22 Feb 2012

Distorted Body Image Affects College Women Locally and Nationwide and Can Lead to Health Concerns

Author: Simone Jackson | Filed under: BGSU, Localizing story, Spring 2012, Student Contributor


Asheley Sapp, a sophomore at BGSU, has struggled with body image. Photo taken by Simone Jackson

By: Simone Jackson

Asheley Sapp, a sophomore at Bowling Green State University, began having body image issues at age 10.  

She said she started dieting early because she felt pressure from her grandmother to be thin.

“She was from that generation where women were stick thin. She would call me fat,” Sapp said.

According to the National Association of Anorexia and Associated Disorder’s website, 91 percent of college women have attempted to control their weight through dieting and of 185 female students surveyed on a college campus, 58 percent said they felt pressure to be a certain weight.  Extreme emotion and preoccupation with weight can lead to eating disorders, said the website. BGSU health care specialists said that they have treated many female students with eating disorders, but do not have estimates of the number of women.

 “It is becoming more widespread because of pressures from the media and society,” said Ashley Zavertnik, a counselor at BGSU’s counseling center. There is an idea that thin is in, and some people will do whatever they can to try to fit that, she said.

An eating disorder can stem from a lot of things. There are many triggers and underlying reasons as to why someone may choose to engage in it, Zavertnik said.

“Women may develop unhealthy eating habits because they have lost something in their life. Controlling their weight is their way of gaining control of their life, said Barbara Hoffman, associate director of clinical studies at BGSU’s student health center.

The lack of a balanced diet due to trying to become thinner can lead to loss of focus, changes in a woman’s menstrual cycle and bone loss, Hoffman said.

In a college environment where students are constantly surrounded by their peers, there can be increased pressure to want to fit a certain body type, Zavertnik said.

“I have found that in my time of counseling some women don’t realize that they have a problem, and consequently do not seek help,” she said.

A woman might start a diet with the intention of only losing a few pounds, Zavertnik said. After she is complemented on her new figure, she could want to continue to lose weight.  This could easily turn to an obsession, she said.

BGSU offers dieticians, nurses and counselors to help students deal with distorted body image and eating disorders.

“We try to provide students with wrap around care. Help is always available,” Zavertnik said.

Sapp said that while she has never had an eating disorder she still feels some pressure to be a certain size.

 “Spring break is coming up and I am on edge.  My friends are skinny. You don’t want to be the only girl wearing a one piece swimsuit,” she said.

There will always be a fashion in bodies, but the time, energy and resources that go into trying to fit that standard is exhausting, said Mary Krueger, director of BGSU’s women’s center.

“The idea that you have to conform to the beauty myth in order to be accepted is a great way to control women,” Krueger said. The standard of what is desirable in women is played out in the media, which is controlled largely by men, she said.

Sapp said that she started to care a lot more about her weight when a male friend made a comment.

“He called me fat and told me he didn’t want to talk to me anymore because I had gained too much,” Sapp said. “Men see those images on TV of women with perfect bodies and they expect that in the women they date.  It is very frustrating,” she said.

Historically, women were valued by what they looked like, and men were valued by their accomplishments, Krueger said. The value that is placed on women to look a certain way has gotten worse because of technology, she said.

“Today there are so many more ways for messages to reach a person,” Krueger said.

One of the reasons women struggle so much with accepting their physical appearance is because the ideal is constantly changing, Krueger said. 

“If you happen to fall into that demographic, do not get too comfortable,” she said.  

It is difficult to put a number on how many women actually suffer from a negative body image, Zavertnik said.

“If everyone didn’t make such a big deal about it, it would not be a big deal,” Sapp said.

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