Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why I Refuse To Acknowledge Anorexia as a Real Disease

Why body image afflictions of the like are symptoms of consumer excess, not psychological dysfunction


Apparently, we here in the States have a problem with body image.

It’s a rather ironic predicament, no doubt, seeing as how half of the country is overweight and a nearly a third of the population qualifies for status as obese. Compounding that is the notion that “food security” levels are diminishing across the country, with some urbanized areas experiencing under-reported “food riots” like something out of the Egyptian uprisings. And there - within the poles of an increasingly starving population and a diabetes-savaged majority - there’s the issue of “anorexia”; a “disorder”, as the headline above tells you,  that is something I refuse to recognize as real social malady in any regard.

Of course, if you did nothing but kick back and soak up think tank reports all day, you would think that every female under the age of 30 in the country is saddled with a psychologically-skewed concept of self. Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of females of all ages are considered “overweight” in the U.S., we’re still being assailed by almost weekly reports about the “growing” dangers of anorexia - a made-for-Oprah social pandemic that, as our children’s massively expanding guts sort of tell us - isn’t anywhere near as problematic or commonplace as we’re hearing.

Alas, “anorexia” is one of those plights that never really seems to dissipate from national discourse, primarily because people, I imagine, want something to talk about in hushed, concerned tones instead of tackling the nation’s real epidemic of surging obesity and childhood diabetes. That, and it gives feminists and other cultural barnacles the opportunity to do what they do best - blame all of the nation’s ills on a heteronormative, male-centric media hegemony.

It always strikes me as a little funny - and then, horrifically ironic - that so many activists, advocates and irked fatties are so quick to blame media images for the relatively atypical instances of anorexia that do occur. Per the self-knighted moral crusaders of America, teen-centric beauty magazines and television producers are at fault for young women thinking they are unattractive (or as some generally unattractive people are prone to quip, “setting an unrealistic standard for beauty”), because they imbibe such cultural texts and develop distorted body images due to prolonged exposure to said products.

Oddly enough, those some concerned critics and commentators never seem to note that those magazines and television programs are pretty much paid for by mega-conglomerates, most of which have their hands in one business or another that specializes in hawking decisively unhealthy foodstuffs to the general public. If you’re going to say that these conglomerates are psychologically prodding young women into eating disorders, then you at least have to give those same conglomerates props for offering said young women a solution set in the form of myriad fast food, junk food and soda pop corporate holdings.

Logically, the argument that media images have a “magic bullet” effect on young women in regards to eating disorders is one of those things that can be discounted as soon as you look at the official data and statistics, which say that, no, most young women are far, far from being underweight. In fact, most of them are in danger from the opposite end of the spectrum, perhaps indicating that commercial exposure to the food industry has a more pervasive and profound influence on our youth than ANY form of entertainment or media. And no, it isn’t unusual in the slightest that opponent of “hegemonic male media enslavement”/walking refrigerator Andrea Dworkin and her thunder-thighed underlings never noted that. At all.

That, and nobody seems to be keyed in on the aspect that anorexia nervosa is actually a credit to the functionality of our domestic food industries and delivery systems (whether or not this statement can survive once the Second Depression concludes, however, I cannot tell.) Where else in the world - a world, by the way, in which a good one third of its’ inhabitants are living below what the United Nations considers “the starvation line” - could such a psychological malaise arise? If I was a grad student looking to grab some attention (and probably some easy NEA grant money), I’d hypothesize that anorexia is actually a political statement about the over consumption of American goods as a whole, this new-wave form of social commentary that’s designed to be a “consciousness-raising” exercise for those in the know. Therefore, our barfing and starving daughters aren’t really suffering from a disease as much as they are making a symbolic protest about the excesses of capitalism and industry. Perception, they say, is the key to everything. In that, perhaps we should stop viewing anorexia as a social problem and accept it as a transgressive form of post-post-modern expressionism - lest we forget, there is that fine line between body modification and body mutilation, which makes piercing and tattooing socially acceptable while cutting and hair eating - oppressively, I might add - are not.

It’s not really coincidental that the first reported cases of anorexia nervosa were found in well to do, quasi-aristocratic families in England. Nor is it all that unusual that most anorexia sufferers in the United States are young women that grew up in upper middle class homes, where the notion of “food security” was such a foregone conclusion that “starvation” seemed less likely to occur to them than an alien abduction. Even now, a majority of anorexics in the U.S. share the joint commonality of being both females and beneficiaries of wealthy parentages - clearly, this anorexia is a disease of the privileged as opposed to the downtrodden, making it a bizarre exception to just about everything we know about modern medicine.

Isn’t it funny how anorexia seems to be the one disease that eludes the physically weak and the nutritionally deprived? Tuberculosis, pneumonia, scabies, rabies, dandruff - all plights that affect the poor and penniless, while being virtually alien diseases to the middle class (and absolutely unheard of amongst the wealthy). In subequatorial climates - where diseased both old and newfound fester like ticks on a sleeping hound - anorexia is apparently the ONLY disease on the planet that hasn’t taken a liking to an environment of poverty, weakened immune systems and technological backwardness. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this “anorexia” was the creation of guilt ridden elites - more or less a fad or fashion trend as opposed to a genuine disorder or ailment.

Of course, you can flip through the DSM and see in bold letters that the APA does indeed acknowledge “anorexia nervosa” as a "real" disorder, but if you asked me, the “disorder” is actually a symptom and not the genuine affliction itself. Odds are, if you talk to a person with anorexia, you’ll come to the quick conclusion that “not wanting to eat” is probably not their biggest psychological issue, as the disorder is almost always a corollary to other mental health issues, such as depression or stress. Because, heaven help us, it’s not like college and high school girls EVER suffer bouts of melancholy or frustration. I mean, ever.

To conclude this brief little rant, I cite, as all academics surely must when discussing the matter, that one episode of “Designing Women” where Delta Burke went back to her high school reunion and everybody made fun of her for being fat. For those of you that can’t recall the episode, it ended with Burke giving an impassioned speech about the plight of  famine-ravaged Sub-Saharan Africans, and how we here in the Americas ought to feel so much shame in worrying about our weight when people a couple thousand miles to our right are rotting underneath the sun while we pick extra pepperonis off our pizzas.

You know, it’s not often that you can site a cultural text starring Jeanine from “Ghostbusters,” that one dude from the “Mannequin” movies and that other Dixie Carter as absolutely nailing it when it comes to criticizing any kind of social construct, but dabnabbit, those perpetually broadcast Lifetime Television skirts were really onto something there.

All around the world, people have real problems, like starvation and warfare and landmines and pirates and tsunamis and marauding death squads.

And here in America, the only thing we have to worry about…is our weight.

Amazing, that anorexia: the only disease in human history that affects people based on their disposable income as opposed to their biochemistry…

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