As the "ideal" women’s body has become progressively thinner over the past decades, the eating disorder anorexia has become progressively more prevalent. Anorexia is a disease in which a person eats nothing beyond minimal amounts of food so that her body weight drops dangerously. It is no wonder with all of the cultural messages of thinness being aimed at women, that 90-95% of anorexics are female, 25.7% of all female ballet dancers are anorexic, and that the percentages are similarly high for female models and athletes (Malson, 1998). Six to eight percent of young women have been diagnosed. For some the disease takes a devastating and irreversible course; 20% of anorexic patients will die and as many as half of those will be from suicide (Sullivan, 1995). It is an extremely painful disease with many emotional hardships for all involved. Anorexia, like many psychological disorders in the DSM-IV, has medical, biological, personality, and social components and implications.
Anorexia Nervosa is clearly a multifaceted disorder, but the aim of this paper is to explore more deeply the moral issues associated with it. These issues will be centered on shame and guilt. However, other moral issues clearly play a role in the emergence and maintenance of the disorder and will be discussed as well. Research directly linking these issues is not as prolific as the research surrounding the clinical components of anorexia. The general conclusion that feelings of shame and guilt that are focused specifically on eating are related to eating disturbance is well documented (Frank, 1991; Burney & Irwin, 2000).
Burney and Irwin (2000) say that some of the symptoms of eating disorders lead one to believe that shame plays a key role in them. Fodor (1996) feels that eating disordered women may feel ashamed on many occasions. They may be ashamed of their desire for food, ashamed when they feel they have not met other’s expectations, and ashamed of using such severe methods to say thin. Frank (1991) found that women with eating disorders experience more shame and guilt in relation to eating than do either normal or depressed women. She concluded that shame and guilt differentiate eating pathology from other forms of psychopathology.
However, specific connections between shame, the media, attributional style, self-esteem, and the development and maintenance of an eating disorder are not well explored in the literature. In other words, it is documented that shame and guilt do play a role in eating disorders, but the exact nature of that role in terms of the clinical underpinnings of the disorder is unclear. Therefore, the paper’s scope will be in part a literature review, and in part a theoretical speculation from the literature.
The research linking anorexia to depression, control, perfectionism, body image distortion, and family structures is fairly abundant, however, while reading it one may feel that there is a mediating factor that is missing in the...