Anorexia is a lifestyle choice?
November 21, 2001 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Anorexia is a lifestyle choice? Some, apparently, have argued that it is, and they are putting their money where their mouthes are in the form of 1 million dollars (for lack of food, I suppose). "One of the leaders of the 'Annas' gives her name only as Sahara and describes herself a 22-year-old student from the prestigious Stanford University, near San Francisco ... A computer specialist, she runs a website that provides detailed advice for those who want to starve themselves — coupled with tips on fooling parents, friends and doctors." Some respond to the advocacy of anorexia, but gains and losses are both apparent in what looks to be a battle of attrition. The Starving Annas remind one of the equally controversial efforts by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance and similar movements in that both advocate widely-considered unhealthy lifestyle choices. (Sunday Times link courtesy of The Morning News.)
posted by moz (83 comments total)
i wanted to post this guestbook entry, but didn't feel it belonged in the FPP text. both it and the main website from which it originates are very upsetting.
posted by moz at 9:22 AM on November 21, 2001

as is this:
posted by grabbingsand at 9:24 AM on November 21, 2001

(i should say the top-most guestbook entry is the upsetting entry which caught my eye, but there are others.)
posted by moz at 9:24 AM on November 21, 2001

Good older discussions here and here
posted by holgate at 9:33 AM on November 21, 2001

Sounds equally disturbing as other lifestyle arguments out there... which all assume that society doesn't have a stake in the outcome of such choices, and that any interference should be sneered upon.


I'm just waiting for alcoholics to get on the band-wagon.

I mean... wasn't it just a few decades ago that boozing it up was a lifestyle choice?
posted by silusGROK at 9:45 AM on November 21, 2001

One of the things thats fascinating about the internet is the ability for communities of interest to develop -- including the most bizarres interests (see Furries for an example). In this case, you have a bunch of people with a problem who found each other, and are re-inforcing each others problem. Mostly its just really, really sad, their attempts at advocacy and comparisons to homosexuality just make it all the more so.

I understand moz was trying to write a balanced FPP but we all know this isn't "widely considered" a unhealthy lifestyle choice, it IS factually unhealthy, severely so -- like heroin addiction is.

That guestbook entry posted is chilling.
posted by malphigian at 9:50 AM on November 21, 2001

I'm recovered(ing) from an eating disorder myself, and find articles/sites like this very disturbing. Too disturbing to read in detail right now.

They make me angry, though, I can tell you that. I'll have to calm down before I can write a resonable explanation as to why.
posted by Badmichelle at 9:56 AM on November 21, 2001


on the "widely-considered" remark, i remembered there were some nasty arguments in the past about whether or not we know obesity is unhealthy. i am with you; certainly you are more statistically likely to suffer due to your weight (and if i'm challenged i'm sure i can scrounge up some links). i just didn't want the post to get started on that foot.

the anorexia bothers me a lot because it seems like a domino effect; one after another lifestyle, previously considered unhealthy, gaining advocates and support -- this time financial plus vocal.


i don't mean to have made you angry, of course. but i do feel that these movements are something which others may have some interest in, and honestly should have some interest in for the potential safety of friends and family. good luck in your efforts with recovery.
posted by moz at 10:05 AM on November 21, 2001

After looking through some pro-anorexia websites, I'm beginning to see their point. There is something beautiful about what they're doing. They're body-building, just like the pumping-iron crowd; only instead of incorporating images of power and invulnerability, they are re-creating themselves as weak, helpless and vulnerable figures: Giacomettis as opposed to Schwartzeneggers. In the end, they achieve a kind of delicate, ethereal lightness, that is just this side of actual discorporeation. It's really fascinating. Also, if you've ever starved yourself, you are familiar with the phases of spiritual exaltation they experience: also that kind of self-clasping physical pleasure that sets in at a certain stage of weakness, how the bones and joints almost sing in their pleasure and lightness and freedom from the tug of gravity. Of course, anorexia is deplorable because it allies so easily with pre-existing mental illness and can lead to premature death. But quite a few adolescent activities fit into that category. How are anorexics different from teenage boys who risk their lives in extreme sports -- many of whom may be mentally ill, take them so far as to be near or actually suicidal? How are they different from anorexics who flirt with death in their slow, strange self-actualizing dance?
posted by Faze at 10:10 AM on November 21, 2001

Moz, you did not make me angry. The ideas expressed by the pro-eating disorder people made me angry. I agree with you-- these movements are something which others may have interest in.
posted by Badmichelle at 10:13 AM on November 21, 2001

The way I see it, if people want to destroy their bodies and self-image through a different lifestyle, one I don't agree with, let them. As long as they don't start telling me how to live my life, I really don't care.

Self-destruction sells, nowadays, and this is just another way.
posted by trioperative at 10:23 AM on November 21, 2001

Natural selection at work.
posted by bondcliff at 10:23 AM on November 21, 2001

Finally, there are those people who believe that most things are life style choices--drugs, homosexuality, anorexia. And then there are those who blieve that such things are synmptoms of emotional or mental problems that need taking care of, though of course Homosexuality would in this grouping be viewed as simply a genetic/hormonal natural thing.
I have a cousin who, anorexic, was very close to death and was sent to Yale University Hospital. She not only got better but she went on to get a Ph.D. in genetics and now has three children in a very happy marriage.
And, finally, there are those who join what many people would call cults but do so and say they are making a conscious choice and do not want to be told by others to get help in order to leave.
We have a choice to acdept either view; or we are in some way programmed into believing one or the other view.
posted by Postroad at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2001

lumping this in with NAAFA is not really fair in my book. NAAFA does, to some extent, portray being fat as a lifestyle choice -- but it is primarly concerned with correcting very real discrimintation against heavy people. skinny people, whether they have an eating disorder or not, are not discriminated against. (i sincerely hope, moz, this comment doesn't move things towards "that foot.")

generally i'm for letting people do whatever they wish with their bodies. there is a point, of course, at which people's choices affect society at large and need to be regulated. however, i do not think people choosing to starve themselves, or even creating a web site about it, reaches that point. it is the Media which creates a 'thin is in' worldview which causes far too many women to hate their bodies to the point of mental illness. it is not caused by any individual who may, on their own, advocate an 'anna lifestyle.'
posted by danOstuporStar at 10:26 AM on November 21, 2001

also some good horror at drug names a few days ago...the anorexic kit. here.

Supporters — some of whom have set themselves the target of doubling the number of anorexics

*sigh* The causes need to be dealt with--and that is an endless thread of disccusion, which i get into several times a week with various people, and which occasionally crops up here on MeFi. Culture has made women obsessed with food and Calorie intake...generations of women starve themselves. A story related to me...a mother to her daughter, "You aren't hungry, you are beautiful."

so much to say, have said it so many times least this is a subject that matters more than SUV's or Nader.
posted by th3ph17 at 10:35 AM on November 21, 2001

Ah postroad, you chickened out!

There are plenty of people who view homosexuality as a disfunction... and I'm not talking about the cranks who do crap like the godhatesfags site.

Besides... what's the difference between the "genetic/hormone" argument (which seems to have lost favor among gay apoligists/acedemes) for homosexuality and the same argument for alcoholism, or any of the other aggressively treated personal disorders?
posted by silusGROK at 10:41 AM on November 21, 2001


they are not body-building; they are not creating. they are body-detoriating, and they are walking a fine line between death and nigh-malnutrition.

your strange and (i feel) inappropriate excursion into prose aside, having starved myself, i can say that my body rather feels weak; my joints apathetic. i have never been anorexic nor nearly so, and it may be that i have not experienced the delusional joys which you describe.

anorexia is a behavior; it is a habit. some habits are not bad; a habit of washing your hands before every meal is not bad at all. some habits may not be good, such as smoking or spitting. some habits are awful, such as gambling and drug usage (we call these "addictions," but addictions are merely very strong habits which may or may not be reinforced biochemically). i would count anorexia, or even the bizarre "ethereal lightness" which you describe, as unhealthful or nearly so, and for that reason bad if not awful.

i must say i think your claim that anorexia is bad only when it allies with "pre-existing mental illness" is obscene if not merely opportunistic conjecture (from the perspective of the starving annas, anyway). it certainly shifts responsibility from those anorexics who are apparently proud of themselves doesn't it? oh, those poor, wretched -- and apparently mentally ill -- souls who waste themselves away to near death. you should be ashamed of yourself, Faze.
posted by moz at 10:43 AM on November 21, 2001

and bondcliff... when will natural selection kick in for you?

posted by silusGROK at 10:44 AM on November 21, 2001

(of course smoking is also an addiction -- sorry.)
posted by moz at 10:44 AM on November 21, 2001

what's the difference between the "genetic/hormone" argument (which seems to have lost favor among gay apoligists/acedemes) for homosexuality and the same argument for alcoholism

Because alcoholism causes obvious physical and mental damage, regardless of its social context. The "dangers" of homosexuality are caused by the social context. Without fagbashers, relgious whackos and other assorted retards around to make life miserable, there's no reason to believe that homosexuality is damaging to anyone.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:49 AM on November 21, 2001

There are worrying indications that anorexics are getting younger, with a marked increase of those aged eight to 11 in the past five years.

Even if anorexia were a lifestyle choice (which it isn't), there is nothing acceptable about eight year olds starving themselves to death. In any case, anorexia is a mental illness. Schizophrenia is not considered an acceptable "lifestyle choice," nor are depression, anxiety, etc, -- these are all illnesses that need to be treated. In some cases they are cured, in other cases merely managed.

Argh. Everytime I read about anorexia, I get unnaturally hungry. Time to cut out for an early lunch.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:52 AM on November 21, 2001

FYI, someone did a pretty good commentary on this last week or the week before on NPR's Morning Edition (I think, maybe it was ATC). Sorry, don't have the link.
posted by skechada at 11:00 AM on November 21, 2001

they are not body-building; they are not creating. they are body-detoriating, and they are walking a fine line between death and nigh-malnutrition.

There are those who would argue that traditional bodybuilders--those who most of us react to with "ewwww!"--are abusing their bodies as well. It's very easy to react to what Faze wrote with a knee-jerk "how dare you?", but I don't think Faze condones the behavior at all. One can admire the aesthetics of a muscle-bound, steroid-ridden hunk of testoserone while still believing it's wrong to live that way. Similarly, one can appreciate the grotesque beauty of an anorexic, while still deploring the "lifestyle"--and even while being horrified that someone could be hurting so deeply that they would torture themselves so.

Of everything that I've seen on the 'net--all the stile.nets and consumptionjunction.coms--nothing disturbs and horrifies me more than the "pro-ana" sites. Still, attempting to understand them seems much more positive than simply reacting to them with horror.
posted by jpoulos at 11:02 AM on November 21, 2001

and bondcliff... when will natural selection kick in for you?

If he actually talks that way in "real life," I'm sure it's just a matter of time before someone yanks him out of the gene pool.
posted by jpoulos at 11:05 AM on November 21, 2001

Dan: Rock on, brother. Our society's obsession with being thin has made a lot of women miserable, especially those of us who are, genetically, curvier and will never be twig-thin no matter what we do. I hover in that never-never land between "normal" sizes and "plus" sizes, depending on what the clothing manufacturers deem them to be on any given day. Used to be that "plus" sizes were 16 and above -- these days, they can be as small as 12 and above, and at least 60% of American women wear at least a size 12. According to the mainstream media, we're "supposed" to be a size 6. When Cindy Crawford was the supermodel of the moment, she was considered a "big girl" because she wore -- gasp -- a size 8! Is it any wonder our perceptions are warped?

Faze: You talk about anorexia as if starvation euphoria is glorious. This is not a religious-mandated short-term fast we're talking about ... this is a long-term disease of the mind in which 80 lb. women look in the mirror and see an obese woman staring back. There is absolutely nothing spiritual about that and the fact that you speak of it in such ethereal terms is really disturbing.
posted by shauna at 11:10 AM on November 21, 2001

Jpoulos; Some things *deservedly* provoke horror. Why is it necessary to have a positive reaction to sites such as these?

(actually, I can understand the thought process behind pro-ana sites. And I don't like that I can see the attraction in them)
posted by Badmichelle at 11:14 AM on November 21, 2001

hey, it's not .com
posted by Narbotic at 11:17 AM on November 21, 2001

the prose of Faze illustrates an excellent point though Moz, and isn't really out of place here...Annas view themselves as stronger. Existence on the line between life and death is poetic. Dramatic.

up until i was about 29 i was in that strange realm of being a borderline anorexic male. I have lived weeks at a time on saltines and coffee and vodka--with an occasional frozen burrito...and months at a time on one meal a day plus expresso...Partially from spending all of my money on rent, and partially from that rush from being empty and overworked in front of a computer for days at a time. You feel clear, and strong, and yes...ethereal somehow. It is illusion, and its stong. I can't dispute that there is a rush. A year ago, that turned into a 3 day caffiene/sleepless work binge that left me collapsed, body in shock, and throwing up food for a week. That didn't feel ethereal.

I'm about 35 pounds heavier now, and people are amazed at how good and healthy i look. I'm just glad i'm not vulnerable to the immense pressure that women are under to conform and contort to unrealistic expectations and ideals of beauty.

vis1on, homosexual apolgists? the difference in the debate between genetic links to things like alcoholism, anorexia, sexuality, and gender, is that the bible only mentions homosexuality as a sin. That turns it into some moral issue, since god wouldn't make people on purpose that go against his word, and can't be accepted as genetic=natural.
posted by th3ph17 at 11:41 AM on November 21, 2001

Those of you jumping on Faze for his/her post aren't getting it. It's finding beauty in the grotesque, that state of disconnectness through radical body alteration. He's/she's/it's (fucking gender neutrality) not condoning the mental illness that underlies anorexia; he's (sue me) talking about the euphoric effects of deliberate starvation. So please, untangle your panties.

Lifestyle choice? Well, I suppose if you choose a lifestyle that involves a hunger strike for "beauty", then yeah. But comparisons to homosexuality? As far as I remember, the gay activists I've heard from were fighting that line, so that Falwell et. al. couldn't have ammunition.

And here comes the flamebait:

Now, not being female, I don't know about these colossal and supposedly insurmountable forces that give Every Single Woman complexes and neuroses for life. If there were a bunch of people trying to tell me that I wouldn't be an acceptable person unless I starved myself into Paltrow terrain, I'd tell 'em to go fuck a donkey. So I gotta ask: why the hell do you care? According to the profile, every man is supposed to be tall, dark and well-muscled without an ounce of extra body fat. I'm tall, pale, and I have love handles. At the risk of straying into Mars-Venus hokum, is body image really a pandemic worry amongst the ladies? And if so, why? If you're naturally curvy or voluptuous, why even worry about it? Who cares?

Blaming "The Media" is kind of a cop-out, though. Yeah, they shout about the image, but that doesn't mean you have to listen.

Side note: Gwyneth advocating on tolerance for the obese is irony in its pure form.

Too much focus on weight, not enough focus on health. Too much focus on surface, not enough focus on the insides. If you're morbidly obese (what a droll description) or anorexic, body image is the least of your worries.
posted by solistrato at 11:46 AM on November 21, 2001

Whatever you think about anorexia, aren't any of disturbed by the fact that ANAD has a full-time employee devoted to shutting down these web sites? I find it appalling.
posted by electro at 11:59 AM on November 21, 2001

Is it about an "obsession with being thin" or synmptoms of emotional or mental problems? It seems wrong to encourage dangerous behavior, but that's what Tobacco has done from the beginning. I quit smoking 9 months ago but I doubt my ability to not smoke again, soon. This is beyond addiction and bordering on mental illness. Very thought provoking thread.
posted by Mack Twain at 12:08 PM on November 21, 2001

Blaming "The Media" is kind of a cop-out, though. Yeah, they shout about the image, but that doesn't mean you have to listen.

Some might argue that we can only know the world through media representations, and that our very perceptions of reality are moderated by these representations. We measure everyone we see against representations we've seen elsewhere. Ditto for world events. "September 11 was like a movie." If you ask me, saying "you don't have to listen," is akin to saying "you can opt out of waking up in the morning". If it's even possible to opt out, you're not going to be able to do so without retiring from our entire post-modern conception of the world.

Women have been taught, from birth, to look at their gender from a certain perspective. It's the same for men. These stereotypes are naturalized by the media to the point that we can't even identify all of the arbitrary pairings (fat:bad, thin:good, man:strong, female:weak). A surface glance at your comment reveals similar big-media influence. "Every Single Woman" is neurotic vis-a-vis body image? Why do you think that? Cathy? Why do you "listen" to the representations of that concept?

Sorry if I come across as someone who's been reading too much Baudrillard. I have been. :)
posted by Marquis at 12:10 PM on November 21, 2001

th3ph17... you missed the point of the question. As for the term "homosexual apologists", what's the problem there? It's hardly a pejorative term... and this is all way off topic.
posted by silusGROK at 12:11 PM on November 21, 2001

Solistrato -- No worries, I'm not going to flame you. I know that by and large, men just don't understand and to be honest, I'm not sure I can explain it. I don't mean that as a put-down -- my boyfriend and I have had numerous discussions about this and he doesn't understand why I, a woman he considers breathtakingly beautiful (bless his heart), would spend even one nanosecond worrying about my appearance.

Let me put it in these terms ... when I was growing up, if I'd never been exposed to beauty magazines (which, in the interest of women's self-esteem, should be outlawed ;-) or a television or a movie, and only now, at the age of 34, was presented with the images of genetic freaks as the Feminine Ideal, I absolutely *would* tell everyone to go to hell. But it's tough to get all that crap out of your head at this stage of the game.

Something else -- men in the media are presented in all shapes and sizes. Sure, it's desirable to be tall and muscled, but it's not a necessity. Guys like Dennis Franz can get work. Al Roker gets work. A myriad of other not-so-attractive and/or overweight guys are visible all the time. The message there is be smart or be talented or work hard (or all three) and your looks aren't as important.

Not so with women. Looks are paramount; talent or smarts are usually secondary. Heavier female celebrities are frequently mocked or aren't exactly women I can identify with (Roseanne, Rosie O'Donnell, Camryn Manheim). How many calls do you think they get for romantic lead roles?

And then there are the movies. Julia Roberts in a "fat suit" who can't get noticed until she's thin. Gwynnie in a "fat suit" whose only beauty is inner-beauty. Am I the only one who notices that Jack Black isn't exactly thin? But that doesn't seem to matter.

Take any average or above-average sized woman clothes shopping and watch her pull her hair out because almost nothing fits right. Clothes are usually cut for more boyish figures with very little difference in the waist and hips. I'm not even talking high-fashion here ... I've spent at least twenty years on a quest for a pair of jeans that fits properly! If there's anything that will usually send a woman into the doldrums, it's a day spent trying on clothes. She'll walk outta there feeling like there's something wrong with HER because racks and racks of clothes just won't fit right. So it isn't just media images that screw with our heads.

And sure, it's a cop-out to solely blame the media, and I don't mean to do that. But understand that it's just not the same for guys. And the fact that it's all so foreign to you is proof of that. :-)

Sorry for the length of the post.
posted by shauna at 12:18 PM on November 21, 2001

Faze - Also, if you've ever starved yourself, you are familiar with the phases of spiritual exaltation they experience: also that kind of self-clasping physical pleasure - Faze.

Gee, is that anything like the "spiritual exaltation/euthoria" my diabetic friend felt when he didn't eat/take his insulin and have a meal at the right time?

Low blood sugar? No protein for the brain?

I agree with "bondcliff", if it's not healthy for diabetics, why would it be for anyone else? Therefore... natural selection... If it's a mental health problem and un-treated... natural selection... Same thing goes for the "other shoe". Natural selection just isn't about physical capacity anymore, it's about intelligence. If you are unable to comprehend you have a problem, seek help, or get it treated.... Natural selection...

And frankly, I don't know about "bondcliff", but I do talk like that in real-life. It may not be "politically correct", but it's truth. Sometimes truth hurts.
posted by jkaczor at 12:22 PM on November 21, 2001

A surface glance at your comment reveals similar big-media influence. "Every Single Woman" is neurotic vis-a-vis body image? Why do you think that? Cathy? Why do you "listen" to the representations of that concept?

Well, I'm not, and thus my question. My deliberate capitalization was meant to throw light on the assumption that ALL WOMEN are being oppressed by "The Media." And that's a rhetorical tack that I've heard tossed around a lot in regards to the issue of body image. I know plenty of women who are comfortable with their bodies. So I dislike blanket assumptions about such things.

As for media influence: of course I realize that our imaginations are informed by such forces. I'm doing my own little research project into just how large-scale media affect thought processes and reality itself. My point, perhaps phrased badly, was that just because the crazy guy is shouting on the bus, that doesn't mean you have to listen. I think that a lot of this debate that we're seeing is brought upon by the assault on corporate-controlled media hegemony, thanks to John Q. Internet here. I think it's great that we're even questioning the assumptions of lifelong advertising campaigns. And I'm also saying that at this point, if you're still buying and believing the garbage that's poisoning our "mediasphere", then snap out of it. A little bit of advocacy there for you.

And, again, I'm a guy, so I honestly don't know about the pressures brought to bear on a woman in our society. If only I did...

Shauna: Your points are taken and understood. I guess I wouldn't know what I would do if all the jeans in the store were made to fit my former roommate, who's a 32 waist.

Although I must admit, if it's not entirely hypocritical of me to say this, I'm quite happy that my size-38 jeans are big on me.
posted by solistrato at 12:30 PM on November 21, 2001

And I know it's easier said than done to ignore all that pressure, but it's something to strive for.
posted by solistrato at 12:33 PM on November 21, 2001

See, this is the beauty of capitalism -- it makes people imprison themselves. Every other form of economic/political system imposes itself on people, usually brutally, but capitalism makes people opress themselves! It's genius.

"racks upon racks" of clothes that don't fit right, and yet neither the store nor the manufacturers have gone out of business? Why would that be? Oh yes -- people buy 'em anyway. Moreover, people buy them more often than sensible clothing, so there's a disincentive to produce an alternative.

Beauty mags are kept alive by audited circulation numbers -- clearly people buy 'em. Movies portray negative images because people buy lots and lots of tickets to that kind of movie. Folks might like to pretend that there's a huge underserved "sensible" market out there floating around the zeitgeist, but there isn't. Nobody is forcing anybody to buy size six jeans; people do it of their own free will, even though sewing your own pair is dead easy and cheaper too.
posted by aramaic at 12:37 PM on November 21, 2001

th3ph17--The Christian bible does mention drunkeness as a sin.

shauna--Julia Roberts's character was illicitly kissed by the same guy when she was fat, and he was married to Catherine Zeta-Jones's thin character.
posted by NortonDC at 12:47 PM on November 21, 2001

What disturbs me is that people may look at these sites and come to the conclusion that eating disorders are actually a lifestyle choice. I don't claim to be an expert on the subject, but I have had two different professors, one in a psychology class and one in a human genetics class say that eating disorders are almost never something one chooses. Genetic predisposition and social factors are far and away the leading factors in someone developing an eating disorder.

As a matter of semantics one has to say that, yes, ultimately they do have a choice in the matter; they can seek nutritional counseling, et cetera. But that's rather like saying we choose to be right or left-hand dominant. Ultimately, the other forces at work make conscious decision a minimal agent, and if someone says they 'choose' to be anorexic or obese as a 'lifestyle,' it's incalculably more likely that they are trying to justify-- or even maintain an illusion of control over -- a part of themselves that they can't seem to restrain.

Just what I've gathered, though.. I may be wrong. Anyway, it bothers me that someone would confuse a disorder as a decision, because it propagates the ugly, inaccurate belief that these people should just get over themselves and act normal.
posted by Hildago at 12:51 PM on November 21, 2001

aramaic: sounds like you mean to condemn the fashion industry rather than capitalism in a broad sense.
posted by moz at 12:59 PM on November 21, 2001

And I know it's easier said than done to ignore all that pressure, but it's something to strive for.

Absolutely. And I *am* trying. I stopped buying beauty magazines many years ago. I refuse to see movies like the ones I described above (and skipping the Julia Roberts one hurt because I like her and I adore John Cusack).

I never, ever watch fashion shows. Or "Baywatch." But that's primarily a decision based on good taste. ;-)

I've actually found I *can* identify with women like Queen Latifah. If I wasn't white, blonde and blue-eyed, I'd probably identify with her more (heh). But I think she rocks. A beautiful, smart, self-confident woman who isn't a size four. She's an attitude role-model if nothing else.

At the risk of being misunderstood here, I'll say that cultural standards of beauty are different for black women. And I'm jealous as hell. They're "allowed" (expected, almost) to be curvy. In fact, I used to know a black woman who was just one of those naturally thin people, and she experienced discrimination herself. So it's all contextual, I guess.

Come to think of it, I wonder what the stats are for black anorexics. I'd bet money they're miniscule.

But anyway.
posted by shauna at 1:01 PM on November 21, 2001

Thanks for the clarification, solistrato. I think I better understand what you were trying to articulate. Still, I'm not convinced you understand just how deeply I feel the "media hegemony" has its hold on us.

I think that a lot of this debate that we're seeing is brought upon by the assault on corporate-controlled media hegemony, thanks to John Q. Internet here. I think it's great that we're even questioning the assumptions of lifelong advertising campaigns. ... A little bit of advocacy there for you.

My issue is that I'm not sure that such "advocacy" is in fact an attack on media convention. The media has given a voice to critical response from the get-go, and in so doing, naturalizes such criticism as the crazy guy on the bus, rather than the other way around. By framing the anti-Vogue ranters as the minority (rather than the majority of right-minded people), they have neutralized the potential for change. That people are yelling implicitly suggests that the world isn't (and won't) listen; that the "yellers" are extremists. Such activism is contextualized as advocacy, rather than as the 'real' voice of the people. The use of the female image in advertising has been vehemently criticized for more than twenty years now, and what change have we seen? Close to nil. I would argue that due to the way that people understand the world - through mediated representations - dissent may be nearly impossible. How can you rally for change when this rally will be represented as a protest, rather than as an actual shift in public opinion.

And I'm also saying that at this point, if you're still buying and believing the garbage that's poisoning our "mediasphere", then snap out of it.

It's quite impossible to "snap out" of the "mediasphere". It's the only way that we can understand the world. (Apart from, perhaps, art, religion and death.)

Also, as for the belief that males aren't represented in the same oppressive way, I beg to differ. While super-muscled men (a la Arnold) are not necessarily displayed as the 'perfect man', you're not going to see Dennis Franz playing James Bond. Shauna points out that Jack Black isn't thin - but he's not playing a lover or a Clooney-esque leading man. He's playing the hawaiian-shirt-wearing goofball. Drew Carey's weight is as much an object of mockery as Mimi's, Robin Williams' furry chest elicits titters and revulsion.

Clooney-Pitt-Brosnan remains the goal. Jason Alexander and Seymour Philip Hoffman remain relegated to various archetypes, none of which approach that of the idolized male lead.
posted by Marquis at 1:07 PM on November 21, 2001

Capatilism isn't to blame for anorexia. If it were, it would not have existed in the USSR.

What is tough here is that there are so many factors involved in the whole thing. Is it the fact that the US has one of the highest standards of living, thus allowing us to gorge ourselves with the highest intake of fat in the world? And that this has led the society in general to look to be healthier and forward all these ideals of being healthy, which invariable may have led to implicit support for people at risk for anorxia or bolumia to believe that they were actually doing good for their bodies by creating this picture of thin-ness that has been espoused?

In the romantic period, 'fat' was 'in'.

Disorders and decisions can be a matter of semantics and it plays both ways.

The boy lover's man club would say they are driven by their genes to sleep with underage boys. But we find that perverse and wrong, so it's a disorder. Homosexuality we know isn't a decision (generally we know, at least - some disagree), but there isn't anything inately 'wrong' with it, other than the religious complications. So where is the line of demarcation?

(you can try and assing the whole HIV issue to homosexuality, but that falls flat in the face of all the other sexually transmitted diseases which exist out there for heteros as well)

For example, someone might be prone to obsessive behavior, but at what point does it become a disorder?

We try and identify things in these terms, but it is all a matter of perception. But I think the main issue is whether the behavior is self-destructive in a real context. Or immediately destructive to others (such as in the case of the nambis).

Of course I think that the links provided are worrisome and I find it horrible that people are trying to pull others into their web of self-destruction. But the reasons for it are not simple, and can't sinply be tied to one or two factors.

And for the record, Solistrato, I'm still upset I went from a 28 to a 34 in a matter of 3 years after I got married.
posted by rich at 1:15 PM on November 21, 2001

moz: I didn't mean to condemn capitalism or the fashion industry. On the contrary, I really mean it when I say that the genius of capitalism is that it allows people to oppress themselves.
posted by aramaic at 1:22 PM on November 21, 2001


I think its all about competition.. between women

females mature at an earlier age than males.

During the preteen & teen years he number of mature girls are considerably higher than the number of mature boys.
Those girls learn early on if they want the attention of those few mature guys they have to compete with each other.
Girls will starve themselves, wear lots of makeup, buy the fanciest clothes, whatever.. just to get the attention of the guys.
They have to look better than the next girl. Whatever it takes.... Women instinctively know that (most not all) "guys are attracted by looks" . You know that old saying "a man sees a women, a woman hears a man."

Anyway, I think the women watch the men, who watch the women , and they take careful notice of how the man reacts and what the other woman looks like. The competition begins, the thoughts and emotions that follow can run amuk. And sometimes those women become anexoric.
posted by redhead at 1:27 PM on November 21, 2001

Aramaic - Would you at the same time agree that since the only thing oppressing someone in a capitalist sytem is themselves, it also always for the greatest freedom? This is vaguely on topic.. ;)
posted by Hildago at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2001

Hildago: that gets into sticky definitions of freedom. I'll put it this way -- all systems oppress; the question is who is doing the oppressing. Whether that means capitalism is maximally free or not depends on how you constitute freedom.
posted by aramaic at 1:36 PM on November 21, 2001

Am I the only one who notices that Jack Black isn't exactly thin? But that doesn't seem to matter.

It not only matters, it augments the irony of the situation.
posted by kindall at 1:40 PM on November 21, 2001

Faze, what you describe is the illusion anorectics struggle to pull into reality. If I can lose just 3 more pounds, then I will be thin enough to feel the elation you're talking about. Oh, 3 pounds later I don't feel it - I guess I need to lose 3 more pounds again. And so on and so on until I'm dead or hospitalized against my will, fattened up and then released to start the process over.

This site provides some insight into anorexic thinking. Look at this online memorial if you're questioning the absurdity of the pro-anorexic movement.
posted by Modem Ovary at 2:00 PM on November 21, 2001

Eating Disorders: A Universal Problem: "Until recently, it was thought that eating disorders only occurred in white upper-class and middle-class females. Studies now show that this is not true. Eating disorders have been found in all nonwhite populations, and in every economic group in the United States." Eating Disorders Begin to Plague Black Teens & Vanity Thy Name is Man.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:10 PM on November 21, 2001

fwiw, it's been shown that men are attracted to women who have particular proportions, weight is not even a consideration up to a point. and it's long been observed that women dress for other women. I can tell you from my own experience that women and girls who break the tacit "good girl's agreement" and overtly show off their bodies are at best resented and at worst, shunned, but the good girl majority.

regarding cross-cultural body image, I remember reading within the last few years that something like 80% of white teens were not satisfied with their weight, and 80% of black teens were. I found that to be interesting and shocking. (but I can't find an article now).

statistically, minorities with eating disorders are on the rise.

Cultural Roles in Anorexia
"The Black-American culture traditionally accepts more
fat on women than the White culture, but when Black middle-class women become integrated into White culture while they are trying to get ahead, they become
more at risk of developing Eating Disorders." [...]
The more a person is pressured to emulate the mainstream image, the more the desire to be thin is adopted, and with it an increased risk for the development of body image dissatisfaction and eating disorders.
More and more minority girls and women are seeking treatment for eating disorders
Researchers are just beginning to study the problem, so it's hard to know how many minority women (fewer than 10 percent of those with eating problems are men) are affected. But Steiner-Adair estimates that one-quarter to one-half of those now being treated for food compulsions are not white. One reason for the widely held belief that eating disorders were rare among ethnic groups is that minorities did not seek or receive help at treatment centers, said Jonelle C. Rowe, senior adviser on adolescent health in the federal Office of Women's Health. [...]
and media influences:
Even among cultures in which women are plumper and more satisfied with their weight, exposure to images of wafer-thin celebrities can lead to body dissatisfaction, a trigger for eating disorders, according to studies.
A survey of teen-agers in Fiji found that three years after television was introduced, the girls started complaining about their weight for the first time, and 69 percent went on a diet.
"Prior to then, no one knew what a diet was," said Anne Becker, director of research at Harvard's Eating Disorder Center, who conducted the study in the mid-1990s. "Eighty-three percent said TV influenced the way they felt about their bodies. They wanted to look like Heather Locklear."
on the difference between black and white teen's body images:

"During elementary school, 60 percent of the girls reported being happy with themselves just as they were; by high school there was a dramatic reversal, with more than 60 percent finding fault with their bodies. African-American girls apparently have a much better body image; 58 percent report being quite happy with their bodies. Boys also did much better, dropping o nly from 67 percent to 46 percent who were satisfied with their bodies. Interestingly enough, in listing things they like about themselves, boys listed talents; girls judged themselves on physical appearance. Our kids aren't born with this obsession to be thin . . . it's our gift to them, taught through words, actions, and media representations."

and on teen pressure to conform:
Voices of a Generation:
Teenage Girls on Sex, School, and Self (1999)
'The girls describe a cruel school sexual politics, in which boys press for sex and tease girls who refuse, while girls egg each other on, then turn on those who accede to boys’ demands. "Someone said that I was a slut," says a girl from Carson City, Nevada. "You always try to pretend that what people say about you doesn’t affect you, but it does. You slowly start to believe what’s being said about you."
In voices that ring with hope and pain, girls describe the search for identity and the pain of exclusion. "There is a pressure to act in a certain way, dress a certain way, and look a certain way," says a 15-year-old Asian American girl from Massachusetts. "When girls don’t meet these ‘qualifications,’ they get teased or ridiculed."'
posted by rebeccablood at 2:13 PM on November 21, 2001

VERY interesting articles, Carol Anne, thanks.

A couple quotes from the first one:

Harris adds that African-American women may become more vulnerable to eating disorders if their peer groups are composed of middle-class white teen-agers.


"Context is everything," she said. "Black women are not particularly quick to be rewarded for being thin," since there is no particularly great value placed on thinness in the African-American community. "Younger black girls are more likely to say they want to gain weight. What they choose often correlates to the body shape of their mother."
posted by shauna at 2:17 PM on November 21, 2001

Great post, Rebecca.

I also want to reiterate the fact that this is not about what MEN find attractive necessarily -- notice that nowhere in any of my posts have I said anything about men not liking larger-than-average women. In fact, I've found quite the opposite to be true (and thank god or I'd still be a virgin). I've never had trouble attracting men. So that's not what this is about.

Any time someone tries to throw the old "men are responsible for the objectification and exploitation of women" line at me, I ask them who the editors of the major beauty magazines are. They're almost all women. The porn magazines may be run by the men (except "Playboy," run by Hugh's daughter now) but those aren't the magazines most women read. A lot of them DO read "Cosmo" and "Glamour" et al, and those are the magazines that make me feel like a cow.

So ... I don't read them (actually, give me "Playboy" any day over a woman's magazine -- at least the articles are intelligent). If I were to ever have a daughter, I'd discourage her from reading them as well. They exist solely for the purpose of making women feel so awful about themselves that they'll buy whatever's advertised that promises to make them beautiful.

And if that's not exploiting women, I don't know what is.
posted by shauna at 2:36 PM on November 21, 2001

My two cent's worth:
I fully understand that Anorexia is a legitimate tragic illness etc, but I can't deny that self-starvation/extreme weight loss can for some be a conscious 'lifestyle' choice.
My personal experience: I am a Large Girl, tall, 'heavy boned', genetically prone to ridiculous bosoms, my best friend calls me 'ama', short for Amazon Woman. I am happy with my shape/weight and I reject totally the "media influence" idea in my case. Yet a couple of years ago I dropped about 30kg in a bare couple of months, had yer basic 'anorexic' side effects -pointy ribs, total loss of periods, light-headedness, as well as immune problems (ended up with severe lung infection).
All the time I was starving myself I knew what I was doing, I was doing it from a sense of curiousity, it was an interesting physical challenge to me, no more. When I got tired of it I took up a reading course instead.
posted by Catch at 2:54 PM on November 21, 2001

It seems to me pretty striking that all of these anorexia sites explicity mention death and how if they choose to die this way then that is their choice.

Are there any other groups that do this?
posted by amanda at 3:07 PM on November 21, 2001

Ooh, another Thought. (Yes, yes, *Ouch* and all that.)
I'd liken Anorexia in this case to gambling.
Problem Gambling is an extremely destructive obsessive disease, and yet there are plenty of folks who like a flutter and really can quit any time. So what do we do about Punter's Clubs and the like?
It's about how far we feel the need to go to protect people from themselves. And nothing puts my back up more than someone taking that attitude towards me. So I can see where the drive behind this movement is possibly coming from.
posted by Catch at 3:19 PM on November 21, 2001

posted by Catch at 2:54 PM PST on November 21
It seems to me pretty striking that all of these anorexia sites explicity mention death and how if they choose to die this way then that is their choice. Are there any other groups that do this?

posted by rebeccablood at 3:21 PM on November 21, 2001

I never!
But anyway,
The NRA?
posted by Catch at 3:33 PM on November 21, 2001

(oops. sorry.)
posted by rebeccablood at 4:09 PM on November 21, 2001

Catch -- have you read this article ?

You might find it interesting. (and I'm sure it's been linked from metafilter before).

I think people who can start and *control* an eating disorder are rare indeed, but that's what this article talks about.
posted by Badmichelle at 4:15 PM on November 21, 2001

Speaking of the images portrayed in American women's magazines, take a look at the cover of Self this month: toothpick arms! What do you suppose they will do with the results of the Body Image Survey? The "Eat Well" section's goal: Learning your "taste status" can help you lick overeating.
posted by Carol Anne at 4:54 PM on November 21, 2001

I left NAAFA over philosophies regarding the denial of the health problems related to fat. I am very fat but suffer from endocrine difficulties. For many of the fat it is not a choice or simply a result of lifestyle. I see fat as an illness which NAAFA does not. They are more about fat promotion. This essay I wrote clarifies why I left and what I saw:

These anorexics are clearly equivalent to the extremists in NAAFA who deny that weighing 500lbs is going to cause health problems. I protested such things for years as a supersized person. Fat promotion is not the healthy way to go. Anorexics promoting the anorexic lifestyle on the other side of the coin are only hurting themselves and others.

Some people in the size acceptance movement even choose huge fatness by an unknown phenomenon known as feederism where they eat on purpose to gain to huge weights. These anorexics in defense of their lifestyle remind me of such fat people who while they live on oxygen express the endless virtues of fatness. I believe this is a case of mental and physical illness converging in both these cases.
posted by Budge at 5:22 PM on November 21, 2001

a) The fashion industry and its related ad agencies are inherently evil, manipulative, entities. They present imposible to attain goals, and sell you substitutes for them to take the edge off your angst (in this sense they operate like most organized religions, which are also inherently evil, although for different reasons).

b) having said that, it's silly to blame "the media" for people's delusions. Every person is responsible for his/her actions, choices, self-image, etc. Except for minors, in which case their guardians share this responsibility. Yes, women's magazines are evil incarnate; but if you model your life based on them you're just plain dumb. If you can't be trusted to make your own choices about what to eat, wear, etc, you shouldn't be allowed out of the house.

c) th3ph17, the bible mentioning homosexuals makes it a biblical issue. Showing that somebody is hurt by homosexuality would make it a moral issue.

caveat emptor!
posted by signal at 5:25 PM on November 21, 2001

One question I have as I read over our over-sexualized, anorexic looking model containing magazines is why no one or so few in publishing/art direction are willing to buck these trends?

Who are these people making the decisions about what we will see? Its all about what will sell I suppose......

Most of us now are more then ready to see some normal looking people in a magazine. Many of the young girls seeing this stuff are influenced to get an eating disorder. Anorexia is very culturally influenced much more so then obesity which has a much more genetic base behind it. Anyhow, society as a whole is paying a huge price for its psycho approach to appearance, food, health and promotion of beauty over character.
posted by Budge at 6:00 PM on November 21, 2001

One question I do have about anorexia is how much of it is a chosen condition? Could it actually be caused more by an imbalance in brain chemistry or other physical factors? Theyve proven those things exsist for the fat. What about the anorexic? Something for me to think about.
posted by Budge at 6:09 PM on November 21, 2001

Thanks Badmichelle, interesting article.
I don't know how much in control she was though, sounds like every episode was triggered by A Man (ulp) and the vomiting got away on her a bit.

I went looking for definitions of Anorexia, and it seems that being 'unwilling' to gain weight is the same as being 'unable' to gain weight in most of them. So according to medicine it doesn't make a difference if you are suffering from an uncontrollable mental illness or just dieting extremely. Interesting.
posted by Catch at 6:22 PM on November 21, 2001

One question I have as I read over our over-sexualized, anorexic looking model containing magazines is why no one or so few in publishing/art direction are willing to buck these trends?

good question.

anyone have any personal experiences relating to working for a fashion mag? i would imagine the office culture is pretty much in line with the magazine.
posted by th3ph17 at 6:37 PM on November 21, 2001

Every person is responsible for his/her actions, choices, self-image, etc.

If you can convince me that you are responsible for every single one of your actions, choices, self-image, etc., then I'll believe you. I'll assume that you chose your race, height, foot size, etc.

The point that Marquis and I are saying - me with bold sweeping "yeah!" proclamations, him with actual articulated thought and language - is that a person's reality is molded by others in ways we can't even comprehend. The obvious ones, like marketing campaigns and the like, are relatively easy to dissect. But what we consider "us" is an intersection of our inborn genetic self and the outside world pouring into us.

Or something.
posted by solistrato at 7:26 PM on November 21, 2001

Sample LiveJournal entry:


Hi, I'm new in this community. My names Cait, and I was wondering if you all would mind giving me your own personal advice? You see I've created my own diet, because I am hypoglycemic and anemic, so it's dangerous if I go under 100 cals a day. I was planning on eating oatmeal and a half of a cup of orange juice. Which would bring me to 200 calories a day exactly. Is that too much? Should I do half a bowl of oatmeal instead? Please give me your thoughts on this.

I'm prepared to bet my life that there isn't a person here who does not feel sorry for her.
posted by HoldenCaulfield at 7:40 PM on November 21, 2001

holdencaulfield: that's heartbreaking.

thanks for bringing us back to the people.
posted by rebeccablood at 8:04 PM on November 21, 2001

The point that Marquis and I are saying ... is that a person's reality is molded by others in ways we can't even comprehend.

posted by Marquis at 9:45 PM on November 21, 2001

"Never too thin?"
posted by Goethe at 9:46 PM on November 21, 2001

I think there is no argument that media images damage self-esteem and body image, but I think the contribution of the media to anorexia nervosa is important, but over-rated.
Other factors (paternal alcoholism, childhood incest and sexual assault) are larger factors in contributing to eating disorders. (If a woman is an alcoholic, media images are rarely cited.) I also think boys are not diagnosed with anorexia because there is not an obvious measure (ie cessation of menstration) and because the media-image argument is too heavily engrained.
(I don't mean to trivialise or to play gadfly. We were engaged. She never mentioned the media. She talked of her father's drinking and physical abuse, and of her brother who starved himself, was never diagnosed and cured himself when she was hospitalised.)
posted by philfromhavelock at 10:20 PM on November 21, 2001

nowhere . . . have I said anything about men not liking larger-than-average women. In fact, I've found quite the opposite to be true [shauna]

men are attracted to women who have particular proportions, weight is not even a consideration up to a point [rebeccablood]

i don't doubt either of these statements. i have heard of similar studies, and know personally that the more voluptuous a woman is the more attracted i am to her. i feel quite at home lost in a curvy girl. yet, on some level, i still feel my preferences are something not-normal, not 'redblooded american male,' something perverse even.

where does this come from? i do not read glamour magazines (much). i really have no sense of fashion. i do not share the experiences posted by the (most interesting) women in this thread, but my conflict is somewhat similar.

solistrato, the intersection of my inborn tastes and my culture's tastes is very much at odds. if i can't couch the causal influence of this under the blanket "Media," what can i couch it in? {i figure somehow the people that give me 10 calista flockharts for every anna nicole smith must conspire with the people that control our petrochemically-based economy (isn't makeup petroleum-based?) -- because neither one make a lick of sense to me.}
posted by danOstuporStar at 10:29 PM on November 21, 2001

I don't really have anything to add at this point, but I'd just like to say thank you so much for this really interesting discussion.

I won't go into great personal detail, but this thread intersects some self-reflection I'd already been doing for a while. And many of your posts provided viewpoints I needed to hear right now.

So thanks.
posted by shauna at 10:53 PM on November 21, 2001

as someone who has lived and worked amongst desperately poor communities in africa i just can't find words to express how obscene these people are, wallowing in their self-obsession.

i really feel sick
posted by quarsan at 1:20 AM on November 22, 2001

If you can convince me that you are responsible for every single one of your actions, choices, self- image, etc., then I'll believe you. I'll assume that you chose your race, height, foot size, etc.

Um, since when is race, height, foot size, etc a matter of choice?
posted by signal at 1:33 AM on November 22, 2001

For anyone who thinks the game is up with 'normal' girls getting on TV, check out Linda Green, which gets shown at prime time on BBC1. She shags about and no-one cares, she's a size 16 and no-one cares, she's 30 and single and no-one cares, she decides she might be a lesbian and no-one cares. Hurrah!
posted by Summer at 3:56 AM on November 22, 2001

This is oddly reminiscent of the Ellen James Society mentioned in John Irving's book "The World According to Garp." Except there, it was meant to be a bit of a sick joke.
posted by jmcnally at 8:22 AM on November 22, 2001

for those discounting the effects of media: I don't know that anyone is arguing that media *causes* anorexia or bulimia. I think the idea is that other factors cause the disease, but that media sort of points the direction. it can cause an extreme anxiety about one's weight, by relentlessly putting forward images of very skinny women -- only -- as the most attractive women in the world. (kate winslet is an exception. but do you remember when alicia silverstone was plastered across the tabloids post-"clueless" and pre-"batman"? she had gained maybe 10 pounds, and they were showing pictures of her with captions like "look out robin, here comes butt-girl". funny, sure, sort of, except that she wasn't fat by any measure. she just wasn't a stick.)

in a society where a different extreme was put forward as an ideal, perhaps a different disorder would manifest; surely this one would be rare.

the only exception I can think to this might be for an actress in hollywood, who, by extreme pressure to fit into that skinny mold, might lose all perspective and eat ridiculous amounts of food to stay thin.

but the girls on that live journal site are talking about 100-200 calorie/day diets. even if you started with a wild determination to become thinner, at some point this veers off into an unnatural obsession, surely a control issue.

it reminds me of being a miser (miserism? there's surely a name for it), where the idea of "not being poor" or "having enough money" is replaced with "having as much money as you can". you hear of people living in shacks with mattresses stuffed with money. at some point the *reason* for having money becomes superceded by having money itself.
posted by rebeccablood at 1:55 PM on November 22, 2001

Well said, rebeccablood.
posted by silusGROK at 9:21 PM on November 22, 2001

Quarsan, I've read posts on anorexia support forums where people have said they wish they could move to a third-world country so that they wouldn't have to eat. Obscene to the Nth.

Now go get an antacid tablet.
posted by Modem Ovary at 8:53 AM on November 23, 2001

« Older Ashcroft   |   Another Kaycee Nicole? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments