In Defence of the Anorexic

Trigger warning: Disordered Eating


Chris Kraus says that the systematic refusal to nourish one’s body is the systematic refusal to consume the cynicism of the world. It is is the rejection of society and its perpetuating desire to degrade the soul. She argues that it is neither the plight of beauty nor the glorification of thinness, but instead the intensely visible pursuit of disappearing completely. A disappearance that is quick to be judged and painstakingly slow to be understood.

And how can it ever be understood when the satiated viewer exonerates their own role in it? Like mass incarceration, depression, and poverty, anorexia is the byproduct of a broken society and not the existence of an inherently defective psyche.

For how can one possibly consume food when it has violated the land, exploited the workers, appeased the capitalists, and poisoned the impoverished? They cannot. And they shall not. They would rather starve.

Is not then the anorexic the more moral of us all? Have they then not opened their eyes long enough to realise that a muffin is not a muffin, but a symbol of cheap labour, greedy politics, and ever swelling class inequality? The muffin that is made from bleached flour, caged eggs, dirty dairy, and colonised spices. That is used to satiate the hungry masses whilst simultaneously conspiring to sicken them.

Is not the muffin then the ultimate lack of transparency? Is it not everything that happens behind closed doors? That estranges humankind from the seasons, the soil, and the scarcity that has kept our greed in check since the dawn of time?

To perceive food as merely sustenance is one of the greatest of the ignorant privileges. In every part of the world a person’s relationship to food is defined by class and those whom society values, they feed well. The excesses of the industrialised world can be coolly compared to the acute sufferings of the developing nations. The nations that are kept systemically impoverished so that we may enjoy our satisfactorily priced coffee whilst lining the pockets of faces that look just like ours. Our heralded entrepreneurs, our modern day explorers.

And then we must ask ourselves, why is the anorexic disproportionately a woman? Why is she predominantly middle-class? And why has she decided to participate in self-inflicted starvation despite her well-acknowledged lifestyle of extreme excess? Surely, she of all people is the last to hold the torch of puritan moral strength, the last to envision herself as some sort of new age saviour intent of purging the sins of us all. Yet the anorexic is female, she is prolific, and she is starving.

While Mother Earth perishes at the hands of unbridled greed, her daughters perish alongside her. And yet like abortion and other female “trivialities” we don’t talk or collectively grieve about, the anorexic must suffer alone because it is her “choice” whether she eats or not. Coming from the mouth of a woman who once nearly disappeared completely, I can assure you that the meticulous purification of the body is anything but a choice. It is the unconscious resistance of conforming to a vast social madness. It is the denial of fertility in a dying world, the wielding of influence in a world dominated by a broken conception of masculine power, the emancipation from capitalist excess that feeds like a parasite on the exploitation of those weaker than itself, and the morbid rejection of a hyper-sexualised ideal of female sexuality that glorifies the under-nourished and over-disciplined body. It is the choice to die at one’s own hands rather than be killed by the hands of another.

In a world that seeks to strip every inch of power from those that cannot or will not prescribe to its sickness, the anorexic fights back. In refusing to let the sanctioned authority govern her, she governs it. She starves not just for herself, but for every natural and human resource that is exploited for her benefit. She starves so that one day we might ask not what is wrong with her, but what is wrong with ourselves.


Our Story

We have been friends since we were 15 and what this book represents to us is a merging of two radically different ways of being that through our love for one another had to be constantly mitigated, a learning of another’s language, of seeing the world through their eyes. Toyah, the spiritual one, and Frances, the political one. Both finding a deep love of women and asking themselves, how the fuck can we make this better? So Toyah went inward, and Frances went outward, always coming back together to teach the other what we had learned.

Toyah’s journey is one of festival culture, of connecting with the Great Mother through psychedelics, dance, meditation, workshops, the immersion of self in a world where what matters is personal growth, taking responsibility for your healing and wellbeing, reconnecting with the womb, and learning what we would later call the biz. Frances’ journey is one of theory, of activism, of feminist writing, of the entry into a world of politics that criticised social oppression on every level and fought to dismantle the hold of the powerful over the powerless. What Toyah called universal oneness, Frances called solidarity. And what one learned in her world could always be translated into the other.

The similarities between festival culture and left activism, as well as how the patriarchy insidiously seeps into both, is striking if one bothers to look. Both of these worlds are searching for something deeper, more connected than the isolated realm of neoliberal hyper individualism that has been culturally forced fed to them. Both are about getting free. Of finding belonging and meaning in a world set on pitting humans against one another. Of establishing alternatives to a blatantly broken system where mental illness, suicide, poverty, environmental destruction is rampant, and ideologies of separation, loneliness and survival dominate how we understand and behave towards one another. Of creating community and reconnecting with the Great Mother in ways radically outside of the nuclear family and outside of ideas of domination and the exploitation of people and resources.

When we search for difference, we are bound to find it, when we search for flaws, we are bound to discover them, when we search for superiority, we are bound to further isolate ourselves. When, at this crucial time, what is needed is conversation, connection, finding friends and allies and lovers and teaching each other what we know. It is a coming together of all those who are seeking to do things differently. And it is an acknowledgement that this is both internal and external work, a bridging of the political and the spiritual, an opportunity to look deeply into our shit whilst looking hard at all the shit that society puts on us. For us, there cannot be one without the other.