Anorexia and Mimetic Desire

Hi everyone,

I’m working on a paper that responds to some of Girard’s thoughts about anorexia, and also Mark Anspach’s writings about it. I find the idea of competitive/rivalrous dieting interesting, but I would like to interrogate the idea that extreme dieting is about unrealistic ideals of beauty. I’d suggest that there’s a misunderstanding here about women and desire, and what drives these kind of excessive behaviours. Is it hard for our culture to conceive of women as having complex interior states that have nothing to do with their traditional value to men– in fact, as objects, themselves, of sexual desire? Is this default reading of anorexia a blinkeredness, seeing women as objects– objects who grow obsessed with being the most desirable objects? What happens if we open our reading of anorexia to the possibility that women have desires that are entirely unrelated to sexual politics and aesthetic power?

I hope to provoke some thoughts from you, that will in turn provoke my writing!

Read 3 comments

  1. Mark Anspach recently wrote some more about this – – and he notes that anorexia isn’t necessarily about women competing for male attention. But I think the focus is still on the visual aesthetic; woman as visual object. In a Girardian sense I think this blurs the woman’s identity, between subject and object – a different kind of monstrous double. Thoughts?

    • If our identity derives from the desire of the social other, as J.M. Oughourlian suggests in The Puppet of Desire, we–whether we’re male or female–are always double, as you point out. For every individual, the desire to embody an evolutionarily-healthful aesthetic ideal suggested by the cultural other must always be present; however, as Girard demonstrates, exacerbated mimetic desire ultimately detaches itself from its original object and becomes “metaphysical”. It’s at this point that the aesthetics of health and symmetry (in their biologically evolutionarily adaptive manifestations) cease to matter. Women or men begin to compete not for the appreciation of the potential partner’s gaze, but to establish the strength of their will over the other’s will. The mimetic subject does this not to satisfy the desire of the other in their appearance, but to achieve utter mastery of herself. This mastery is her metaphysical aim, and it’s fed by the desire of a cultural other attempting to achieve the same mastery. You’re probably familiar with this site from your research already:
      The subtitle for the page sums up the rivalrous underground informing the struggle to inscribe self-mastery on the body: “because if she can do it, I can to.” Ostensibly, the forum’s agenda is to inspire, but it’s also a space in which to brag and showing off one’s superior will. This desire has nothing to do with aesthetics or sex. I think you’re right to locate the desire within the female anorexic as a monstrous double. I’d suggest the rival doubles in the anorexic woman strive for a metaphysical object called: self mastery, which is a kind of unattainable will to power–a utopia of total self-determination.

  2. I think the anti-body internally mediated thing is real for sure – though I would be hesitant to say that it belongs to the exclusive domain of one pattern of desire to account for the whole pheonomena of pro-ana stuff -

    Carly you’re going to *love* some upcoming posts I have on potential differences between male and female mimetic desire and thinking – I think this comes off some intuitions you might be having as well. Girard basically closed off the idea that there could be anything like a unique “feminine” kind of desire in Things Hidden when he was dealing with Freud – I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s mistaken (I think he hits his targets in TH) – but I would say that closing off the idea of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’modes of thinking/desiring is a mistake and that MT actually loses out on its ability to helpfully supplement (or supplant!) personality/ego psychology.

    I am positive my gendered desire thesis is going to ruffle not a few feathers – but I am really eager to see how it bears out because I think it could help us with some very difficult problems we’ve either glossed over or not reached yet..

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