Have increased opportunities for women encouraged anorexia?

By Jennifer Petro-Roy (b.1982)

Anorexia has become a buzzword in our society, partially due to the utter confusion of many surrounding the true nature of such a pernicious and often misunderstood disease. Pundits and news reports blame the media, pointing to the glamorization of thinness that perpetuates every aspect of our society. The media is certainly not wholly innocent. However, although the media may play a large part in perpetuating the symptoms and the glorification of anorexia, the real danger, especially for today’s young women, lies in the values of our modern society, with its emphasis on perfection and constant achievement.

Women my age, no longer hindered by the label ‘the weaker sex,’ were encouraged from a very young age to pursue our dreams. Dreams that we were well aware were supposed to be grander than those before us were supposed to have dared. But what happens when a dream falls short, when reality does not measure up to the illusory future that one has built in one’s mind and strived for for so long? In an environment where one bases one’s self-worth upon achievements and effortless perfection, many young women will falter when they miss the mark for the first time, flailing about for a life raft to hold on to, something to give them comfort and security until they regain the courage to try again. For many women, anorexia is that life raft.

In a world that values constant achievement and unremitting perfection, both in form and in deed, restricting one’s food or exercising one’s shame and sadness away can serve as another way to strive for the perfection that could not be achieved in the professional sphere. Perfecting one’s body becomes a distraction from the belief that we are not good enough, starving our pain away becomes a way to numb the fear that we are not worthy simply as we are.
It is not the media that needs to be changed, but our values. Yes, society needs to send the message that women can strive, can achieve, can accomplish. There is absolutely nothing wrong with an impressive resume or a windowed corner office. But women also need to know that they can also relax, can fail, can simply be. It is not the unremitting pursuit of perfection that makes us worthy, but our inner selves. Society must ultimately embrace this belief, must counteract the illusory temptations of eating disorders with an embrace of perfect imperfection, in order for women to truly accept their bodies and their unique selves. The question is, will our generation be able to teach this to our daughters?

Jennifer Petro-Roy is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. She is an advocate for eating disorders awareness and a recovery speaker in the Massachusetts area.


  1. Jen, thanks so much for this piece. I wonder if there is a way in which the ever-demonized media can actually be helpful toward the end of realizing we can succeed while still failing at times? The way that the media knows fewer and fewer boundaries into the lives of public figures these days, we seem to be getting quite the glimpse into the lives of women who have "failed" and then gone on to succeed again in their careers and in their personal lives. Do you think this could end up playing any sort of a beneficial role?

  2. Kate, I definitely think that an acceptance of "mistakes" or "missteps" is definitely a step in the right direction. I think where I see the biggest problem is in the tendency for the media, and by extension, society, to judge and compare people, whether public figures or just people on the street, with others. It's definitely a subtle balance between holding women up as an example and sending the message that women "must" live up to certain qualities to achieve or measure up. However, I definitely do agree that we are making progress in some areas with the message that it is okay to adapt and to change directions in life.