пʼятниця, 22 жовтня 2010 р.

Anorexia and today's world

So it seems that neither most men nor most women find thinness beautiful or appealing in a direct, aesthetic way. For men it may represent indirectly their own status, through the rarity and social cachet of female thinness; for women it may represent something enviable: the different and self-controlled. But is this enough to sustain a physical ideal for long? Grim fascination and a status symbol seem a somewhat fragile basis for a whole cultural and physical obsession.
But does the anorexic care about any of this? She sees something fascinating in those as thin as or thinner than herself; she narrows her gaze to the single features that obsess her most (tummy, upper arms, thighs, whatever); she finds goals to aim for in catwalk cheekbones and means of attaining them in packaged-food nutritional information; once she starts trying to recover, the endless images of protruding breastbones and sunken eyes on society's most prized women don't make it easier. But while society may thus endorse certain anorexic habits, and facilitate others, and provide, in the early stages at least, positive feedback on the results, the physiological aspects of self-starvation remain untouched by social patterns. Although the incidence rates of anorexia are lower in third-world countries, it is by no means absent, and seems to be sharply rising (see, for example, Makino et al., 2004). Nonetheless, when I see an image of, say, Keira Knightley in a skimpy dress, I feel sick and confused that she should be celebrated for her looks, while starving women in less sickened nations would kill for all the food she rejects, and which we praise her for rejecting.

What is the attraction here?

But it's impossible to say to the family scraping a living from a drought-ridden field, we're no happier than you are (though it's true: Geoffrey Miller suggests that ‘all advertisements for non-essential goods should be required to carry the warning: "Caution: scientific research demonstrates that this product will increase your subjective well-being only in the short term, if at all, and will not increase your happiness set-point"'); it's impossible to dampen the human ambition for progress, for ease, for choice. And the closer we come to achieving total ease, infinite choice, and complete ‘modernity', the more glaring will its down-sides become: the obesity, the anorexia, the mental illness. And it is ironic that the West's millions of dieters are reacting against the general trend towards obesity, and that the fewer but growing number of anorexics manifest both this reaction against excess and fatness, and the mental illness that has invaded all sorts of spheres of life, from OCD to social phobia.

Anorexia is as necessary a consequence of an over-developed society as dieting is: it combines the taboo of mental illness with society's highest prize, and therefore it induces a sort of mild schizophrenia in the rest of society, who condemn it with one breath and wish they might emulate it with the next.

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