But the real place to look for understanding is her arms. An example of Lacan’s partial object is the 40 something woman who looks in the mirror and decides she is losing her looks– say, getting fat. There are many ways to deal with this, but one way, popular among stars, is to invest her entire sexuality in a single part of her, say, her butt (or “looking good in a dress”)– so she diets to make the butt look good at the expense of bony shoulders and a gaunt face. She knows the shoulders are thin, but the point is the butt.
Men sometimes do the same to their spouses, empowering a single body part of hers with all of the sexuality, e.g. looking at the calf or the hip bone doesn’t simply remind him of the 20 year old version of his wife, but becomes the fetish that replaces the long gone 20 year old version. But this isn’t illusion or delusion, he is not imagining what his wife looked like, the single body part is enough to generate arousal, in the same way that any fetish (specific kind of shoe, or a foot, or a piece of lace) is entirely sufficient. The problem is that this doesn’t make the woman look hotter, it replaces the woman, so now neither the 20 year old version nor the 40 year old version are necessary.
The extreme of this logic is in anorexia, where the whole body is sacrificed in order to get “thin”– but because the thinness isn’t directed in a body part but in an idea, a feeling, they still wear baggy clothes not to hide their fat but to hide the collateral damage of emaciation to their body which they are completely aware of. They know other people think they’re too thin, they know “87 lbs” is a small number, but just like Angelina is trying to control her butt the anorexic is trying to control an idea. “I can see that my shoulders are sticking out, I know everyone can see my ribs, but yet I know I am horrifically fat.”
The consequence of this understanding is that “reality testing” and looking into mirrors and insight aren’t going to work for anorexia treatment, because there isn’t a fat and thin body part to compare to each other; there is no body part to get “thin enough” the way Angelina’s butt finally does get thin enough that lets her feel satisfied with her appearance. The control, the act of not eating, is the body part; it is the obsessed-over fetish that exists for its own sake. For Angelina, the goal is a better butt. For anorexics, the goal is to not eat.
That control (over eating) feeds itself. Like an obsession or ritual, performing it (not eating) is both a need and its own satisfaction. Stopping it all at once is impossible, but as one gradually alters the ritual– in this case by target weights, eating goals, a concrete but healthy exercise regimen supported actively by the entire family– the obsession loses power and eventually dissolves. A slow process, but likely the only one that will stick over the long term.
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