Dying to be Thin:Women At War With the Self
“Quod me nutrit me destruit”(That which nourishes me destroys me) – Latin proverb
Richards, self-conscious because I’ve noticed her scars, sets her mug of tea on a coffee table cluttered with fashion magazines and retracts her hands into her ample sweatshirt sleeves. Nestling back into the couch cushions, she hugs her knees close to her body, and they too disappear into the sweatshirt. On Cerulean Butterfly Christian advises the young anorectic afraid of nosy parents and friends to “Wear baggy clothing and lots of layers. This will disguise weight loss and keep you warm.” Yet Richards, who has taken control of her symptoms and returned to a healthy weight, huddles inside her oversized sweatshirt, terrified someone might notice. There’s one problem with Lintott’s Kantian formulation of the eating disorder as the route to sublime experience. For Kant, the object that incites sublime experience is always external to the self: the intense fear that precedes sublime self-knowledge would overwhelm a person whom it constantly accompanies. But to use an eating disorder to achieve the sublime is inherently contradictory because the eating-disordered woman locates that fearsome force within herself. Therefore, as Lintott explains, “to use an eating disorder to perpetuate the feeling of the sublime is to foreclose on the future possibility of that feeling, for the end result of starvation is serious illness and even death.” We might understand the healing process, then, as the endeavor to switch the source of the terrifying object – the one that makes sublime experience possible via one’s triumph over it – from within a woman’s body to outside of it, so that what a woman strives to triumph over is not her appetite, but the disease that makes her fear it in the first place. Until then, the anorectic or bulimic depends on her hunger for her identity: in other words, as Lintott explains, she “identifies deeply with that part of herself the world tells her she has no right to possess.” Pipher says that to treat eating disorders is to address a larger, social disease; for now, though, a woman’s eating disorder – the source of her exaltation and her demise, her pride and her shame – is the absurdly logical conclusion of the impossible and contradictory messages society sends her.