Dara Chadwick

Dara Chadwick

You'd Be So Pretty If...

This Just In: Friends Can Be Bad For Your Body Image

Does this really surprise any woman?

Posted Mar 05, 2010

A new study just published in the journal Sex Roles has found that college women who join a sorority are more judgmental of their bodies and display more eating-disordered behaviors than women who don't join sororities.

Ashley Marie Rolnik completed her senior honors thesis on the topic. She surveyed 127 first-year college women aged 17 to 20 at a U.S. midwestern university and found that "levels of self-objectification and disordered eating behavior were higher among rush participants than among women who did not take part...a month after the rush, new members also displayed higher levels of body shame."

Does this really surprise any woman?

Please don't accuse me of bashing sororities because that's not at all what I mean. But I've yet to meet an adult woman who can't tell you her own story of "body pressures" she's faced in a group situation. Here are just a few examples:

  • Fat talk as bonding. "Ugh, my thighs are so fat." "You think your thighs are fat? Look at mine -- see how they jiggle."
  • "I'll just have a salad." Go out to dinner with a group of women and notice how uncomfortable you feel ordering a meat-and-potatoes entree when everyone else orders salad.
  • The once-over. We've all felt it -- and done it. The judgmental eye of another woman appraising our appearance and completing a mental calculation of your attractiveness versus her own in her head.

Women can be really hard on each other, sometimes on purpose and sometimes unintentionally. In some group situations, there's almost an "attractiveness" pecking order. It's felt most at times when conformity is important: In middle school, when joining a sorority and sometimes even at the monthly PTO meeting. Our perception of how we "measure up" to our peers matters. It affects what we say and do, and our role in the group. Consider this tidbit from the study's findings: "Those women with higher body weights were more likely to drop out of the rush process and feel dissatisfied with it, even though those who dropped out were not overweight but simply less thin than those who joined the sorority."

As moms, it's all too easy to tell our daughters that real friends don't judge us based on what we look like. But do you believe that when you're 13 and trying to fit in? Do you believe it when you're 18 and trying to become part of a sisterhood?

What can we do? First and foremost, we can listen. We can acknowledge the pressures that girls feel in these situations. And we can work hard at building our daughters' self-confidence and being that "safe place" where they're loved unconditionally.

A few other ways to lessen peer group pressure:

  • Help her feel she looks her best. It's not necessarily about having the "same" clothes or the "right" hairstyle. It's not about whether you like what she's wearing, it's about helping her feel confident among her peers.
  • Play to her strengths. Support and cheer on what makes her special, whether it's a sport, artistic talent, a cool hobby...whatever it is that makes her who she is.
  • Help her develop multiple friendship groups. Gently remind her and encourage her to develop friendships outside of school or with women who aren't in her sorority.



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