In the New York Times bestseller, Pledged, Alexandra Robbins goes undercover among a group of sorority members in order to expose the inner workings of female Greek groups. What's interesting, though not surprising, is the incidence, condonation, and even camaraderie, of eating disorders in sororities.
Robbins covers everything from "Pig Runs" (when newly selected sorority members, termed "pigs," would sprint to the houses that chose them) to gym attendance: "Gymming had become a popular gerund [in sororities], as in, 'I need to go gymming if I eat this cookie.'" One sister was dropped from the school's cheerleading because she was too fat. . . a size 2.
According to Robbins, women's bodies are front and center through the sorority selection process, and according to a rush manual (Rush: A Girl's Guide to Sorority Success) she quotes:
For example, if you are overweight, you must try to lose weight before rush. If you have acne problems, you should work on clearing up your face. whatever problems you have, you must do your best to minimize them. Physical attractiveness plays a large part in the overall evaluation process.Not having much to go on besides looks, sorority members rate rushees after just several minutes of conversation. When I was in a sorority and new to the "better" end of the rush process, we were instructed to rate each woman on a scale of 1-5 (1 being the best, 5 the worst). We had to shout out the numbers in front of the entire sisterhood, and sometimes debate ensued. Since hundreds of women had visited the house each day, we relied on the notes we had scribbled in unobtrusive notebooks (hidden under couch cushions, in the stairwells) to jog our memories. Having sat through this process for one year, I feigned illness the next. How can you rate a person on a scale of 1-5?
It's not hard, according to some. A visitor from our national office, who was sent to advise us on selecting appropriate women during rush, rhetorically asked: "You don't want any dogs in the house, do you?"
Once selected, and now pledges, the women are subjected to similar scrutiny. Robbins writes:
I had been under the impression that pledging practices such as 'circle the fat' and 'bikini weight' were the stuff of urban legend. I was wrong. During circle the fat, pledges undress and, one by one stand in front of the entire sorority membership. The sisters (or, in some chapters, fraternity brothers) then use thick black markers to circle the fat or cellulite on a pledge's body. The purpose is to help the pledge learn what parts of her body she needs to improve. During bikini weigh, or "weigh-in," pledges are weighed in front of either the sisterhood or a fraternity; the audience yells the number displayed on the scale.I'm guessing this doesn't come with the same degree of support and respect as the weigh-ins on The Biggest Loser. And, helping pledges identify what parts of her body she needs to improve? Is that new information for them? Thankfully, these practices did not occur in my house, though sisters frequently binged, restricted, and over-exercised together. It's no wonder that plumbers must frequently service sorority houses, as Robbins notes, to unclog the bulimia-ravaged pipes. In an overall university environment where eating disorders are rampant, they flourish, perhaps to an even greater degree, in sororities that maintain such practices and expectations.