Ways Disordered Eating & Substance Misuse Are Supported by Western Culture

Widening the lens to include the context of young women’s lives de-centers the young women as problems.  It invites us to look at the cultural discourses and circumstances that can support substance misuse and disordered eating practices to flourish in a young women’s life. Bordo (2003) describes the body “as a medium of culture” (p. 165) and “a text of culture” (p. 165).  In other words, culture imprints itself on our skin and shows up in the words we use to describe ourselves and others.  It can be useful to consider some of the pressures that you experienced in regard to how you should be, act, and look in order to begin to consider the impact of these pressures and the impact they have had on your ideas about how you should be.  This potentially exposes the limited avenues with which these pressures may have left you. This style of questioning also illuminates some of the ways in which substance misuse and disordered eating practices use these pressures to their advantage and can help peel back the many societal layers that support substance misuse, privileged forms of beauty, dieting, and related ways of being.  Examples of questions you may wish to consider are:

What were you taught about how a young woman should look or act?

How did substance use or your appearance/weight begin take up as much space in your life to the extent that it did?

Were these practices in any way supported by others?  If so, how?

Why do you think so many young women struggle with the problems of substance misuse and disordered eating practices?

Anorexia/Bulimia and Substance misuse can thrive in the conditions of Western Culture. People describe being bombarded by pictures of thin, beautiful, "perfect" women.  They describe the lack of diversity in these images, the push towards sameness, and how the pictures do not accurately reflect women’s bodies.  The media, combined with gender training that values female beauty over their skills/competencies, passivity, and selflessness, can set the stage for body dissatisfaction, disordered eating practices, and substance misuse.


C:  What are some of the pressures that young women face about how they should be?  And how they should look?

A:  Well the media is really bad for training women and how they think they should be.  Blond, skinny, you know, big boobs, tight ass, a small waist. They should be Barbie-ish.  And like, they don't have very important roles. 

Jill later adds:

A:  Well, for drinking, you look at all the beer ads and everything, there are these girls being hammered, like drunk and it's like they're really pretty and they seem very happy like and all the guys are around them. Like in advertisements, girls are drinking Captain Morgan and guys are surrounding her and she gives this image that if you drink this you will be wanted. You know. You'll have a sort of coolness that you don’t have without it.

Rachel discusses some of the unspoken

rules she sees as existing for young women:

Q:  What are some of the pressure that young women face in today's society?

A.  Okay.  Looks wise, nice hair, nice nails, nice clothes, like good teeth, good breasts, you gotta  do your makeup perfectly, you know, you can't walk funny.  You have to have like the ideal body and like personality wise, you have to be funny.  You have to be nice and you have to be confident somehow and all these other things at the same time.  And I think it's really unreal.  I don't think I've ever met a person that perfect.   And is that even perfect to me?  No.  That's society's view of being perfect.

Q.   In your opinion do you think someone could ever attain the description of perfection that you just described? 

A.   No.

Q.   No?

A.   Not without being miserable.