SPRING, 2003


Laura John

Anorexia and Bulimia:
Social Pressures in Being Thin

Society plays a big role in why women develop eating disorders such as bulimia and anorexia.  Bulimia and anorexia are disorders that make you believe that you are fat and you continue losing weight in unhealthy ways.  Bulimia and anorexia are very serious and dangerous disorders.  From an early age, girls are taught to believe that thin is better.  Social pressure to stay unhealthily thin is a primary cause of anorexia and bulimia.  Social pressures are in sports such as gymnastics, figure skating and ballet dancing, in pop-culture and on television.  These things push women to believe being thin will make you beautiful, happy and successful.

Anorexia is the severe pursuit of being thin.  People that suffer from anorexia starve themselves, are terrified of gaining weight even though they are underweight, deny the danger of low weight and report feeling fat even when they are very thin. 

Bulimia is the diet-binge-purge disorder.  People that suffer from bulimia misuse laxatives and diets, and when not dieting they binge eat and then force themselves to vomit frequently and repeatedly after eating.  They also over-exercise or fast to get rid of calories.

Anorexia and bulimia cause serious physical problems.  They can affect the cardiovascular, nervous system, gastrointestinal, hormones, kidneys and skeletal system.  Anorexia and bulimia can result in death from starvation, gastric hemorrhaging, or multiple organ failure.  “Food provides the nourishment our bodies need to function normally” (Chiu 6).  People that are anorexic or bulimic aren’t giving their body any nourishment or are stripping their body of nourishment from foods that they need in order for their bodies to function. 

“Our society encourages the idea that being thin is beautiful and sexy” (Chiu 6).  Sports, pop-culture and television play an enormous role in concepts such as body image.  Women develop anorexia and bulimia because they have low self-esteem and low self-worth.  They feel as if they aren’t loved and accepted by others because of their appearance.  […] “Females of all ages have been sold the belief that thin is beautiful” (Immell 61).  “ The media foster and promotes this belief …pressuring women and girls to live up to the image projected by beautiful, thin supermodels and movie and television stars” (Immell 61).

“On television, in magazines and newspapers, we are continually exposed to the notion that losing weight will make us happier and it will be through “This Diet Plan””  (“Anorexia” 2).  When Young women see these advertisements on television, magazines and newspapers it makes them feel they must lose weight to be accepted by others because not being thin is unacceptable and ugly in our society.  It is easy to see why some girls might be more prone to developing an eating disorder: just turn on the T.V. or flip through a fashion magazine” (‘Anorexia and Bulimia” 1).  The models in the fashion magazines have the so-called “body image” that women may develop anorexia and bulimia to be as thin as those models.  If you flip through Vogue or Cosmopolitan magazine you will see nothing but thin women, practically all the same size.  When women see nothing but thin women in their favorite magazines, they are prone to believe this is what they are supposed to look like.  On television shows such as “Friends”, all the main actors/ actresses have the “ideal body”.  Every once in a while they have flashbacks when Monica was fat in her younger days.  In those days Monica was considered ugly and she had no friends and couldn’t get any dates.  In Rachel's younger days on “Friends” she was always thin and was considered the pretty and popular girl that every girl wanted to be like and every boy wanted to be with.  “Overweight characters are typically portrayed as lazy, the one with no friends, or “the bad guy”, while thin women and pumped-up men are the successful, popular, sexy and powerful ones” (“Society” 1).   If this is shown on television no wonder that people fall under the belief that being thin equals being happy.  Women and young girls see this and believe they need to be thin to be accepted.   This is why many people develop anorexia and bulimia.

When you think of gymnasts, figure skaters and ballet dancers you think immediately of a slender body.  In sports such as gymnastics, figure skating and ballet dancing, women are pushed to maintain a low body weight by their coach or parents.  “But in an effort to make their bodies perfect and please those around them, these athletes can end up with an eating disorder” (“Anorexia and Bulimia” 1). There are many cases in which these athletes died to succeed in their profession.   “ In 1997 a young ballerina by the name of Heidi Guenther died of fatal heart attack as the result of her eating disorder.  She was 22” (“Society”4).  “Gymnast Christy Henrich died from complications due to her eating disorder in 1994, at 22 years of age” (“Society” 4). 

Pop-culture is another leading role in why women develop anorexia and bulimia.  A lot of young women and girls look up to Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera because they portray the idealistic body image.  Young women and girls are faced with thin and beautiful celebrities and aspire to be like them.  When these young women and girls are faced with seemingly beautiful and thin celebrities sharing the same culture they might also wish to achieve the same physical goals.  Young women and girls also see supermodels on television and feel that is how a woman should look.  “By far, these body types and images are not the norm and unobtainable to the average individual and far and wide the constant force of these images on society makes us believe they should be”(“Society” 1). 

Society makes people believe that the ideal beauty is being thin.  We are brought into a society that does not celebrate everyone’s beauty, and this makes it difficult for people to love oneself (Williams 144).   As a result, women may develop disorders such as anorexia or bulimia to become thin and have the idealistic body image that society portrays.  Anorexia and bulimia are a devastating and life threatening disorders.  We are exposed to the notion that in order to belong and fit in society we must be thin; we see this in everyday life in sports, pop culture, on television, in magazines and in newspapers.  As Williams has said, “If we are to move beyond these values we must be able to face ourselves our goals and beliefs and trust that they are rooted in something deeper that a desire to belong, fit in or prove that we can do just as well” (144).

Works Cited

“Anorexia.” Disordered Beauty. 2003 Mar 20. <http://www.beautyworlds.com/anorexiaprint.htm>.

“Anorexia and Bulimia.” Eating Disorders. 1995-2003. The Nemours Foundation. 2003 May 1. <http://www.kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/mental_health/eat_disorder_p2.html>

Chui, Christina. Eating Disorder Survivors Tell Their Stories. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 1998.

Immel, Myra H. “Why Thin Is In.” Eating Disorders. Ed. Jill Zimmerman. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1999. 61-69.

“Society-Prevention.” Something Fishy Website on Eating Disorders.  2003 Mar 25. <http://www.something-fishy.org/prevention/society.php>.

Williams, Saul. “No Longer Afraid of the Dark.” Essence. June 2003: 144.

Darya Nazarenko
English 24 D13D

The Existence of Pay Inequity

Until recently only a small number of women employed in the offices of American business held positions other than typists or secretaries. Typing, filing, and other clerical positions were considered women’s work. The high-paying and high-status executive positions were reserved for men. Issues of sex discrimination in hiring and promoting began to attract attention over a century ago. As a result of a long struggle of movements for equal pay, in 1963 Congress passed the Equal Pay Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, national origin, or privileges of employment. However, sex-based pay discrimination among office workers still exist in spite of existing wage discrimination laws. Today women have achieved significant wage gains, but the stereotyping of gender roles is still a significant factor that makes it harder for working women, particularly office workers, to have equal access to the high-paying and high-status executive positions.

In order to understand issues of wage discrimination we have to take a look at historical facts on how women entered the office. After the Civil War the expansion of capitalist firms caused an increase in the demand for clerical labor (Davies 55). An increase in amount of correspondence and record keeping was required to hire more clerical workers. The best candidates for these positions were women just because of the simple fact that their labor was cheaper than men’s. There was a belief that women were inferior to men. “Women were often thought to be working for “pin money” with which to make frivolous purchases” (Davies 56). There was a belief that women did not need to earn money for living because they were supported by their families or husbands. Women were financially depended on men. The only reason for making money was to spend it for miscellaneous expenses. Since this was a major reason there was nothing the matter with paying them low wages. In addition, it was historical stereotype that women’s roles were to get married and raise a family. This stereotype made women considered as not serious members of the labor force. Employers believed that after marriage female employers would return to their natural roles, as childcare and housekeeping, and it would take almost all chances to work. These beliefs made employers reserve high-paying managerial, professional, and technical positions for men. At this period of time, employee’s requirements such as being steadfast, and persistent and having the ability to work for a long period of time were associated only with men (Davies 56). This explains sources of formation the stereotype of working women, which led them to hold certain types of jobs such as clerical low-paying positions.

Several factors have made the rise of working women’s organizations possible. First of all, it was a financial situation faced by women in their families. In second, the society itself motivated them to organize women office workers’ movements. Women tended to enter the labor force during periods of economic crisis. During the Great Depression and World War II men could not resolve financial difficulties by themselves. The families also depended on the income of working women. Women realized the economic necessity of working for wages (Goldberg 23). At the same time, the society’s morality of getting divorced had changed. Women could already divorce without condemnation of the society. And since it happened, they were aware that they should support themselves. Small wages became a barrier to becoming an independent person. All these factors and the growing awareness of the salary differences contributed to dissatisfaction with wages among clerical women workers. Women had realized that women office workers were treated unequal to men. It was much more difficult for women to be promoted or to be hired to high-paying positions. Women’s movements helped them to realize and to focus on issues that affected their job opportunities. That is why it was very important to continue to struggle for improving the existing conditions in which working women found themselves. Women’s office workers’ organizations tried to achieve a couple of goals such as winning rights and respect for female office workers, breaking down barriers of the stereotype of gender role (Goldberg 39). The general goals “were carried out in a variety of educational projects, media events, rallies, and specific campaigns of direct action aimed primarily at the issues of sex discrimination” (Goldberg 57).

The meaning and expectations of gender in relation to labor finally translated into the politically successful struggle for the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The government has enacted these laws in the effort to protect workers against wage discrimination and to promote equal employment opportunities for men and women. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit unequal pay for equal work performed by men and women. Women cannot be paid differently because of their sex. They cannot be intentionally segregated into “women’s” job. Women cannot be denied the right to apply for any jobs, particularly higher paying jobs often performed by males. They cannot be denied promotions or any other job opportunities because of their sex (Williams and Kessler 28). However, even if women have got a right to be legally protected against wage discrimination, the subliminal stereotyping of gender roles is so strong that discrimination continued taking place.

Let’s take a look at statistics on the wage gap in order to understand if there is wage discrimination. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 1997 the ratio of women’s to men’s weekly earnings was 74.4 percent (“CHN Issue Brief on Pay Equity” n.p.). This 26 percent pay gap was decreased from about 37 percent in 1979. However, this decrease was not because women’s wages had risen but because men’s wages had declined. If men’s wages had not declined since 1979, the wage gap would still be around 34-37 percent. This ratio is the remarkable evidence that gap between wages of female and male jobs still exist. “Scientific American” magazine published that in 1998 women hold only 28 percent of the eight million jobs in the better-paying professions with the average compensation of more than $40,000 (Doyle 30). They explain this low percentage by a gender schema and the low pay because women do not have equal access to the high financially rewarding positions. In addition, the data of comparison of men and women in the 500 largest companies provided by Catalyst in 1999 shows that of the 2,353 top earners only 77 are women, which is only 3.3% (Conlin 90).

Another good example of the present existence of wage discrimination in America is various court cases. One of such charges was filed by Sharon Long in 1995 based on the discrimination alleging gender-based unequal pay (Long n.p.). Long was hired by a wholesaler company to work as a purchasing assistant. Two years later, she was promoted to purchasing agent and was only one female in this department. All agents were doing equal work. Based on her observation of the life-style of her co-workers doing the same job, she began suspect that she was paid lower wages. A few years later Long mentioned to her manager about unequal pay and possible raise. She received an answer that he was going to double her salary in order to put her on the same pay scale as her male co-workers. Long knew that she was underpaid, but she had no idea of how much. One month later she was fired, told by manager that the company had a financial crisis and that an automated purchasing program would be able to perform her job. A little bit later another male was hired who took over her accounts. It was clear that Long was fired in relation on her complaint about unequal wages. The company agreed to pay Long $200,000 in an out-of-court settlement. This case is a good evidence that women still have to stand up for the equal pay they deserve.

The consequences of pay inequity may reflect not only the lives of women and their families but also the companies they work for as well as the society as whole. One of the subscribers of “Glamour” magazine said that if she felt that she had no chance to be promoted simply because she was female, it would affect the work she performed (“Glass Ceiling Survey” 162). She could not contribute a lot to the company that saw her as a less valuable, intelligent employee without motivation. Therefore, it is possible to draw the conclusion that companies are suffering from an unequal attitude. The wage differentials reflect not only the choices of the individual, but also their level of poverty. The study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded that if women could find jobs paying the same wages as those held by men of the same age and the same educational background then the welfare for working single mother could be cut in half (“CHN Issue Brief on Pay Equity” n.p.). This would definitely a great advantage for our government, which recently has financial problems, and for whole nation. And as a student of economics I can say that if we have employment discrimination and people do not earn and do not do what they desire, it means that we have less than full production because we are not efficiently allocating our labor. In other words, there are a lot of people who should be engineers, or corporate workers or in our case office workers, but they have been condemned to lower level occupations because of the simple fact that they happen not to be males.

Even if we have laws that protect women from wage discrimination, cases are extremely difficult to prove and win. To resolve these problems women need to struggle for stronger legislation and clarify the right to pay equity (“Questions and Answers on Pay Equity” n.p.). Also with a help of history of female office workers women can entering the debate and have in their hands the possibility of shaping the future of their lives. There is also a sign that wage discrimination based on gender is noticed. The report by the AFL-CIO organization shows that 94 percent of working office women respondents said that the issue about to have equal access to the high-paying positions is very important for them (“CHN Issue Brief on Pay Equity” n.p.). That fact gives a hope to the future that women will not leave this problem aside. With increases of action and active participation of working office women they could change the view of traditional stereotype of gender role.

Based on this research we can see that wage discrimination based on gender is still widespread. Working women are still continuing to suffer from the historical stereotype of gender roles that were created by our society. The society itself is suffering. A wage rate is an important index of independence, self-respect, community norms, and public status. If working women continue to show the society that they are not going away, and if they make their voices louder, then the society will have no choice but to listen to women and make changes in the attitude toward working office women. The fight for rights at work is also a fight for our future generations.  

Works cited

CHN Issue Brief on Pay Equity.” Coalition on Human Needs. Jan. 2000. CHN. 14 Apr 2003. <http://www.chn.org/issuebriefs/payequity.asp>.

Conlin, Michelle. “The CEO Still Wears Wingtips.” Business Week 22 Nov. 1999: 85-90.

Davies, Margery. Women’s Place is at the Typewriter. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1982.

Doyle, Rodger. “Women and Professions.” Scientific American Apr. 2000: 30.

“Glass Ceiling Survey.” Glamour Apr 2000: 160-162.

Goldberg, Roberta. Organizing Women Office Workers. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1983.

Long, Sharon. “Wage Discrimination in Workplace.” Women Friendly Workplace Campaign Speakout. 28 Jan 2000. National Organization for Women. 14 Apr 2003. <http://www.now.org/issues/wfw/speakout/msg00463.html>.

“Questions and Answers on Pay Equity.” Feminist. 1999. National Committee on Pay Equity. 14 Apr 2003. <http://www.feminist.com/fairpay/f_qape.htm>.

Williams, Robert and Lorence Kessler. A Closer Look at Comparable Worth. Washington: National Foundation, 1984.