do sororities promote low body image?

My aunt sent this article to me this weekend on whether sororities promote a negative body image and create an environment where comparing eachother is a favorite pastime. It was interesting reading it because while I know my experience was different, my sorority actually kept me at Elon University for my whole sophomore year.

By Easter of 2006, I was very sick. I told my mom I had an eating disorder while I was home for the holiday and she asked me right then if I just wanted to stay home. Yes, I actually did actually, but being my perfectionist self and knowing that I’d be more disappointed in not finishing my classes, I went back to North Carolina. Now I had been talking to a therapist at school before I told my mom and a few sorority sisters had been helping me since I opened up to them, but my sisters were my backbone down there. Yay Delta Delta Delta!

However, in this article from Parent Dish, research showed that girls who join a panhellenic sorority are more likely to compare themselves to others based on appearance and participate in bulimic tendencies.

Now this article does say that sororities have gotten stereotyped in movies like Legally Blonde, but that in some, those images don’t stem far from the truth. Take the Pi Beta Phi chapter at Ithaca University who recently got bad press in an Ivy League school gossip blog, IvyGate.

The guide includes ‘yes’ and ‘no’ lists of acceptable and unacceptable clothing, shoes and accessories for all occasions. ‘No’s’ include muffin tops, camel toe and pleather, with a special consideration for satin dresses that explains, ‘No one looks good in satin dresses unless it’s from Betsey Johnson or Dolce and Gabbana, you weigh less than 130 pounds, have three pairs of Spanks on and it’s New Years Eve.’

I don’t believe that that’s acceptable for any sorority. Unfortunately it can happen and fortunately, those chapters can get caught for inappropriate hazing. Each sorority has a national reputation (I was lucky that mine had a good one), but even with that, each chapter has different variations to it based on location and who the girls are. I’ve known sororities where the chapter at Elon (where I rushed) and the chapter at American is completely different in personality- from girls who were more academic and into books to the more “popular” girls.

But rush is not always fun. A sophomore at Cornell, who recently rushed said, As much as they say it’s not based on appearances, the whole rush process can be very demeaning if you’re not comfortable with yourself. If you’re shy or don’t put yourself together well, then you won’t do well getting into a house.

The article states that the study supports this idea and reported that girls who rushed showed having higher levels of body shame after one month of pledging than those who did not.

Likewise, the study showed that girls who had dropped out during the rush process had a higher BMI than those who went onto pledging after rush. It has to be added though that these BMI’s were healthy, not overweight, but just lower in general which prompted researchers to believe that thin body ideal, not necessarily a healthy ideal, remains. (To read more about my feelings on BMI, go here)

I’m not going to fight the study per se, but at the same time, I feel like it’s more about the girl’s feelings towards herself that are the root of the problem. Some sororities may have a negative effect on a girl’s body image, but if it’s not strong to begin or they have some personality precursors for an eating disorder, whether they’re in a sorority or not, they will compare themselves to others or participate in poor eating behaviors.

A New York City-based sustainability consultant, Lauren Hildebrand, agrees with me by saying, There are some sororities that probably demanded a certain look, which might have been a lot of pressure for people pledging. But there were also others that were more open and diverse — it really depends on the individual sorority you’re rushing.

AND the study did show that t is possible for the rush process to have no effect on the way girls view themselves. It suggests that women who hold these views and women already engaging in, or at risk for, eating disorder behaviors and attitudes may be more likely to participate in sorority rush, and that membership in a sorority may amplify pre-existing, problematic attitudes and behaviors. Didn’t I just say that?

As a whole. I thought that the article did show both sides of the story; however it also made me question how the study was done. I took a communications research class last semester and we learned all about how to create comprehensive surveys that did not try to persuade your participant’s answers one way or another. It was tough! As a person, you don’t realize how your words can affect others opinions, especially if they’re uneasy so if the researchers wanted to find this kind of outcome, they could have just based on how their survey was worded.

There was actually a poll embedded in the article and while the sample might not be diverse, it was interesting to see the results after I took it. Here it is:

What would you answer? I answered “No, I didn’t have this issue when I was in a sorority.” Yes, I was sick, but not because of my sorority at all.

Their sources were also not impressive to me since they quote a Cornell student (ok), a researcher (who may or may not have been biased), a sustainability consultant (what is that?!?) and at the very end of the article, a National Panhellenic Conference advisor. I feel like the article could have used sources from at least one other school, which would have shown the differences between the different greek life, and also a therapist instead of a consultant. If you truly want to understand the issue, you need the diversity of schools, but also the psychological basis, which was only addressed by a consultant here and does not seem too reputable.

Are you a member of a sorority- whether it’s now or life-long? What was your experience?


5 responses to “do sororities promote low body image?

  1. I didn’t do the sorority thing mostly because I didn’t have time. But I think it is one of those things that really depends on the girls in your chapter, and would be no different than if you just hung out and associated with a bunch of girls that had unhealthy habits or were constantly critiquing each other and tearing each other down. I think there is such thing as a sorority with a bunch of supportive, caring people that help build up each other’s confidence and I think there are many others out there that do quite the opposite. I think that is why rushing is really important and you should feel out the girls and make sure that they are the kind of people you want to surround yourself with. For me, it just never felt right and was a time obligation I didn’t feel ready for, and I think that was the right decision for me, but I think other girls could really benefit from being in a healthy sorority.

  2. I was a ZTA at JMU ❤ This sorority, along with our Tri Delts were definetely known for having "the classy girls with pearls". As far as eating disorders, it was never a problem in our house. We had healthy girls of all shapes and sizes (thankfully)…but i WILL say that there is a CERTAIN sorority on campus who hazes their girls and makes them stand in front of each other in bikinis so the older girls can circle their cellulite with permanent marker. What on earth would make someone WANT to pay to join that kind of group? Come on girls…you have to love yourself more than that.

  3. I was not in a sorority – I rushed and did not get in anywhere – and at the time I definitely blamed it on my appearance. I believed that they did not want me because I was not pretty enough and I was too fat. I was very fragile at the time. This was a very rough time in my life and being too fat was my standby excuse for anything that went wrong.

    From friends I heard about bad weight experiences while in the sorority as well, lots of Fat Talk about what not to wear, etc.

    As for eating disorders, they were rampant on campus – most of the girls I knew (sorority or not) had some sort of eating issue. It was not uncommon to hear girls throwing up in the bathroom or see bone-thin girls working out for hours. All part of being the “perfect girl” – straight A’s, pretty and thin, fun partier – that most girls at my school wanted to be.

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