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.