An Analysis Of The Critical Tools Bordo Uses To Analyze Anorexia
Bordo attests to the fact that anorexia cannot simply be defined by the rules and restrictions of medical and psychological means, but that it must also be defined within a cultural context. Bordo feels that it is through these eating disorders that resistance to dominant ideological systems is made known, but this resistance to the cultural ideal also wreaks havoc on the contemporary female body.
Putting the Body into a Cultural Context
Bordo, in the section entitled “Anorexia Nervosa: Psychopathology as Crystallization of Culture.” opens up this new realm of thinking in the area of eating disorders, specifically anorexia. Bordo takes the body out of its physical context and puts it into a cultural one. While she doesn’t completely abandon the obvious physical natures of the problem, she puts it off to the side to explain her innovative theory.
Society and Its Impact on the Body
Basically Foucault believes that the human body can be seen as being in conjunction with historical processes that caused biological events. He believed that society had direct physical impact on the body. Bordo believes these so-called “truths” to be self-evident. “Cultural practices, far from exerting their power against spontaneous needs, “basic” pleasures or instincts, or “fundamental” structures of body experience, are already and always inscribed… on our bodies and their materiality, their forces, energies, sensations and pleasures” (Bordo 142).
Women and the Body
Bordo takes this relationship between politics, society and the body and asserts the claim that women aren’t just hosts, “possessors”, of the body, but that they are also a part of the body. Though, Bordo does express her concerns regarding the patriarchal structure of society in relation to how men dominate women because women are always seen as the weaker sex. “Female bodies have historically been significantly more vulnerable than male bodies to extremes in both forms of cultural manipulation of the body” (Bordo 143).
Bordo addresses three different aspects of the problems. There is the dualist axis, the control axis and the gender/power axis all of which are Bordo’s main points in her feminist theory.
The Dualist Axis
There are three basic points being made in this argument. This first is the body is an alien entity and can be seen as an envelope of sorts because it is just the case that we carry our “real” selves around in. The second idea is that “the body is experienced as confinement and limitation…–“from which the soul or mind struggles to escape” (Bordo 145). The third idea is that the body is the enemy. “It overtakes, it overwhelms, it erupts and disrupts” (Bordo 145).
The way to solve these three problems is to gain control of the body, to train yourself to live without it; this is very much how anorexics think when starving themselves.
While this is a radical way at looking at this disorder, it makes perfect logical sense. Women and men alike that are suffering from anorexia are really just trying to get control of their bodies, to make it so that they can survive without their bodies.
The Control Axis
Within the control axis, Bordo sees the young anorexic woman, as having that feeling of control over her hunger, control over her body, control over her failure at meeting social standards. It is this feeling of control that causes the anorexics to have an overwhelming feeling of independence. This control over their body is in some ways representative of their control over life and death, of disease and health.
The Gender/Power Axis
Gender, as always, has a fundamental role within eating disorders. “Women are more obsessed with their bodies than men, less satisfied with them, and permitted less latitude with them by themselves, by men, and by the culture” (Bordo 154). Many anorexics have actually reported to have an “imaginary” male dictator inside them that dominates them. Bordo proposes two reasons for this male enemy association, “one has to do with fear and disdain for traditional female roles and social limitations. The other has to do, more profoundly, with a deep fear of “the female,” with all its more nightmarish archetypal associations of voracious hungers and sexual instability” (Bordo 155).
Bordo’s Theory In A Nutshell
So, to Bordo, anorexia is a rejection of the traditional domestic roles that women are supposed to play in a patriarchal society… the rejection of the curvy feminine body, full figured and large breasted, it is instead this clinging to the peter pan look, the boyish body, the rejection of growing up. Anorexia is simply a function in conjunction with the cultural conditions that produced it. She sees these anorexic behaviors as a rebellion towards society. Society expects its women to fulfill their domestic obligations while making their bodies unhealthy and uninhabitable. The anorexic woman s able to conform to societies role as well as able to reject it.
Bordo, Susan. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and The Body. Berkely, California: University of California Press, 1993.