Social Stressors

We have covered a little about family and religion vis a vis disordered eating and eating disorder risk. I’d like to turn now to social and societal factors, as they also contribute to risk. Thin body ideals and unrealistic body expectations cultivated from media exposure often create higher incidence of body image concerns that influence inappropriate dieting and food behaviors. This is especially relevant to young adolescent females, who are inherently more susceptible to these pressures, as they are a primary focus of media attention. This is done in order to shape a young and impressionable girl’s awareness and cognition regarding physical beauty and is achieved by highlighting what is important and valuable to society, and, at the same time, what is not. These mostly unrealistic expectations and unattainable standards can create self-imposed pressure for the adolescent girl and lead to increased disordered eating and eating disorder risk and behaviors.

Additionally, adolescents are very highly invested in and motivated by what their peers think of them. If an adolescent does not feel a sense of belonging to or acceptance by her desired social circles, disordered eating and/or eating disorders can ensue. There are many of these types of pressures experienced by girls, including the pressure of belonging to certain social circles, the pressure of fitting in with and being accepted by their friends, perfectionistic pressure, appearance pressure, academic pressure, as well as the overall pressure to be thin. The weight of these demands is taxing and can be destructive to a girl’s self-esteem, body-image, and overall body acceptance and further, is also a documented source of anxiety for them.

Social network sites, another significant source of social pressure, are documented to increase disordered eating attitudes for those who already possess negative attitudes about themselves and can nudge others towards the development of a negative self-image as well. Interestingly, disordered eating has been adopted as a self-soothing tool used by those affected from these negative attitudes and is described as helping to alleviate the negative or unpleasant social media feedback experience. However, even though this coping method may at first appear calming and/or pacifying to those who use it, ultimately it leads to more dangerous and destructive eating behaviors down the road.

There is much to be said about social influence and its powerful impact on young girls. So much so, it simply cannot be adequately covered in one post. Nevertheless, it is critical that we monitor how our daughters are experiencing and internalizing their social network experiences, both online and in person, so that we can detect and get help for any issues as soon as possible.

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