‘I’m Judging You’ – Why Focus on Women?

This work focuses upon female experience, since, while disorderly eating and distorted body image do occur among men, their prevalence is significantly less. In the UK in 2013 ‘[t]here were nine times as many females…as males… admitted to hospital for an eating disorder’.[1] This gender bias is especially true of anorexia nervosa, which is one of the most common psychiatric disorders amongst young women. The DSM V informs that ‘[m]ore than 90% of Anorexia Nervosa occurs in females’.[2] There are also more women diagnosed with bulimia nervosa. The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that 80% of suffers are female.[3]

Not only are cases of male disorderly eating comparatively rare, they are the result of different social structures and deployments of power. This conception is supported by feminist theorists such as Joan Jacobs Brumberg who writes that male anorexia nervosa is expressed quite differently and ‘exhibits a greater degree of psychopathology, tends to be massively obese before becoming emaciated, and has a poorer treatment prognosis.’[4] Susie Orbach agrees, stating that ‘if men were to suffer from the same problem to a similar degree we should seek a different explanation.’[5]

The distribution of disorderly eating that occurs within the general population is reflected in the world of physique competitions. The Journal of Psychology (2015)reports that [c]ompared to male athletes, female athletes are more likely to engage in compulsive exercising and pathological weight loss methods, such as abuse of laxatives and diet pills, self-induced vomiting, and fasting, with the aim of attaining superior physical condition’.[6]

The fact that women are more affected by disorderly eating suggests that these disorders are culturally, rather than pathologically produced. Eating disorders are embedded in a discourse of femininity, arising from the pressures upon women to accord with a physical ideal. From a cultural standpoint women are more judged in terms of their physical appearance and ‘more tyrannized by the contemporary slenderness ideal than men are.’[7] Consequently, women are more obsessed and dissatisfied with their bodies.

As will be discussed in a later post, throughout history women have been associated with the body and men with the spirit. Bodies are negative, appetitive, inclined to sin and temptation. Cultural mythology, imagery and ideology throughout the Western world depict women’s bodies as provocative, arousing masculine desire and distracting him from high intellectual pursuits. Women have been reduced to this inferior body and its signifying aspects.

[1] http://www.hscic.gov.uk/article/3880/Eating-disorders-Hospital-admissions-up-by-8-per-cent-in-a-year  Source of stats HSCIC [accessed 12/01/15] Figures represent all hospital admissions for an eating disorder in the 12 months to October 2013

[2] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition

[3] https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/anorexia-nervosa [accessed 20/01/15]

[4] Fasting Girls, p.15

[5] Susie Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue (Arrow Books: London, 2006), p.152

[6] The Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied Volume 149, Issue 2, 2015, The Sporting Body: Body Image and Eating Disorder Symptomatology Among Female Athletes from Leanness Focused and Nonleanness Focused Sports , Published online: 04 Mar 2014 , Peiling Kong & Lynne M. Harrishttp://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00223980.2013.846291#tabModule, quotation from (Bratland-Sanda, S., & Sundgot-Borgen, J. 2012).

[7] Bordo, Susan, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (University of California Press: London, 1995), p.204

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