Saturday, February 21, 2009

viewing womens experiance of eating disorders as active practice versus passive affliction

I've been thinking a lot about how the topic of eating disorders is discussed within my circle of what I would call quite independent and intelligent female friends. As individuals who are all aware of the fact that the female body ideal is ridiculous and that media and larger societal systems negatively influence women to view their bodies as less than par and in need of regulation, we have found that our own experiences of bad body image, measures to lose weight or to appear a certain way, even as far as actual experiences of anorexic and/or bulimic behavior are almost embarrassing to admit to because we, as strongly self-professed damn-the-mannists, are "supposed to be above all that," we are supposed to be strong and independent women going against the grain. As the topic seemed to come up again and again, more people seemed to admit to their own experiences of body altering (secret trips to the gym, diet pills; etc)and I began to notice a connection between the powerful and determined independence of my friends and the very individual practice of losing weight and other anorexic tendencies. Whether or not this was 'healthy,' I couldn't help but ask myself whether or not such practices might instead be viewed as proclamations of "girl power" due to the individual control one not only has, but in this case, that one takes and demands over one's body. What if anorexia, without disregaurding larger socio-cultural problems involved in the notion of ideal bodies, were to be looked at through this lens as something that represents the active female versus the passive victim.

It was then that I stumbled upon this lovely article by Abigail Bray and Claire Colebrook titled "The Haunted Flesh: Corporeal Feminism and the Politics of (Dis)Embodiment."

Within it, Bray and Colebrook call for a new active feminist ethics through which to examine eating disorders which is modeled after the work of philosopher Gilles Deleuze. In doing so, they suggest a move away from traditional methods of understanding eating disorders that focus on representation, which places women in a position of passivity and reinforces the Cartesian mind/body dualism, and rather into a view of the body as “the event of expression (36).” This new ethics “approaches sexual difference as a site of practices, comportments, and contested articulations” through which eating disorders may be understood “in terms of bodily activity rather than in terms of a repressed or negated ‘normal’ body (37).”

This proposed ethics is applied further to instances of anorexia nervosa as body practices as “productive, as forms of self-formation (58).” This article is perhaps most useful for its discussion of deviancy and the suggestion that the anorexic body, as deviant and as active subject, might be considered an expression of sexual politics which challenge societal norms. The authors’ discussion (and challenge) of the biomedical language used to classify and pathologize anorexia as well as its approaches to “treatment” take this idea further as the theories traditionally used (and also informing other feminist scholarly discussions of the body) to discuss eating disorders are themselves phallogocentric and a form of disciplining gender identity through access to and control of the body. From this, the authors suggest that “anorexia, then, is a series of practices and comportments; there are no anorexics, only activities of dietetics, measuring, regulation and calculation (62).” This view then positions the anorexic subject to be read and understood as a discursive event (reflective of societal ideological context) which occurs “within a general discursive network,” in this case, “concerned with analysis, regulation, and normalization (63).”

Bray, Abigail, and Claire Colebrook. "The Haunted Flesh: Corporeal Feminism and the Politics of (Dis)Embodiment." Signs 24 (1998): 35-67.

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