In modern times, and namely in Western culture, identity has become a wholly introverted principle. People strive to define themselves solely as individuals; identity is thought of as exclusively self-contained. American culture, for example, celebrates above all else the "individual;" he (or she) who stands out from the masses is reputed. It is within this celebration of "original identity," however, where one of American culture's deepest ironies lies. While on the surface a person's autonomy may seem salient, if he or she does not conform to certain pre-disposed social constraints, he or she may be in danger of being viewed by others (and by him/herself) as "valueless." Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the eating disorders of Americans. Disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa affect millions, and kill thousands of Americans every year; yet they are kept in the shadows of the culture's collective consciousness.
[...] On the most basic level, Anorexia Nervosa involves a person refusing to maintain his/her normal body weight for age and height. Bulimia Nervosa is similar to Anorexia, but bulimic persons often indulge in eating; which leads to “purging.” These eating disorders are most likely to occur in female adolescents. It is estimated that more than of female adolescents have either Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa in the United States today. Around 1,000 women die of complications relating to Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa each year, but the actual number may be much higher. [...]
[...] If society is, in fact, to blame for the creation of Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa, then it is the individual who chooses to develop the disorder. The most dooming explanation of eating disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa is that they are biological. Recently, Anorexia Nervosa has been effectively linked to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Moreover, current research has shown that “genetic factors predispose some people to anxiety, perfectionism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder” (Anred.com 1). The fact that eating disorders go hand-in-hand with obsessive compulsive disorder and the fact that OCD has been determined to be, at least partially, genetically predisposed, creates a strong argument for those who believe Anorexia Nervosa is a biological ailment. [...]
[...] Through motion pictures, television programs, and advertisements, the culture of “thinness” is imposed on the females of America non-stop. In order to be considered desirable, and merely to be “accepted,” women must emulate the waif-thin actresses and models that are celebrated in this culture. In her book The Thin Women, Helen Malson contends that America's media-laden culture creates an atmosphere in which “'femininity' is linked . to size, to not being bigger than ‘size 8 or size 10'” (Desmond 325). [...]
[...] The quest for a biological explanation for eating disorders is a relatively new one; scientists are only recently thinking of eating disorders as actual “diseases.” There is a good deal of corroborating evidence to back up the biological explanation, however, there are major holes in the theory that eating disorders are “natural.” There is no biological explanation, for example, for one of the most prevalent eating disorders in America; Bulimia Nervosa. The biological explanation of eating disorders is also much more frightening than the social explanation; for it suggests no autonomy within the individual. [...]
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