If you or someone you know is struggling to recover from anorexia, bulimia, or another eating disorder, you might be wondering just what caused it and why the prevalence of eating disorders seems to be on the rise. While there are numerous factors that layer into the equation, in this blog post, we’ll look at the role that society plays in eating disorders.

Culture and body weightthe-story-we-tell

It’s a well-known fact that in 21st-century American culture, there is a prevailing sense that “thin is beautiful” for women. It’s also no secret that while we possess an awareness that much of that thinness is fake due to photoshop and other editing techniques, we still buy into it.

What’s less well-known is that our current standard of attaching thinness to beauty is arbitrary. It is by no means universal across cultures and across the centuries to think that “thin is beautiful” or to make beauty so strongly dependent on thinness.

Even in Western cultures, “plump” was considered to be beautiful, healthy, resistant to disease, fertile, and “sexy” up until about the 1880s. In other words, it’s not so much that being thin is objectively or inherently beautiful; it’s just that this is the story we are currently telling ourselves.

When most people tell themselves the same story at the same time in a society, it’s easy to forget about any other alternatives to that story. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that other versions of the story might be just as valid. And it’s definitely easy to forget that a person’s intrinsic worth has nothing to do with their outer beauty.


discontentSeveral years ago, a professor of Sociology at Aquinas College noticed a curious fact when she passed out body-image surveys to her students. The overwhelming majority of female students (96%) expressed dissatisfaction with their bodies.

This discontent is not just a prevalent attitude shared by most people in society; it’s also something perceived as “normal,” rather than an idea to toss out.

Instead of societal pressure to tell ourselves a different story than the one that’s damaging us, subtle forces are at work in our culture to confirm and enhance this dissatisfaction with body image. The existence of discontent is a key opportunity for the beauty industry to translate that discontent into dollars. “You don’t like the way your body looks? There’s a product for that.” Women are major decision makers when it comes to where to spend money, and companies stand to profit by enhancing that dissatisfaction rather than enhancing a person’s sense of self-worth, well-being, and contentment.

Turning the tide

It’s hard work to turn the tide of culture’s impact on the development of eating disorders. Nevertheless, here are some of the things that go against the tide.

  • Tell the right story. A person’s intrinsic worth is not related to their weight.
  • Cultivate thankfulness. The opposite of dissatisfaction is thanksgiving. An active, purposeful habit of looking for things to be thankful for about your body can make the dissatisfaction melt away.
  • Focus less on what your body looks like and more on what it can do.

Canopy Cove is an eating disorder recovery program that helps people to recover from anorexia in a beautiful, peaceful setting. Contact us today to learn more.