The cult of thinness
Feminist theorist Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber, shares a theory in her book, “The Cult of Thinness,” on disordered eating among women. Most people who’ve taken a Women and Gender Studies class at Lafayette are probably familiar with this theory. It is one of the many reasons I believe everyone at some point in their college career should take a WGS course. Not only does it make you aware of gender, but it also can help prevent poor body image and health issues among women. Hesse-Biber puts women on a spectrum of what she calls “disordered eating.”
On one end of the spectrum you have women with good body image and on the other you have women with eating disorders. Everyone else fluctuates somewhere in the middle—it can even be a daily or hourly fluctuation of disordered eating based on your body image. This week, my goal is to shed some light about body image. I hope that relaying some of this information will provoke some sort of eating consciousness to readers.
Many people determine “good body image” with something called, “the cookie test.” Can you eat a single cookie without thinking of the implication it will have on your body? Can you just eat the cookie? If the answer is no, you’re probably on spectrum of disordered eating. I can honestly say that if there is a cookie in front of me, of course, I want it, but I will contemplate eating it because of its potential threat to my appearance.
It’s important to note that disordered eating is NOT an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a medical emergency. Disordered eating is a cultural and socially influenced phenomenon.
The reason why Hesse-Biber names her book the “The Cult of Thinness,” is because of the contagiousness of disordered eating and negative body image. It is so easy to be sucked into this world of obsessive fitness and eating constraints. The idea behind this is that women, in particular, are bodies first. We know that we are judged on our appearances before anything else and therefore do our best to mimic the female ideal of our culture—take the body of a Kardashian or Taylor Swift for an example. We know our appearances matter in terms of our sexuality and by extension, the approval of potential partners. Controlling our appearance is a way we harness our power within the patriarchy.
If you’re a female on this campus, you probably know what I am talking about. There is a fitness and “healthy” eating craze (meaning, eat less) for the women of our generation, particularly college women. We may refrain from eating any carbs for a week or be a cardio bunny on the elliptical for two hours if we ate a big meal for dinner. And trust me, we are not doing this for our health and state of mind. It’s for our image.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you should contact the Counseling Center at (610)-330-5005.