Dear KJ: How Can I Work for the Eating Disorders Recovery Cause?
What kind of Wonder Woman will YOU be?
"Jane Doe" asks: Where did you go to school? What are good programs for someone like me who wants to study the sociology of mental health, specifically eating disorders and body image? I struggled with my ED for years but can now say that I've been in recovery for five years. I want to devote my life to the cause, but I don't know how. (Originally posted at Proud2Bme.com)
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, I was an undergraduate at Princeton University, where I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a certificate (equivalent to a minor) in gender studies. For my senior thesis I designed a study that examined body image among sorority women. I LOVED the experience of conducting my own research, but I wasn’t sure about continuing on to graduate school. Instead, I wanted a “cool” job, so I applied for positions in the cosmetics and in the fashion industries.
I ended up working at Abercrombie & Fitch Corporate, and then at GAP Inc. I enjoyed many aspects of this first career, but I missed the sense of excitement and purpose I’d felt when conducting research on topics I felt so passionately about. I also felt conflicted about working in an industry known for promoting narrow beauty standards (there are definitely ways to work in fashion without doing this, but I didn’t know that at the time).
And so I applied to sociology PhD programs, focusing on departments that had a strong reputation in research on gender, culture and the body. I ended up at UCLA, where I was able to work with Dr. Abigail Saguy, who does cutting edge research on gender, culture, inequality and bodies (among many other things!). It was a perfect fit for me, with fabulous training and many opportunities to conduct the kind of research I’m passionate about.
That said, a program that was perfect for me won’t necessarily be perfect for everyone. For example, you mentioned a specific interest in the sociology of mental health, which wasn’t my main focus, so I know less about programs with strengths in that particular area. However, the American Sociological Association lists a Section on Mental Health, which is a smaller organization made up of sociologists who share this interest. Their website lists more than a dozen sociology graduate programs that offer a mental health concentration, HERE.
As a sociologist, I’m naturally excited when someone expresses interest in my field, but I also want to make sure you know that there are MANY different ways to contribute to eating disorders prevention, treatment and recovery. I have friends and colleagues from all walks of life who have dedicated their careers to this cause, including: psychologists, therapists, physicians, activists, fiction writers, dieticians, nonprofit leaders, bloggers, politicians and, yes, even fashion designers! Whatever path you take, you will join a dedicated and diverse community. Welcome!