Monday, 6 July 2015

Why don’t liberal feminists support the pro ana and pro mia movements?

It’s a serious question. I mean, being anorexic or bulimic is ultimately a choice that women and girls make, isn’t it? Nobody forces women and girls to starve themselves or to binge and purge. If liberal feminists argue, as they do when they discuss pornography, prostitution and BDSM, that the main goal of feminism should be to fight for the ability of women to make choices, shouldn’t they be supportive of any and all choices women make? Why is it that they deem some choices to be unacceptable (i.e. the choice not to eat or to binge and purge) and then turn around and unabashedly support others (i.e. the choice to be a porn actress or a sex worker)? Where is the consistency in their argument here?

Some sex workers, porn stars, and submissives feel empowered by what they do, liberal feminists bleat on. Well, so too do anorexics and bulimics. L, who writes a blog called “Pro-Ana Lifestyle Forever” includes a list of reasons for why she starves herself:

  • Because I can
  • Because I’m the hunger artist
  • Because I want to
  • Because if I can accomplish this, I can do anything!
  • Because off all the people in my life who die of jealousy when they see the way I look
  • Because it makes me feel brand new every day!
  • Because I just won’t quit
  • Because I have wanted to be this way forever
  • Because I don’t have any time to waste on food
  • Because I can do anything I put my mind to
  • Because I have the willpower
  • Because it’s my life
  • Because it’s my choice
  • Because of my next birthday
  • Because it’s me. And though I don’t advise it to anyone else; I’m too thin, and I don’t eat    enough, and that’s me, and I love it!
  • Because I want to be skinny for summer
Her body, her choice, right?  Anorexia makes L feel like she “can accomplish anything”. Hunger is her “art”, “art” that liberal feminists should recognize as subversive. After all, “L’s” extremely skinny body (a.k.a. her “hunger art”) subverts the male gaze since men prefer to gaze at women with tits and ass. “L” has neither- what a rebel!

But at the same time that they’re condemning abolitionists  for thinking that “sex workers need to be rescued even if they're happy with what they do” many liberal feminists seem to openly critique a woman’s choice to be anorexic or bulimic. Clearly, from what we can see on L’s blog mentioned above, L is is also “happy with what she does”.  It doesn’t appear to me that she needs to be rescued any more than a loud and proud self-identified sex worker. She’s been living the lifestyle for years, like many anorexics and bulimics. Jade, another young woman who also runs a pro ana website that has thousands of followers around the world, has embraced her anorexia for over ten years and says that “this is the way [she] wants to live.”  

Yet liberal feminists, like Anne Theriault, seem ignorant of the fact that being anorexic and/or bulimic can be an “empowering choice” for women like L and Jade. She suggests that their choices are harmful to themselves and harmful to women in general. In a post on beauty standards and eating disorders on her website,  Theriault even goes  so far as to mention socialization, the media ,etc. as factors that contribute to the prevalence of eating disorders in the West:

…the recent spike in eating disorders can almost certainly be attributed to how pressured  women feel to be a certain size. We’re obsessed with thinness, and that obsession permeates nearly every aspect of our culture, from how food is branded and marketed to us, to “vanity sizing” in clothing, to every headline ever in women’s magazines promising to tell you how to lose weight, how to keep the weight off, and which celebrities lost their “baby weight” the fastest. Our attitudes towards weight and size are actively harmful to women, and I seriously cannot overstate my concern about girls and young women growing up in this climate. I think we’ve only just started to see the detrimental effects of our infatuation with thinness, and  unless a major societal sea-change happens, things are only going to get worse.

 Whaaaaat?!  Is Theriault admiting here that individual choices are not made in vacuums? Could she be suggesting that we should examine the social context in which eating disorders happen?  Might she even be admitting that there is a system at work here, one that is deliberately designed to undermine the self-esteem, health, and well-being of women and girls? Noooo! It can’t be! Because suggesting that women’s choices are influenced by the dominant ideas and values of the culture in which they grow up/live would be to deny them their agency. Even worse, it suggests that they are unintelligent dupes or even the most blasphemous thing of all: victims!

(Quick!  Someone get a high liberal feminist priestess! We must exorcise the demon of radical feminism NOW! The power of Paris Lees compels you! The power of Paris Lees compels you! The power of Paris Lees compels you!)

Now that that demon that was clouding their vision of seeing the one true path of feminism (CHOICE!) liberal feminists should be able to get back on track and spread their message to the world that that thou shalt not ever judge the choices of women and girls. Even if their choices are harmful to themselves and to the status of women as a class, choice trumps everything!

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