Moral Dueling: Anorexia vs. Anti-Anorexia
Anorexia improperly claims that it possesses the moral authority to decide the fate of a person – whether they are a ‘somebody’ or a ‘nobody’; whether they are ‘worthy’ or ‘unworthy’ of life itself. Anorexia, then, amongst other things, is a fallacious morality of personhood, intending to deceive and catch people up in their very words and desires. Often, anorexia appropriates both the secular and sacred in its moralizing by promising these young women a ‘secular sainthood’ (Eckermann). Although anorexia represents itself as a forum for moral reflection on the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of absolutely every aspect of one’s conduct, it soon blurs the distinction between right and wrong with ‘normative measures’ – e.g. grades, scores, marks, weights and any other assessments and objectifications of a person. The ‘norms’ by no means transcend the culture they ‘live in’ but rather are direct reflections of it. How ‘moralities of personhood’ and ‘measures of the good’ have merged cannot be discussed here as it would take us into a long excursion into the ‘histories’ of Michel Foucault (refs) and the feminist scholars (refs) who have appropriated them for their own purposes and a ‘sociology of the body’ (ref). Suffice it to say, such considerations are critical to an anti-anorexic practice. For example, Foucault’s notions of ‘technologies of the self’ (ref) help us to reconcile such questions as i) how the ‘world’ of culture intersect with the ‘world’ of Anna, aged 13, and ii) how might Anna’s ‘world’ inform or challenge or otherwise inflect her experience of the ‘world’ of culture.
More to our point, how does anorexia authorize itself to ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ a candidate for a contemporary personhood? Who or what has warranted it to do so? If it has arrogated to itself such momentous powers, what are its grounds for determining a successful candidate? What are its tests? How can one find out its criteria? And if one considers such tests and their criteria insupportable, how does one appeal and to whom?
Why the right of appeal is so important to ask is that when anorexia fails a candidate, such a person is rejected from the human fold and exiled into such obscurity that their death is often preferred to such a ‘living death’. These ‘living deaths’ are dedicated to attempts to measure up to measures that continually shift just out of their reach. It seems that once a candidate is taken in by anorexia, anorexia assesses them relentlessly as ‘bad’, ‘unworthy’, ‘undeserving’ and the only way out is to drop out. Anorexia sets a myriad of tests of perfection and ironically, only their death can ensure their success, e.g. ‘the perfect failure’.
Any of our conventional moralities are turned on their head. Here ‘bad’ becomes ‘good’ and ‘good’ becomes ‘bad’. How else can we comprehend how young women, still in the thrall of anorexia, often refer to their zealous pursuit of anorexia’s requirements of them as a form of “goodening” (ref). Anyone else looking on would consider this a kind of enslavement these women are labouring under. What criteria does anorexia use to ‘measure a person up’ for the status of a ‘person’? And how does a candidate, when they commit themselves to this pursuit, accept the very morality – the distinctions between right/good and wrong/bad – that anorexia purveys? Why do they so rarely doubt or even quibble about its moral authority? And how does this morality operate so that once the candidate accepts its promises and devotes herself to meeting it prerequisites, she experiences herself in a maze. Getting out of this maze is like extricating oneself from quicksand – the more effort you put into your escape, the deeper you sink into it. How does anorexia purport to improve the morals of its candidates? What remains so sinister to an observer is that it appeals to the very high-mindedness of such women and before they know it, they find themselves accused by anorexia of crimes, convicted without knowing the specific nature of their wrong-doing or having any defense. Soon after, they are found guilty and beyond redemption. By what sleight of moral cunning does anorexia’s fallacious reasoning transform itself into censure, then criminal charges, and finally a conviction for which punishment and torture immediately commences?
All their rights as a citizen are stripped off them. All joys, pleasures, including smiling save fake smiling, are forbidden. The ‘concentration camp’ of everyday life is now instituted and they enter it, utterly convinced unlike those on their admission to Auchswitz that (“Arbeit macht frie”) = Perfection will set them free.
Anti-anorexia seeks to undo the cunning by which anorexia distills from this culture one of the most compelling and lethal sophistries of our time. Anorexia turns cultural images of a person, especially a woman, to its own ends. Despite these images being contradictory, anorexia denies those very contradictions for a ‘good and successful woman’. Moral measures – e.g. selflessness, niceness, being a relief to others, self-abnegation, etc., are merged with the contradictions of a ‘ruthless individualism’ determined by scores, marks, weights and other ‘objective’ assessments of those norms which promise entry into the world of a ‘successful person’, especially men. Such contradictions form the cross to which anorexia fixes these young women.
Anti-anorexia proves a counter-morality to rival that of anorexia. It attempts to do so by turning anorexia against itself. Its arguments are found, under scrutiny, to intend to deceive rather than uplift. Its captious reason which catches people up both by their very words and benevolence is exposed as misleading and fallacious. Furthermore, under such inspection, anorexia doesn’t merely fail to improve their morals but manifests the very evil to which these young women are so opposed.
This moral contest asks such questions as – is good done by evil? Can evil do good? Would you grant evil the say to distinguish between who is ‘good’ or ‘bad’; What is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’? Should anti-anorexia convene with you and others to decide this? If so, would it make available a counter-morality in which one’s benevolent intentions can be acted upon to serve benevolent ends? Is this something you might take up with your goodness? Should such a counter-morality turn anorexia’s sophistry on its head? Might an anti-anorexic morality generate love of self and others, goodwill towards oneself and others and confirm the innocence and tragedy of those seduced, betrayed and murdered by anorexia?