Sorority Recruitment, Eating Disorders, and Lots of Questions

by Jessica Gendron Williams

barbieA recent research paper released in Sex Roles entitled “Here’s looking at you: self-objectification, body image disturbance, and sorority rush” (here is an article about the paper) examined the damaging effects that joining a sorority can have on body image and eating behaviors.  As part of a company that focuses solely on recruitment it is needless to say that the article caught my attention.

I will paraphrase significantly, but this research showed that at one institution (where the research was performed) that self-objectification and disordered eating behaviors was occurring at higher levels for women who participated in sorority recruitment than for those who did not.  The research also discovered that women who joined sororities were experiencing higher levels of body shame one month after joining .  Additionally, women with higher body weights were also more likely to drop out of the recruitment process at this institution.

While there are certainly some limitations to the study, it poses some interesting questions worthy of discussion.

What I gained from this study was that formal sorority recruitment is causing women to have body image, self esteem, and disordered eating issues at this institution.  While some might argue that, “It’s just one school, one community.”  It is reasonable to question… is it?  This study only looks at one school, one community, but what if we looked closely at others?  Would we see similar results?  Is this a first signal of a much larger problem?  What if sorority recruitment was causing body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating in potential, new, and current members?  What do we do about it? Isn’t one school – just one school - too many for this to be occurring?

The bigger picture question is, what about our recruitment processes and practices are creating an environment for negative and dangerous behavior to be amplified or developed?  Might it be the fact that most schools provide potential members with a recommended attire list – sometimes with pictures?  Is it because we create this idea of what a sorority woman should look like before they even walk into a chapter house?  Might it be that we put so much emphasis on what we wear and how our members look during recruitment?  Might it be that we put pictures up of all our best looking members and highlight our cutest or skinniest girls in the slide shows during recruitment?  Might it be that some chapters “hide” their less desirable looking members in an attempt to create an ideal?  Could it be that the masquerade that we put on during recruitment provides an inflated and unrealistic view of sorority life?  Is it really that unrealistic?

While I recognize that there were about 50 questions in that last paragraph, this article does just that for me – raises more questions.  What if we put the emphasis of sorority recruitment back on the relationships?  What if we started focusing on authenticity instead of putting on a show?  What if we allowed our members to be who they are, have the conversations the best version of themselves would have, get to know the potential members for who they are, and makee membership decisions based on character and connection instead of clothes and cuteness? 

For us at Phired Up, it just validates the work that we do and the message that we share.  People join people.  Make a connection.  Be more normal.  We don’t need fancy outfits, matching shoes, waxed eyebrows, perfectly polished nails and snappy t-shirt slogans to get the right women to join sorority.  We need to invest in people by having enough curiosity in others to have truly meaningful and authentic dialogue during recruitment – and you don’t need balloons for that.

The link for the full text of this research can be found here:

Rolnik AM, Engeln-Maddox R, Miller SA (2010). Here’s looking at you: self-objectification, body image disturbance, and sorority rush. Sex Roles DOI 10.1007/s11199-010-9745-y