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There has been a great deal of research regarding the development of eating disorders. This research indicates eating disorders are most likely the result of a combination of factors including those that are environmental, genetic and biological. The clinical staff at Clementine’s anorexia treatment centers have noted that environmental factors such as societal pressure to be thin can have a serious impact on those people who may already have a genetic likelihood of developing an eating disorder.

High School Social Pressures Can Exacerbate Anorexia Nervosa Disorder

No matter which eating disorder is being discussed, they are complex conditions that often have a genetic component. This genetic element can be affected by a range of other variables such as biological and environmental situations. When this happens, it is much more likely an individual may develop an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa disorder and require anorexia nervosa treatment.

The combination of genetics and other variables like environmental and/or biological factors is particularly damaging to those individuals who are young, vulnerable and still in school. In particular, high school tends to be a breeding ground of discord, pressure and unacceptance.

Though the following list is far from exclusive, it provides guidance for friends, family members and other loved ones of those individuals who may need the support and services offered by an anorexia nervosa treatment center. The inclusion of this list is designed to provide information that can lead to a more thorough understanding of what individuals in high school face and how it could affect them – especially when it comes to those who might be genetically predisposed to developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa disorder.

Below are five ways that the social pressures of high school age can influence the potential development of anorexia nervosa disorder in adolescents:

  1. “Thin = Better”

Throughout recent history, there has been an emphasis on looking thin and being in shape. This is especially true when it comes to women and girls, although men and boys also feel a great deal of pressure to be thin. It is normal for some body shapes to have curves in different areas than others; that does not mean a person is not at their ideal weight.

Unfortunately, societal pressures emphasize being thin as a goal that must be attained at any and all costs. Many individuals who receive anorexia nervosa treatment at an anorexia nervosa treatment center talk about the enormous pressures they feel from society to be thin in order to fit in.

  1. Media Influences

More than ever before, the media influences many aspects of our lives. While even some adults have a difficult time separating what is true from the falsehoods that are highlighted by the media, high schoolers face an even more difficult time doing so. Not only are their personalities still developing, but most people in high school simply do not have the life experience needed to provide a buffer between what they see and hear and what the realities of the situation may be.

Whether a teen is watching a favorite television show or movie that features only beautiful, handsome and thin people or they are flipping through the latest issue of a magazine geared toward their age group, the fact of the matter is that what they are viewing is likely shrouded in lies. Touched-up photos and images that are airbrushed into a type of perfection that simply cannot be attained by anyone are the norm for all types of publications including magazines, billboards, coupon circulars and advertisements.

Television and movie actors and actresses spend hours each day holed up in a makeup trailer to ensure they have the right look before heading out to face the camera. Presenting the right image to viewers is not only required in keeping with a particular character, but also helps to make the actor or actress more attractive and popular in the eyes of her or his fans.

  1. Social Media

While it is true social media is a form of the media itself and is technically covered under the category above, it is also such a unique type of media and wields such a great deal of influence it requires its own section.

Social media is such a targeted method of connecting with others that it can be difficult to get a more diverse view and grasp of the world. As an example, the social media giant, Facebook, shows only a small portion of the available content in a person’s feed. Furthermore, when a person interacts with something in their feed, the Facebook algorithms serve up more of the same. A high school student that views her favorite celebrities as well as her friends as having the perfect bodies and hearing them talk about how they diet and limit calories is likely to be susceptible to advertisements for quick fix diet aids

As if this subtle advertisement and reinforcement of thinness is not bad enough, there are many individuals who receive treatment for their eating disorder at an anorexia treatment center who have been bullied through various social media channels. While some bullying takes place via the private messaging feature that is available via nearly all social media platforms, other bullying incidents occur out in the open. In fact, it is often this public display of bullying tactics that can escalate far beyond the wildest dreams of many high schoolers.

It appears some high school students use social media platforms to openly ridicule, shame, harass and taunt fellow students for many reasons, including not being thin enough. Instead of this being a wake-up call to their mutual friends and/or acquaintances, it often results in more people jumping into the conversation against the person who is the object of the harassment.

  1. Trauma

There is a range of events that can be classified as being traumatic. Nearly everyone has experienced some sort of trauma at some point in their lives. At the high school level, though, these individuals simply do not have the solutions they need to process the trauma and get additional help if they are not able to do this on their own.

While many people immediately think of physical, emotional or sexual abuse as being the typical forms of trauma, the fact remains that trauma spans a wide range of experiences. The death of a close family member, for example, can be considered a traumatic event that must be processed correctly. A divorce, a move to a different home or needing to change schools can all have a detrimental effect on individuals who are in high school. As they attempt to straddle the divide in between being a child and leaping to adulthood, a traumatic event that occurs to the high schooler could manifest itself in different ways such as in the form of anorexia nervosa disorder.

One of the most devastating and overlooked forms of trauma is the act of bullying. Fortunately, there is more awareness of the subtle and overt consequences of bullying, so things are slowly changing — albeit slowly. Often, bullying behavior centers on those things that make a person stand out from others. For those in high school who desperately want to belong while still retaining a sense of themselves, the words of the person who is doing the bullying often stay with them. These words can become part of a verbal script that is run over and over through their head on repeat so the individual is exposed only to those bad and negative things.

  1. Weight-Focused Commercials

Commercials that focus on helping a person attain the “ideal” weight are seen frequently online, as well as on television, social media and more, which means the average high schooler is bombarded with such “solutions” and can be tempted to start taking pills or supplements to achieve these unattainable goals.

Groups of smiling, thin and tanned young people are at the heart of those commercials and advertisements that are focused on helping a person attain the ideal weight. These simply reinforce the notion that teens should be thin like those young people they see in order to be likable. As they gaze at those pictures and ads though, most high schoolers don’t realize that the perfect body is simply not something that can be attained. This is because these pictures have been through many touch-ups so that they don’t really resemble the person at all.

For those high schoolers who are predisposed genetically to developing an eating disorder, seeing thin individuals in commercials and ads could further encourage them to take the diet pills, exercise compulsively, restrict the amount of food they consume or vomit the food they do eat back up so their bodies are unable to retrieve the calories.

For many teenagers, high school is a time rife with challenges. Gazed at through the lens of a person who does not have the life experiences and knowledge required to look at these experiences with an objective eye, these social pressures can exacerbate the genetic predisposition of developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa disorder.

Because eating disorders are both complex and life-threatening, it is important teens and young adults receive the support, care and treatment that has been proven to be effective. Only after undergoing treatment can high schoolers obtain the skills they need to develop into their healthy selves once again. It is important the staff of any anorexia nervosa treatment center have experience, knowledge and expertise to work with individuals struggling with an eating disorder.

At Clementine, an anorexia nervosa treatment center with programs focused on the treatment of young women and girls, our treatment team knows how devastating the effects of negative social pressures can have on a high schooler. Because eating disorders often go hand-in-hand with co-occurring conditions, such as mental health disorders and drug addictions, Clementine ensures each young woman receives an individualized anorexia nervosa treatment plan designed to address her particular needs. Contact Clementine today to learn how they can help your high school student or young adult receive the treatment for their anorexia nervosa disorder.


Melissa Spann, PhD, LMHC, CEDS-S

Melissa Orshan Spann, PhD, LMHC, RTY 200, is Chief Clinical Officer at Monte Nido & Affiliates, overseeing the clinical operations and programming for over 50 programs across the U.S. Dr. Spann is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist and clinical supervisor as well as an accomplished presenter and passionate clinician who has spent her career working in the eating disorder field in higher levels of care. She is a member of the Academy for Eating Disorders and the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals where she serves on the national certification committee, supervision faculty, and is on the board of her local chapter. She received her doctoral degree from Drexel University, master’s degree from the University of Miami, and bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.