). Now girls of all races, religions, and creeds can develop one of the conditions under the umbrella term of eating disorder. Some cultures have a belief which considers a curvaceous woman to be what is beautiful, such as in the African-American and Latin American communities. However, even these groups which have heretofore been impervious to the media manipulation of beauty are starting to change in the face of western cultural assimilation. Some researchers assert that there have always been more minority women who suffer from eating disorders but were unwilling to report their conditions, much like men because their individual cultures were more embracing of larger women (Brodey). Even taking in lack of reporting into consideration, researchers still insist that there is an increase in the amount of minority women who have eating disorders. This is also blamed on media. In the article entitled “Blacks Join the Eating-Disorder Mainstream,” author Denise Brodey claims that the increased diversity of racial types in media has actually had an adverse affect because now women who are minorities see thin versions of women who share their ethnicity and are consequently feeling the same media-based pressures which have been associated with white anorexia or bulimia.

The treating of eating disorders has not had much improvement in the decades since the disease was first founded (Rome 98). Before the conditions became widely acknowledged, a large number of women died from self-imposed starvation or other negative effects of the various diseases. In treating anorexia, bulimia, and binging disorders the most important thing is to get therapeutic treatment and counseling. Part of the reason that the situation gets so terribly out of control is that these illnesses go untreated for a long period of time, often being mistaken for dieting or natural weight loss. When women, or the odd man, become afflicted with an eating disorder, then she or rarely will he need to get treated. Psychiatry and therapy is important but so is physical therapy to replenish weakened muscles and nutritional therapy. Women who have become ill with eating disorders need to learn about proper nutrition, about what nutrients the body needs to survive and healthy ways to keep their weight under control without reverting to their unhealthy ways.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are terrible diseases which have affected people all over the world, particularly in the western world. Women have been told that they need to be thin in order to be considered beautiful by the other people who are part of their culture. Nothing else matters except how they look and what size they wear. Although the majority of the people who suffer from eating conditions are white women, these conditions can affect any type of person no matter their gender or skin color. As western culture has spread, the conditions have affected more and more people throughout the world. Anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders are horrible, serious diseases which must be treated as quickly as possible to prevent them from spreading or doing permanent damage.

Works Cited:

Bates, Daniel. “Globalization of Fat Stigma: Western Ideas of Beauty and Body Size Catching

on in Developing Nations.” Daily Mail. 2011. Print.

Battiste, Nikki & Lauren Effron.”EDNOS: Deadliest Eating Disorder Is Quietly the Most

Common.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 14 Nov. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2012. .

Bloomfield, Steve. Eating Disorders: Helping Your Child Recover. Eating Disorders

Association. 2006. Print.

Bordo, Susan. “The Empire of Images in our World of Bodies.” 2010. Web. Nov 2012.

Botta, R.A. “Television Images and Adolescent Girls’ Body Image Disturbance.” Journal of Communication. 49:2. 22-41. 1999. Print.

Brodey, Denise. “Blacks Join the Eating-Disorder Mainstream.” The New York Times. 2005.


Cummins, L.H. & Lehman, J. “40% of Eating Disorder Cases are Diagnosed in Females Ages

15-19 Years Old.” Eating Disorders and Body Image Concerns in Asian-American Women: Assessment and Treatment from a Multi-Cultural and Feminist Perspective. Eating Disorders. 15. 2007. 217-30. Print.

Gailey, J. “Starving is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have: the Pro-Ana Subculture as Edgework.”

Critical Criminology. 17. 2009. 93-108. Print.

Girardot, Diane R. “Eat with Ease, Need and Desire for Food Co-Exist.” The Inquirer. 2012.


Herrin, Marcia & Nancy Matsumoto. “A Tale of Two Jobs: Class, Race, Body Image and Eating

Disorders.” Psychology Today. 2011. Print.

Hook, Debra-Lynn B. “The Signs of Unhealthy Eating.” N.p., 2012. Web.

19 Nov. 2012. .

Jordan, J. “A New Politics of Sexuality.” Some of Use Did Not Die: New and Selected

Essays of June Jordan. New York, NY: Basic. 131-36. 2003. Print.

Lewinson, Peter M. “Epidemiology and Natural Course of Eating Disorders in Young Women

from Adolescence to Young Adulthood.” Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 39:10. 1284-1292. 2000. Print

Mazzeo, Suzanne E & Cynthia M. Bulik. “Environmental and Genetic Risk Factors for Eating

Disorders: What the Clinician Needs to Know.” Child Adolescent Psychiatry Clinic. (18:1). 2008. 67-82. Print.

National Institute of Mental Health. Eating Disorders. U.S. Dept. Of Health and Human Services.

Patton, G.C. And R. Selzer. “Onset of Adolescent Eating Disorders: Population-Based Cohort

Study over 3 Years | BMJ.” Home | BMJ. 1999. Print.

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Pediatrics. 111. 98-108. 2003. Print.

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We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment  Help Service Works

1.      Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2.      Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3.      Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4.      Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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