Why do anorexics wear baggy clothes?

Posted on by TheLastPsychiatrist . Bookmark the permalink.

At the Oscars, there was some levity made of Angelina’s clearly purposeful exposure of her leg. “Look, I’m still sexy.”

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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28 Responses to Why do anorexics wear baggy clothes?

  1. JohnJ says:

    With the caveat that I am not an expert, or even a particularly well-informed amateur, here is my opinion:

    Control, it seems to me, is key here. Anorexics (and others with control issues) are trying to establish complete domination over a particular aspect of their lives.

    As such, when they hit their goal, they need to establish another goal, but with an important element: the new goal must be more difficult to reach than the met goal. Thinner is a harder goal. Maintaining a number, well, what kind of goal is that?

    But the goals don’t satisfy, such as when reality fails to live up to the expectation, and people try to isolate a particular aspect to avoid the larger issue. It’s sad that people do this to themselves, but that’s why it needs to be understood. It seems to me to be a control issue. They want to prove, to themselves I guess, that they have control over some aspect of their lives. Maybe this is a result of feeling a lack of control in other areas. I really don’t know.

    Society does this too, of course, such as when people become obsessed with some particular statistic that doesn’t adequately reflect the complete picture.

    • operator says:

      I really don’t know.

      Do you feel this point is essential to an understanding of your comment, or are you excusing yourself from the debate of ideas you’ve presented?

      • JohnJ says:

        I’m not excusing myself from debate. Just the opposite; I want to engage in debate. If I want to learn, it’s important to express where others can best enlighten me.

        It’s another way of saying, “Is this a possibility? What does everyone else think?”

        • operator says:

          If you’ll accept anecdotal evidence, your theory holds for those who consciously exert themselves toward self-destructive behavior, however, some (particularly, it seems, if other physical or psychological trauma is involved) either do not have or will not acknowledge having a preoccupation with control.

          Confounding factors: once the behavior becomes habit, the reason one began is easy to lose track of (particularly if one does not have adequate nutrition to support higher-level cognitive functions).

  2. Keath says:

    As much as Wanted was the greatest movie of our generation for so many, I found myself constantly being thrown out of the story by how thin Angelina Jolie was. I’ve had similar results with another ongoing series about a man assisted by a really thin girl who’s good with guns.

    This post reminds me of the Barbara Cartland’s quote “After forty a woman has to choose between losing her figure or her face.” Elizabeth Taylor famously declared she chose her face. Madonna clearly chose her figure.

    What interests me though is Angelina Jolie’s beauty was already defined by her lips. What would compel her to shift to another body part?

    • Hilomh says:

      At least Fiona had some abs. It feels like she at least exercises instead of simply not eating…

    • CubaLibre says:

      Watch Haywire. Watching Gina Carano – an actual professional fighter whose body is, by objective necessity, exactly the body one would need to actually fight people in real life – cavort around a slick, quiet, but unavoidably Hollywood production instantly invalidates any other actress you’ve ever seen in an action role.

  3. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    I have reached similar conclusions regarding anorexia and eating disorders. The point is to starve… thinness is the result, the excuse. The safety, drug-like feelings are from the starving. The feeling of weight is the feeling of not starving, or the fear of it.

    However I believe eating disorders are all biochemical illnesses rather similar to schizophrenia or manic depression, so any psychological theory is doomed to failure and is basic unfounded quackery. A better model for anorexia would be a combination of obsessive compulsive disorder plus substance disorder. The anoretic has a fear-compulsivity track going (like the OCD patient) but they also have a dopamine fueled hedonistic-escalating- compulsive element similar to substance disorder. The relationship between prior stress/abuses and eating disorders is that central stress system dysregulation predisposes one to mental disturbances, including but not limited to eating disorders. Notions that people with eating disorders starve themselves to hide their bodies out of fear of adulthood pressures, or fear of sexuality, typical psychology bullshit.

    The reason (pop) psychology is so popular amongst idiot masses is because it is like astrology with a pretense of scientific credibility. No one with a sense of shame or self respect will admit to believing astrology…so those individuals who otherwise would subscribe to random bold scientifically irrational statements about who they are and why they do what they do turn to psychology instead.

    • MikeWC says:

      Your sort of eliminativism is quackery too. You’re just baldly asserting that these disorders are wholly reducible to physical phenomena, when it is basically impossible to [i]prove[/i] causal connections at that level, short of a full explanation of how states of mind completely map onto brain states. I think it is clear that there is an irreducible psycho-social (which is to say, unconscious) element at work here.

      Just consider what a purely physicalist explanation lacks. Eating disorders are heavily correlated with two things: western culture and women. If eating disorders are wholly reducible to physical phenomena, what accounts for those correlations? Is there something different about the bodies of western women?

      Why on earth do you read this site, anyways? I can’t imagine you ever find much to agree with if your first move is to jump to a physicalist explanation.

      Also, Jolie’s ass and/or lips [i]are[/i] fetish points. You’re shooting the messenger.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:


        I have another shocking statement for you. Please hold on to the sides of your seat, this may cause you to pop up to the ceiling, cartoon style.

        God isn’t real. Turns out people made up religion to organize and form social groups, an effective evolutionary strategy humans adopted to propogate genes.

        Also, the soul isn’t real. People do what they do based on the elecrical activity in a body organ recently discovered called the BRAIN.

        Willpower and choice also are not real. See above.

        Using psychology to explain behavior is slightly less ridiculous than assigning consciousness to the weather and saying “it is raining because God is angry” or “we are in a drought and famine because God is punishing us”. The reason this is slightly less ridiculous is because prior experiences (adverse) can harm brain development via stress hormones and lead to dysfunctional dysregulated behavior (see made up condition known as “borderline personality”) and it can also trigger specific mental illnesses in vulnerable individuals. Fact: taking dexamethasone (synthetic stress hormone) can also lead to insanity. I guess dexamethasone also induces these complex psychological hang ups, hmmm.

        Here is a bit of lorazepam. Take half a mg and absorb all of this.

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        Also your reading comprehension is poor as TLP specifically makes the argument that anorexia nervosa is DIFFERENT from western women and dieting. He uses Jolie as an example of the typical female self starvation to perfect/fixate on a body part (sacrificing the whole in the process).

        He argues that in the disorder anorexia the patient sacrifices the entire appearance, to perfect a FEELING known as thin, which is basically the feeling of starving.

        Furthermore, anorexia nervosa like syndromes (compulsive self starvation) have existed well before the modern preoccupation with 14 year old asexual russian models,… originally it was in relation to religiosity, females who were extremely religious would starve and emaciate with zero input from aesthetics or social pressure to be thin.

        Anorexia nervosa may relate specifically to input from female endocrine system which is why the disorder afflicts 90% female patients, and is more common in female twins (who are exposed to very high levels of female sex hormones before birth). SHOCK: Some disorders are biased along sexual distribution.

        This just in, 90% of autistic children are males. Why do we accept autism is biological, but say STUPID FUCKING BULLSHIT like the above about anorexia? Why do we constantly dismissive hand wave chock up to hysteria any female health problem?

        • Guy Fox says:

          Anorexia is also correlated with childhood sexual abuse. If we’re going to restrict ourselves to physicalist explanations, but we’re willing to admit that environmental factors are significant, I guess we’re all Lamarckians. This is probably an unsatisfying result for you, A@L, but who knows? Perhaps the Lamarckian shoe fits the empirical foot.

          While we’re on the topic of empirics, let’s not forget that determining the causes and loci of anorexia are empirical questions. I.e. there is a fact of the matter about which good data and shrewd interpretation can provide answers, and those answers exist outside us. We can’t will them to be one way or the other. If this is true, getting your drawers in a knot about it and breaking out the ALL CAPS seems kinda deranged. Chill out.

          It seems the debate here boils down to the ol’ mind-body problem, with MikeWC arguing that the mind is affected by outside influences, and it drives the body’s behaviour, homunculus-like. A@L is arguing that anything that doesn’t show up on an fMRI is metaphysical voodoo, resolving the mind-body problem by denying the possibility of a mind existing. Turn the page, and you’ll see there are more than these two alternatives on the menu. Something we could agree to call a mind might emerge out of the complex concatenations of neural components and processes. No pixel, like no neuron or hormone molecule, can do much on its own, but put 10^x of them in a certain configuration, and you’ve got Michael Bay movies in 3D-HD and the waves of emotion whenever you make your significant other cry. Mind emerges out of physical body and recursively determines that body’s behaviour. Mind sans voodoo. Psychology can be relevant without postulating magic. How ’bout that?

          Getting back to the topic at hand, it’s going to be very hard to devise a physicalist explanation for anorexia, which is self-destructive and is unlikely to be a boon to the sufferer’s evolutionary fitness. We could consider it a mutation, but we should also remember that most mutations nip themselves in the bud. It’d also be tricky to explain how childhood sexual abuse would induce a mutation that is basically a self-destruct mechanism. (Even Lamarck would say that it would have to improve the organism’s/species’s fitness / not be pathological). So there does seem to be something like will, albeit corrupted will, at the helm. TLP’s interpretation has the benefit of giving an explanation of why anorexics never seem to have an achievable goal, why they never reach ‘thin enough’.

          Finally, let our pride not overwhelm our pragmatism. The reason to discuss anorexia in the first place isn’t/ought not be to showcase our own preferred epistemo-ontology, which probably isn’t of much use to many other people, if we’re honest. The reason is / ought to be to understand other people’s suffering better than we do, to get more insight on others’ realities, so that we can do less harm and maybe some good as we watch the sands of time trickle through our fingers. Pragmatism has its problems, but they should not prevent no one from choosing to be right over choosing to be good.

        • MikeWC says:

          Oh good, a smug atheist who’s maybe read wiki entries on the Churchlands or Dennett. Your first response is a hilarious over reaction. I know I didn’t exactly lay all my cards on the table, but my position is cousin to Guy Fox’s – he said it quite well. Mind emerges out of body and only body, but is capable of having effects on the body. And minds may arise entirely out of bodies, but they are entirely embedded in social situations. Further, our minds contain more than we are aware of at any one time – but the stuff we’re unaware of still has effects. All your ranting about dualism is just that, ranting. Chill!

          And your second post… I have no idea what you’re on about, since none of it makes sense in light of your wikipedia’d eliminativism.

    • operator says:

      Finally, we agree on a few things – and the delivery wasn’t entirely… oh, wait, no… okay, well, if you had a blog then I’d comment there, if that counts for anything. (not so much of a threat as a promise, given that you’d be able to moderate)

      … and wouldn’t it be nice to have a place where you can speak heresy to your heart’s content, then choose which hecklers get to speak up?

      • AnonymousAtLarge says:

        Sorry op, seeing as I am pretty sure you are a serial killer writing this wearing a suit of skin from your victims it will be a cold day in hell before I register with your blog. You’ll likely harvest my IP, locate me and kill me, then I can join your suit of skin. I want to die in one piece, in many years down the road, not multiple pieces rather soon.

        • operator says:

          Rephrased: start your own blog (anonymous, even).

          You’ll quickly learn (vis a vis the quality and quantity of traffic your blog receives) the value of your ideas and how well others appreciate your writing style.

          I would comment on your blog so you wouldn’t feel too lonely. It does get lonely being the only one with good information, no?

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            What makes you think I don’t have a blog ya dummie?
            Is it because I am not begging for traffic like a dog begs for a bone like YUO?

          • operator says:

            Begging for attention is begging for attention – I’m perfectly happy with the eleven or twelve hits I get per month, figured I’d offer you the same courtesy if it might mitigate your wall-of-text inflame-nuke-and-repave approach on this forum.

        • Lopt says:

          Far be it from me to interrupt a master (mistress?) of trolling at work, but I found it incredibly sexist for you to suggest that our good friend operator is making a suit from the skin which he harvests from his victims. Why can’t it be a dress, or some casual outerwear? Or for the less geographically narrow-minded, maybe even a parka?

          On a practical note, it is very hard to type while wearing a full suit of skin, unless you’ve had a lot of practice or are using a Dvorak keyboard.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            The suit of skin omits gloves allowing operator to type fluently as he tracks his victims.

          • operator says:

            Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether A@L is my beloved sockpuppet or it’s just taking a while for the haldol to kick in…

            Either way, you can blame the “fluent” typing on tardive akathisia and an inadequate supply of lotion.

          • AnonymousAtLarge says:

            Oh operator, last time I checked, you were the one following me around the internet, counting the number of times I used the word “I” in a post, and basically harassing me wherever I might comment or post on this website. But I’m YOUR sockpuppet? Grow a personality, grow an identity. While you’re at it, forget my name, kthx!

            PS, I expected you to respond to this entry. You are never late. I am never wrong. You’re a creepy fuck.

          • operator says:

            Please continue spilling your vitriol until you run out – it’s probably not healthy to keep it all bottled up.

  4. AnonymousAtLarge says:

    Oh and angelina jolie has a prior history of anorexia nervosa. Saying that she is thin because she is old and ugly and her ass is a fetish/focal point is absolutely absurd and extremely sexist FYI.

  5. DJames says:

    Some of these comments make me giggle. If AnonymousAtLarge isn’t this site’s most beloved troll, I don’t know who is.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      1) A troll is not someone who disagrees with tyler durden, err… TLP. A cult member is someone who immune system like destroys any foreign element.

      2) Creepshow AKA operator has been harrassing me for months on this forum. When I respond by pointing out he is a creepy fuck most certainly typing wearing a suit of skin, I am now the troll? I suppose I must be the troll, in the way bacteria is always wrong when you ask a white blood cell for its opinion.

  6. Comus says:

    Eating disorders often remind me of religious rituals, where the place of god is hijacked by society. Then again it often comes across as violent attempt of separation from a symbiotic parental relation. Like readjusting the center of gravity to you as an object.

    Now back to the main entertainment, AAL, continue, I fetch more popcorn.

    • AnonymousAtLarge says:

      I can’t help it if I am the only one on this dull forum with wit, original opinion, etc.