Why Sororities Are a Problem for Body Image

Women who Stay Connected in Anorexia Recovery

For countless college-aged women across the country, becoming integrated in the “Greek Life” is an essential part of making the transition to campus. Originating as ideal that would promote friendship and camaraderie, sororities were established as a representation of the familial aspect of sisterhood.

There are many potential benefits of joining a sorority, including philanthropy and leadership opportunities, professional development, increased involvement on campus, connecting with new friends and networking.  However, in looking closer at the various aspects connected with sorority life, such as the process of joining, the exclusive nature of sororities, hazing issues, and more, one must ask if the benefits outweigh potential costs.

Sorority Life May Not Be the Cause, But the Trigger

For the young woman who may be vulnerable to body image issues or even developing an eating disorder, it is crucial to be aware of all that is involved in joining a sorority. Far beyond a commitment to sisterhood, sororities can have a negative impact on body image.

While on the surface, sororities offer a sense of community and belonging, at what cost are members joining? How can “rushing” a sorority be hazardous to body image? For women who may have other risk factors that predispose them to poor body image, or who may already be dealing with body insecurities or low self-esteem, some of the traditional practices of sorority communities can be potentially triggering.

The Shame of Rushing

Findings from research have actually linked higher levels of body image disturbance and shame with the recruitment process for joining sororities, termed “rushing”. One research study sought to investigate the impact of sorority rush on body image disturbance by surveying over 100 first-year undergraduate women.

These women were divided into two main groups:

  • Those that went through the recruitment process and joined a sorority
  • Those who did not take part in rush.

Participants completed online questionnaires at four time points, including before rush, a few days into rush, on the day the bids to join were received, and one month after rush [1].

The Findings Behind Research on Sororities

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Overall findings from this study revealed that women who participated in the rushing process had a higher level of body image disturbance compared to those who chose not to rush [1].

Lead researcher of this study also noted that “…becoming a member of a sorority has the potential to exacerbate these variables further,” with new members also showing higher levels of body shame, even after a month the rush process has ended [1].

Does Rushing Have to Be Tradition?

While participating in sororities is a time-honored tradition among many college campuses, it is necessary to evaluate the repercussions of belonging to these types of groups.

Based on the results from this study, it is understood how college-aged women who are involved in “rushing” to join a sorority are more likely to judge their own bodies from an outsider’s perspective than those women who are not involved in sorority rushing.

How Rushing Is Detrimental to Body Image

With many other additional changes and factors involved in the process of transitioning to college life, it is important to be aware of how rushing a sorority can be potentially detrimental to body image and self-esteem. For women who do go through the recruitment process for a sorority without initiation, this rejection can sometimes be internalized or interpreted as though they are undesirable.

If you are planning on participating in the recruitment process for a sorority, be aware of how the various activities may be affecting your view of yourself:

  • Are you becoming increasingly critical of your body?
  • Are you constantly comparing your body to that of other women?
  • Do you find yourself having lower self-esteem?

Friends talking

As a college student, it may be important to evaluate these concerns to determine if sorority life is the best fit and activity of choice. Many other organized groups on college campuses can also offer a feeling of belonging and community without the same pressures on body image.

If you or a loved one is considering joining a sorority and is susceptible to poor body image or are dealing with poor self-esteem, take the time to evaluate what types of activities and groups would allow you to truly flourish and thrive on your college campus.

There are many potential pros and cons to joining a sorority, and it is important to research how this might fit it in best with your personal life and individual goals. Also consider researching the various sorority options on your campus in addition to learning more about the recruitment process, as these can vary significantly among organizations.


Jacquelyn EkernAbout the authors: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC founded Eating Disorder Hope in 2005, driven by a profound desire to help those struggling with anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder. This passion resulted from her battle with, and recovery from, an eating disorder. As president, Jacquelyn manages Ekern Enterprises, Inc. and the Eating Disorder Hope website. In addition, she is a fully licensed therapist with a closed private counseling practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders.

Jacquelyn has a Bachelor of Science in Human Services degree from The University of Phoenix and a Masters degree in Counseling/Psychology, from Capella University. She has extensive experience in the eating disorder field including advanced education in psychology, participation and contributions to additional eating disorder groups, symposiums, and professional associations. She is a member of the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), Academy of Eating Disorders (AED), the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp).

Jacquelyn enjoys art, working out, walking her golden retriever “Cowgirl”, reading, painting and time with family.
Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without support from our generous sponsors.

Crystal Headshot 2Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


References:

[1]: Rolnik, Ashley Marie, et. Al. Here’s Looking at You: Self-Objectification, Body Image Disturbance, and Sorority Rush. Sex Roles July 2010, Volume 63, Issue 1-2, pp 6-17.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Updated By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC on July 26, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 26, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

Although Eating Disorder Hope was founded by Jacquelyn Ekern, this organization would not be possible without the support from our generous sponsors.

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.