Anorexia: Physically and Spiritually Dying

I wouldn’t sit with daddy when he was alone in the hospital because I needed to go jogging; I told Derek not to visit me because I couldn’t throw up when he was there; I almost failed my comprehensive exams because I was so hungry; I spent my year at Oxford with my head in the toilet bowl; I wouldn’t eat the dinner my friends cooked me for my 19th birthday because I knew they had used oil in the recipe; I told my family not to come to my college graduation because I didn’t want to miss a day at the gym or have to eat a restaurant meal.

I would swear I did not miss the world outside. Lost within myself, I almost died.

During her recovery from anorexia, Abra Fortune Chernik filled three and a half Mead marble notebooks – five years’ worth of reflection on how her eating disorder had tangled her life and thwarted her relationships. You can read more on her struggle in “The Body Politic.”

I had always known that anorexia diminished women physically, and too often led to their deaths. But I hadn’t stopped to realize that the disease shrank them socially, emotionally, and mentally, too – leaving their world revolving solely around their bodies and their food – or the lack thereof.

I hadn’t realized that anorexia meant both a physical and spiritual ridding of the self. And yet it surely does.

Abra continued:

As my body shrank, so did my world. I starved away my power and vision, my energy and inclinations. Obsessed with dieting, I allowed relationships, passions, and identity to wither.

The name of her piece, “The Body Politic,” tells us that anorexia is not just about Abra’s own struggle, but the struggle of women who live in a world that seems to applaud their constriction, and perhaps even their disappearance.

A push toward constricting women, or “disappearing them”? In an earlier piece I talked of political pressures to deny women life-saving vaccines, cancer screenings, tests for H.I.V., emergency abortions to save a woman’s life, and nutrition programs, along with decriminalizing domestic violence. Women’s control over their bodies is being increasingly constricted by attempts to limit access to contraception and the right to choose.

Applauding women who sufficiently shrink their bodies, minds and souls is perfectly consistent.

And perfectly deranged.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on January 25, 2012, in body image, feminism, gender, psychology, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. This is a really interesting post. I always saw anorexia as a harmful to your health and body, but I never really stopped to look at what other damages anorexia does to a girl. I understand the reason why girls would want to starve themselves to be thin. Also, the constant paranoia they have that they don’t “look” a certain way or they don’t “look” like the girls that society thinks they should look like. However, harming your health, inner-self, and etc. simply isn’t worth it. Nowadays, people make it such a big deal if a girl doesn’t look how they’re “supposed” to look in their eyes. For example, people would normally target a girl mainly on how she looks. For some, the kind of negativity people give to girls can either motivate them or diminish them completely because they resort to craziness such as starving themselves in order to “fit” into their standards.

  2. This post was very insightful. I think that it is very important to point out that anorexia is a disease of both the mind and body. Physically and emotionally, the girls are wearing away by punishing themselves because they feel as if they are not good enough. This punishment can consist of many things, not just binging and purging or starving oneself. I strongly believe that once one starts to binge and purge they become more addicted to the ritual, at the end of a session it is a feeling of accomplishment. Since this gives them a feeling of accomplishment, they feel somehow in their head happy about being able to purge or starve themselves. In order to keep feeling this they need to push other people away so they will not notice because that would take away that “good” feeling. So they will push away family and friends. They will abandon hobbies and stop doing things they once loved.

    I think that today we more than ever need to create a larger sense of awareness about this topic. This is an ongoing problem in young girls and women.

  3. What book did you find this in? I for one am hoping it is our text book, and I’m definitely going to look in it for more on this topic. I’ve always been thin, and have known many friends with anorexia- for me in high school the drugs I was on kept me plenty thin, but since I’ve been clean and getting older I’ve noticed my body filling out more. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me a bit. Who doesn’t want to look like the women in fashion magazines? It’s a struggle sometimes to eat and to not obsess about body image, but I know far too many women who live with this disease to let it win the battle in my life. I have a friend who is currently going to an inpatient program for her eating disorders that she’s been struggling with for YEARS now. I see the destruction this causes in people’s lives, and yet I still freak out when my size 4 pants no longer fit me, talk about a luxury problem!
    As always I appreciate reading what you post here. Without fail, every time I read something it seems to have a great deal to do with what I’m going through at any given moment in my life. Thank you 🙂

    • Thanks Joy. I found this in an earlier text I’ve used called “Issues in Feminism” 5th edition by Sheila Ruth.

      Pretty sad to have an ideal that is the body of a 14-year-old (who actually are plenty of the models). Impossible images to strive for do leave us spending endless sums of money to try to fit that ideal. And who cares if we harm our health, eh?

  4. Anorexia is a serious disease, it’s more than just mind over matter. Before reading this post I had no idea how the disease could affect someone’s life so drastically. A major contributor to anorexia is how the media portrays what a women should look like, we are influenced by our surroundings. Every where woman turn we see what the “ideal” image of a woman should be; television, magazines, and the internet play a significant role in how we feel about ourselves. A majority of women world wide aren’t happy with their body. This post made me realize the true struggle of women with anorexia. Before I was under the impression that females only vomited because they didn’t want to consume food. Obviously there is way more to the disease. The ruining of relationships, the body, and mind are just a few obstacles individuals go through. A couple years ago I was a size 5/7 after having my son I gained forty or more pounds I’m not comfortable within my own skin, and I critique myself on a daily basis because I know the weight that I should be. For a while I stopped eating and went through a depression; although I lost the weight I gained it back quickly the method I chose was unhealthy. If didn’t have my family and friends I don’t know where I would be today. Abra’s situation is striking to me in some aspects I understand where she is coming from. I would like to know who helped her get back on track? Did her friends/family know she had a problem? If so, did they try to get her help? This is an interesting story I will look into “Political Body” to find out more.

  5. Anorexia is one of those things we used to hear about as an after school special, but it never felt real. I’ve been learning much more about the subject in recent years, in part because I have had people close to me that suffer from it. I think we sometimes forget how much we are affected by images in our daily lives that can pressure us to look a certain way. It reminds me of something I learned about in my psychology class last year, how the women in Fiji – known for being more full-figured, were plagued with the new onset of eating disorders after the introduction of television to the country in 1995. It saddens me to think about how our culture harms the self esteem of women worldwide.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/347637.stm

  6. This article was really interesting to me because my aunt has anorexia and I never really knew that much about it. I never thought about how it might affect you socially. I think it is really unfortunate that women aren’t educated about this illness. In middle school and high school you never learn get taught about issues like this, and I think it is so important for girls to be educated on it. Schools barely teach you about sex and drugs, but they never even touch on this subject and I think it is a really big challenge for many girls and it would really be helpful if we were taught more about it.

  7. I feel anorexia is both a psychological and sociological disorder that is downright debilitating. It is sad that the mindless obsession towards a prescribed set of physical features by a grossly imperfect society would drive a person to take such drastic actions. This article does well to highlight the ills of this disorder and the huge cost to the health and overall well being of its sufferers. I think emotional comfort, physical comfort and a healthy lifestyle are the things that need to be emphasized in modern society, not freakish obsessions towards subjective physical perfection.

  8. Many people have heard of anorexia, but many are unaware that it is a disease that affects more than someone’s appetite. It completely controls a person’s self-image and self-worth. The absolute NEED to be thin runs their lives, making them feel the need to work out more while eating less. I have seen the things this disease can do to a person and it really and truly “shrinks” an individual’s entire life. It is an issue that should be brought into awareness much more—people need to see that it is a disease and not just a lifestyle choice. Those with it need help and support!

  9. I was drawn to this post because of how relevant the topic of eating disorders is to my current life. I have known many people who have struggled with eating disorders, but I never knew till they told me about the experience they had been through. On the surface, these people always seemed so calm and happy to me, that I did not even consider the possibility of them “dying spiritually”. Now that I think about it, once you become addicted to the mentality of an eating disorder, it seems to consume your life, much like it did to Abra. Most people focus so much on maintaining their weight or reaching their ideal body image that they forget about the things that are important to them. It is now apparent to most people that the root cause of such behavior is due to society’s dictation of what is considered to be “beautiful” and unfortunately, being stick thin falls under that category. The media does not help in diminishing eating disorders either. Though some television shows have begun to address the realities of eating disorders, news and media outlets still broadcast images of who they consider to be beautiful. Magazines only use skinny models to model their clothing, and being “plus sized” is considered terrible because society says that what usually makes a woman beautiful is whether or not she is thin. Therefore, I think it is up to each and every person to see past the body image of a woman or man, and observe their personalities.

  10. Every day millions of girls and women struggle with issues of weight and body image. It is so terrible to see their lives get wrapped up in an obsession that is so culturally based. Speaking from my own personal struggle with an eating disorder I know now that what I was doing to myself was not just about looking a certain way because no matter what or how little I ate, I would never ever look as good as I wanted to. I would never be the person I thought I could look like if I was just alittle bit skinnier. I got down to 105lbs and still thought I needed to lose 15lbs more. It is no coincidence that my eating disorder began just as my life seemed to spin out of control. As a 17 year old facing severe school and work pressure and dealing with overloaded family issues, I had no control over my life. Everything seemed to be happening and all I could do was hang on. The one thing that I did feel like I could control was what I put in my body and that became an obsession. At that time in my life I needed someone to talk to but instead my psychological issue ended up manifesting itself a very bad physical situation. This is not the case for every person that deals with anorexia but I know it is for alot of people. I feel that if schools, community organizations, chruches, etc would offer up programs and assistants to allow young people to come in and just be listened to, this could be a start in the right direction for helping people avoid falling victim to Anorexia’s hold.

  11. This blog truly hit home for me. A recently close friend of mines confused a week ago that she struggles with bulimia. I know that the two disorders are different but they have their similarities. As I reflect on our past couple of months together I am beginning to realize that her mood swings and short attitudes were warning signs that something was not right. Normally, my friend is a very up-beat person so it was hard for me to spot that there really was something wrong with her. Thankfully, she confused her problem to me and a couple of others because she truly wants to break free from this disease. She shared with me how she found herself at this low point in life and it is mind-blowing how people react to similar situations in life in drastically different ways.

  12. I remember watching a documentary about a model who had anorexia. I was truly shocked by how scrawny she looked on the TV screen. She was being interviewed and her voiced was so thin that I even wondered for the future of her. I was not familiar with the disease until I happened to see this model on TV a few years ago since I have never been taught about eating disorder at school or met any person suffering from the disease. And until now I did not know that anorexia harms them both mentally and physically and it could even drive them to death. It seems that more women suffer from anorexia than men do, and that implies it has a great deal to do with the society in which we live. Our society today still needs more time to achieve gender equality and it is important for us to know that even one kind of disease could be an indicator of what is going on in our society.

  13. It is so sad to see people who cannot control anything but the food he or she ate. Compared with strictly constricted calories intakes, eating with no responsibility is the opposite of this situation. I think that having the right to choose is an initial step for women finding the balance between freedom and discipline of choose. Women with anorexia receive corrupted self-images. For example, to think it is nothing wrong with starving themselves. If the situation is that these girls have distorted self-image, my concern is how to get rid of this false sense of self-image? It is essential to pay attention to one’s own needs and feelings. And also, people need to screen out the misleading information and take efforts to maintain a strong body, so it is with spiritual health.

  14. This post is really touching to me and reflects a lot of what is going on in our society, trying to fit in what’s consider beautiful. Anorexia is sometimes caused by having very low self-stem and not having that extra support from people around you to help you see things differently. As the post says this girl told their family to do not come to her college graduation because she didn’t want to miss a day at the gym, she was shutting down doors and was too focus on what in reality was less important. A college graduation is a big thing, a big accomplishment. Having a healthy life and being anorexic can sometimes be mixed up though they are very different. Luckily, she recovered. We all know that not a lot of people can make it. This eating disorder affects our organism so badly that is really hard to get it work like normal.

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