Academic journal article Style

Depathologizing Anorexia: The Risks of Life Narratives. (1)

Academic journal article Style

Depathologizing Anorexia: The Risks of Life Narratives. (1)

Article excerpt

Extreme thinness, cessation of the menses, growth of facial and body hair, sexual indifference, strenuous regimens of exercise, repetitious behavior patterns, lack of speech, insomnia, cognitive, temporal and visual distortions, disturbed attitudes toward eating, fondness for solitude, and suicidal ideation are all signs of the anorexic condition. For individuals with eating disorders, food becomes the abject. As soon as food is something to be taken into the body, to cross its boundary and transform the corporeal space, it becomes terrifying for them. They measure it meticulously and devote intense energy to counting calories. Invariably they feel repelled by and frightened of their own bodies. Perceived as somehow extraneous to the self-structure, bodies must be controlled, but ultimately anorexics feel powerless to control them. "Anorexia is, above all," Kim Chernin explains, "an illness of self-division and can only be understood through this tragic splitting of body from mind" (The Obsession 47). But wh y do so many women starve themselves so? Why do they shun the good things in life and insist on clinging to a self-destructive disease? Why do they seek literally to make their bodies "not-matter"?

For anorexia, the repertoire of originating factors delineated by experts is complex and lengthy. It includes psychic or attitudinal conditions, familial and cultural factors, and somatic variables. From a Freudian position, Chernin journeys back to the beginnings of the daughter's struggle to separate from the mother and argues that anorexia s cause is to be found in an inadequate rite of passage from girlhood to motherhood. "For a woman," Chernin writes, "to develop into her full womanhood she must surmount the guilt that arises from her fantasy of having damaged the mother through the force of her oral aggression and rage" (The Hungry Self 120). From the Jungian concept of the animus, Noelle Caskey suggests psychic incest as anorexia's cause. Michele Montrelay describes anorexia as a substitute for masculine access to castration that offers a way for women to bypass the problem of lacking the means to represent lack (qtd. in Vice 198). According to Hilde Bruch, a foremost authority on eating disorders, an orexia is a reaction to the confusion of role demands women confront and the ambivalence about one's gender. For Peter Dally and Joan Gomez, it is a response to intellectual effort, professional achievement and the social context in which they take place. In this respect Deborah Perlick and Brett Silverstein argue that the syndrome "is particularly likely to affect women who strive to achieve in areas traditionally dominated by men and who come to feel limited by being female, particularly if their mothers were unable to achieve in these areas" (80). Salvador Minuchin has studied correlations between anorexia and disturbed family functioning. Susan C. Wooley has found in sexual abuse an etiological factor. Paul Garfinkel and David Garner argue that hypothalamic dysfunction might be a primary cause of the disease. For Naomi Wolf, anorexia is a culturally-engendered disorder directed against our culture's skeletal standard of bodily attractiveness for women. Likewise, Marcia Germaine Hutchinson attributes the c urrent epidemic to the influence of the media.

Although researchers are divided as to the primary cause of the disease and the most appropriate therapy, they agree on its target: to seize selfhood, gain a sense of self or, in Kim Hewitt's words, "to initiate oneself into a new state" (42). (2) Sheila MacLeod, an anorexic herself, notes that "in becoming anorexic I did the only thing I could. [...]I adopted the only strategy open to me in order to preserve any sort of identity, however precarious, and in order to believe in myself as an individual being, separate from both the family and the school. Anorexia nervosa is fundamentally about an identity crisis" (54). Similarly, in The Obsession, Chernin writes: "'I don't want to be an imitation,' says the anorexic girl. …

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