Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Confession, The Chronicle & The Crystallization

I recently had a really interesting conversation with Dr. Marc LaFrance about some authors regarding this topic. Of course when discussing the body and the experience of the body it is hard to ignore Foucault. While I am not a well-read Foucauldian, I feel like I have a strong enough grip on what he is saying from secondary sources to briefly discuss some ideas here. 
As we brought up in class during presentations, there is something verging on the religious about aspects of this community that cannot be ignored. Such undercurrents are not so obvious in the blog community but on some of the sites I visited there is 'Ana's Psalm', 'The 10 commandments', The personification of Ana as someone who 'watches over' as well as Angel imagery. Perhaps this next posit is a stretch, but indulge me:
There is something about blogs and the anonymity of their authors that is similar to the confession. As modern science replaced religion as the institution responsible for the health of citizens, science kept an important religious practice - the confession - replacing the priest with the physician or psychiatrist. Similarly, the blog community includes this 'confessional' practice. From a more functional/ practical perspective this can be read as a way to not only assert one's legitimacy as a member of the group, but alleviate feelings of alienation and work through personal issues with food and eating.
With that said, there is the trend of Chronicling. Using Foucault as a platform, but moving in a different direction, Mark LaFrance introduced me to a useful resource entitled "Foucault goes to Weigh Watchers" by Cressida Heyes. Here she talks about the way that Weight Watchers requires you to 'chronicle' all of your caloric intake and expenditure. There is a handy point system and all. What she pointed out, as a feminist scholar doing an 'experiment' by trying this program, was the unexpected pleasure she got from reaching her WW goals. The result of this program was a textual representation of her body and how she was able to modify and change her weight and figure. Similarly on the blog community there is a tendency for entries to consist solely of, or be introduced by, a chronicle of calories consumed (sometimes what was purged, which does not negate calories - although this is a common misconception) as well as calories expended. Again, we see a self-surveillance, chronicling and textual record of the body from such practices. 
Finally, we might consider another perspective from the feminists. Susan Bordeaux's seminal work "Anorexia Nervosa: Psychopathology as the Crystallization of Culture" talks about how in many ways anorexia and eating disorders more generally hold a mirror up to society to reflect the demands it puts on women. While this certainly is an aspect of anorexia and other eating disorders, such a theory strips women of agency. Surely the confession and chronicling in these blogs communities represent the pressure many women feel to attain a specific body, as well as the obsessive desire and extreme measure they will engage in to achieve this perceived 'perfection' but the ways in which many young women speak of their disorders on these blogs might challenge Bordo's posit. There is no indication that these girls are putting the onus on the media and society. This is a dimension of the eating disorder and an indirect factor, yes, but to reduce behavior to a cultural bottom line seems an oversimplification.


  1. I would go as far as to say that many bloggers actively refute the notion that their disordered eating can be directly linked to pressure from media or society.

  2. It's interesting to consider the 'confessional' aspect of these blogs and what impact anonymity has in facilitating honest and unfiltered postings...

  3. Lulu,
    Thanks for your input. I agree with you. Rarely do we see a direct link between our neurosis and social or cultural factors. I see a lot of validity and truth in your comment. There is never a direct, intentional link between 'social factor' and individual behaviors. I think what Bordo is trying to say is that those suffering from EDs are holding a mirror up to society and saying "HERE! Look at what is happening!" In this way EDs are a crystallization of what society demands of women.

    As for Cyber-Spaceman, thanks to you for your comment. In brief response, I want to say yes, anonymity facilitates honesty. And yet, might we question too, the level of honesty that is happening online in this community. In light of our readings on how we construct profiles and online identities we might consider how such confession are mediated. Just a thought, and mostly for mulling over.

  4. Oh man, Foucault discourse theory how did I overlook that...

    Pretty slick, you just gave me a great idea.

  5. Thats such an interesting thought. I'm just starting to get into Foucault ~ i'm at the start of my undergrad degree ~ ...and i'm intrigued (and of to the libary i go).

    However - i am going to give my honest opinion as a ed blogger (its always gd to have another perspective ~ but consider my lack of objectivity in this matter) - I have never seen any blog entry as a confession. More like telling someone a secret. Its an expression of the secret life that I lead ~ if I dont discus with the 'pro'ana community about my ed then with whom do I talk about it. I see my blog as conversations with that 'other' secret aspect of my life. Just like to going to coffee with my normal non-online friends - only that in this case its online.