Redefining Perfection: An Eating Disorders Prevention Program

Welcome, reader!

This post is designed to teach you a little bit more about eating disorders, their causes, and a potential prevention program that may help in reducing the risk for developing an eating disorder. First, let’s define eating disorders:

Eating disorders are “composite expressions of a set of dimensions, such as negative emotionality, binge eating, and unhealthy forms of weight and shape management. The latter includes restrictive dieting, self-induced vomiting after eating, and abuse of laxatives, diuretics, diet pills, and exercise” (Levine & Smolak, 2006).

Did you know…

Eating disorders are the psychological disorder with the highest mortality rate.

In the United States, an estimated 20 million women have suffered from a clinically significant eating disorder at one point in their lives (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, & Hudson, 2011).

As many as 80% of women demonstrate symptoms of an eating disorder some time in their lives (Kalodner, 2003).

Body dissatisfaction, which has been found to be the best known contributor to eating disorders (Stice, 2002), has been reported by 40% of adolescent girls (Presnell, Bearman, & Stice, 2004) and 50% of girls ages 11-16 (White & Halliwell, 2010).

Possible Contributing Factors:

Media Influenceblog post

Studies have found a positive relationship between body dissatisfaction and exposure to television and women’s fashion magazines (Grabe et al., 2008; Harrison & Cantor, 1997). One study done in 1995 showed that 94% of women on television were thinner than the national average (Smolak & Levine, 1995). Although the average American woman has gotten larger, it seems as though many women represented in the media have become smaller. Arguably, the media has never been as accessible, or unavoidable as it is now. Something has to change.

Perfectionism
perfectionism blog
Several studies have shown that patients suffering from anorexia nervosa tend to score higher on perfectionism scales than healthy women. One study found that even after the women with AN recovered, they still scored higher on perfectionism scales (Bastiani et al., 1995). This finding suggests that signs of perfectionism may put women at higher risk for developing an eating disorder.

You might now be thinking, “Okay so perfectionism and media influence seem to have something to do with risks for eating disorders, but what can we do?”

Well, I thought you’d never ask! Here’s what I think can be done:
I want to develop a media literacy/perfectionism educational program that addresses perfectionism as it relates to the media. Programs in the past have focused on either the media or perfectionism, but not on both. The program would meet once a week for 8 weeks and each meeting would be focused on a different aspect of perfectionism. Participants would learn to analyze the media more critically and question societal notions of the perfect body, rather than internalize it or accept it as a norm. The costs of non-body related perfectionism will also be explored. During the last class, participants will have the opportunity to create a video in which they share what they’ve learned about the media and ideas of perfection to high school girls. This project will give them an opportunity to be empowered by speaking out against pressures and expectations to be perfect and to redefine perfection, not as something to strive for, but as an impossible ideal.

An example of questions to be asked when critically analyzing media images.

An example of questions to be asked when critically analyzing media images.

In order to test the effectiveness of this program, I have devised a study that includes 150 college women. They will be broken up into 3 groups. One group will be a control group (so we can compare women who have participated to ones who have not). They will take music lessons. The other two groups will participate in the program, but only one will produce the film during the last class. One reason for the film is based in the theory of cognitive dissonance. It states that when a person is stuck between two opposing ideas, they will feel uncomfortable and be motivated to change one of those ideas so that they are no longer conflicting. If some of the women creating the video still feel justified in their perfectionist ways or still internalize the media’s thin ideal, they will be put into a dissonance state between what they’re feeling and what they’re saying on camera. Hopefully this “dissonance induction” will help them change unhealthy ideas about perfectionism.

Three different psychological measures will be given to the women before the program, immediately after the program, and three months after the program. The tests used measure eating disorder risk, perfectionism, and media internalization. I am hoping that the MLP program will be successful in reducing all three and I predict that the MLP program with video production will be most successful.

We are not perfect and we don’t have to accept pressures to be that way. Women deserve better than this. Change is possible. Through knowledge and compassion, we can create a better world for ourselves and a brighter future for our daughters.
body image

For more information about eating disorders, visit these sites:
National Eating Disorders Association
American Psychological Association

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