The Thin Woman: Feminism, Post-Structuralism, and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa

The Thin Woman: Feminism, Post-Structuralism, and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa

The Thin Woman: Feminism, Post-Structuralism, and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa

The Thin Woman: Feminism, Post-Structuralism, and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa

Synopsis

In The Thin Woman, Helen Malson aims to place gender in a position of central importance in the discussions surrounding anorexia. She argues that anorexia is not just a medical issue, & should be viewed within a wider social & political context.

Excerpt

Medicine, psychiatry and psychology have presented us with particular ways of understanding eating disorders and more generally of understanding ourselves as individuals and as women. They present us with particular perspectives which are by no means the only ones from which we can understand our own and others' experiences. From a mainstream perspective, 'anorexia nervosa' is viewed as a clinical entity, as a legitimate and relatively unproblematic category of a medical taxonomy of diseases and disorders. And this stance brings with it a number of (often unspoken) assumptions about the nature of women's experiences and about the causes of women's distress. It is assumed, for example, that 'anorexia nervosa' is something that exists 'out there' as a 'disorder' that we do or do not suffer from; as a clinical entity whose typifying characteristics can be accurately and objectively documented and whose (universally applicable) causes can be discovered through scientific enqiury. 'Anorexic' behaviours and experiences are viewed, then, as pathological, as distinctly different from the 'normal' 'healthy' experiences and practices of non-anorexic girls and women. They become separated from their social context and from the everyday experiences of ordinary girls and women. Hence from a mainstream perspective the object of enquiry is the disorder, the anorexia, not the varied, complex and socially contextualized experiences of the individual girls and women who have been diagnosed as 'anorexic'.

Throughout this book I shall be questioning this notion of 'anorexia' as individual pathology and asking whether there might not be better ways of theorizing our own and/or others' experiences of eating and not eating, of losing and gaining weight, of being fat or thin. I shall be arguing that we need to radically rethink our approaches to understanding these (and other) experiences. We need to be developing new frameworks within which to theorize and research our own and others' experiences. When it appears that increasing numbers of girls and women are being diagnosed as anorexic, and when so many girls and women suffer considerable distress in relation to eating, food and body-image, we need to ask whether a medical or quasi-medical notion of 'anorexia' as an individual pathology should retain its powerful hold over our understandings of 'eating disorders'. For the notion of 'anorexia' as individual pathology precludes or at

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