College Life & Sororities: Too Much Pressure to be Beautiful and Thin?
Greek life is a significant portion of many college campuses, with universities offering many fraternities and sororities for students to become involved in. Greek life on college campuses has a longstanding history, with the first known sorority being founded in the 1850s.
Greek-letter societies span across the nation, with almost 60 fraternities and 30 sororities recognized nationally . There are fraternities at more than 600 colleges across the United States and Canada, with approximately half a million undergraduate members and several million graduate members .
Greek Life Varies Depending on the College
Some collegiate campuses surround their culture with the Greek-life that is offered through their institution, while other universities do not promote fraternities or sororities whatsoever. Wherever you decided to attend school, you will find that Greek life on campus falls somewhere between these points.
Sororities function as a female-based initiatory organization, which is purposed as “societies” that can help members better themselves in a social setting. Traditionally, sororities were intended and formed for women to make friends and connections during their transition to college, as well as develop a sense of kinship and establish a home within their new community.
There Are Benefits to Sororities
Today, joining in and participating with a sorority on a college campus can offer many benefits, including:
- Making new friends
- Finding a community
- Developing a mentorship with other women
- Becoming involved in philanthropic and charity work
- Networking opportunities with longstanding connections
All these aspects can be particularly helpful to women on a college campus, especially when it may be overwhelming to find a niche for fitting into on campus.
The Standards Sororities Hold
Sororities are also more than social organizations; they are lifestyles that maintain meticulous standards for their members. Rigorous steps and measures are followed for new members to join.
Though the process for joining may vary among Greek letter organizations, a common practice for sororities is to begin their process with a formal recruitment known as “rush week”. Membership initiation often includes rituals and secret ceremonies that take place after the pledging process.
How Rushing Can Be Damaging
Due to the exclusive nature of sororities, including the process for joining and establishing membership within a Greek-letter organization, there are many who might argue that these groups influence a culture that could be potentially damaging to a young woman’s body image and self-esteem.
Research has revealed that women with higher BMIs have had negative experiences in their attempts to gain membership in certain sororities. Studies have revealed a correlation between sorority membership and weight-related behaviors, including:
- Trying to lose weight
- Vomiting or use of laxatives
- Use of diet pills for weight loss 
Many young women who are initiated as a new member of a sorority may face heightened social pressures to be thin, which may result in an increased likelihood of eating disorders . This could, in fact, be due to the selective nature of Greek-letter organizations.
It is important to understand that eating disorders in themselves, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, are complex psychiatric illnesses that result from a combination of many factors, including both biological and environmental influences. While exposure to a sorority in itself does not cause an eating disorder, there are certain aspects of sorority memberships and the process of joining that could be triggering to someone susceptible to having an eating disorder.
For a young woman entering college and who may already be at increased risk for an eating disorder, it may be helpful to be aware of how certain situations on campus may influence or trigger poor eating habits and/or body image.
What to Know If You’re Joining A Sorority
If you are a student considering membership with a sorority on campus, it is important to consider your intent and purpose for joining, as well as assess your readiness for being part of such an organization.
The decision to join a sorority involves a social and financial commitment, one that could have emotional and mental implications as well. If you have previously suffered from an eating disorder or low-self esteem, it is important to consider all facets of joining a sorority.
- Is your decision to join a sorority based on pressure from other friends or peers or out of your own will and desire?
- Are you looking to join a sorority in an attempt to “fit in”?
- Will your commitment to a sorority overshadow other aspects of your life that are a high priority to you?
- Are you in eating disorder recovery and still vulnerable with body image insecurities?
- Will a sorority environment help strengthen your recovery and foster your ability to thrive in college?
If you’re still unsure about your decision to join a sorority, take the time to talk to other members about their organization. Visit their home, ask about their social calendar and events, and inquire about how the organization helps students stay successful in college.
It may be helpful to take a trusted friend or family member with you to help you get a feel for the sorority you are looking at. Ideally, it should be an environment that is conducive to your principles and standards, one that will nurture your individuality and wellness.
Consider having a discussion with other women who may have gone through the sorority or who may currently be part of the organization that you are looking to join. Getting an inside perspective can help you get a feel for the priorities, mission, and values of the sorority itself, understanding if this may be a good fit to support your short and long term goals.
With all decisions, it is best to gather your facts and attempt to view things objectively. Understanding the pros and cons that are a part of joining a sorority can help you best determine if membership in a Greek-letter organization is right for you!
If you ultimately come to the conclusion that joining a sorority may not be in your best interest, remember that there are many other opportunities for community on your college campus that can positively support you throughout your time on campus.
. “The History of College Fraternities” http://www.greekpages.com/LocalsOnline/history.htm
: Averett, Susan; Terrizzi, Sabrina; Yang, Wang; The Effect of Sorority Membership on Eating Disorders and Body Mass Index.
Crystal 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.
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 a 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.
Published on August 29, 2017.
Edited And Updated By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 29, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com