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?