The Ascetic Anorexic
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This is a post–peer-review, precopyedited version of an article published in Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology. The definitive publisher-authenticated versionPeters, N. 1995. The Ascetic Anorexic. Social Analysis: The International Journal of Anthropology. Vol 37 (March): pp. 44-66, is available online at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23171771.
The increased incidence of anorexia nervosa in specific historical periods and in professions that emphasize thinness such as ballet dancing, fashion modelling and horse racing, are reasons to suspect the existence of an, as yet, unidentified, dynamic. This is reason enough to argue against the notion of a personal predisposition to anorexia nervosa and consider, rather, social preconditions to be the determining factors in the initial stage of the anorexic process. Upon unravelling the enigma, an alternative perspective from which to view anorexia nervosa is offered. Anorexia nervosa is conceptualised as occurring in three phases - the diet phase, ascetic phase and the semi-starvation neurosis phase. It is argued that the initial motive (diet to attain a cultural ideal of slimness) does not drive the dieter through the entire process. The diet motive combines rather with auxiliary motives produced by the commitment to (which it is suggested can develop into an addiction) the semi-starvation regime and the bio-psychological embodied changes this state induces. The ascetic experience (altered state of consciousness described by some as ‘spiritual’), and changed body shape, symbolise to the anorexic, their attainment of the sought after societal ideal made possible because the person possesses specific ‘character traits’.
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