Re: more on bigorexia

From: Kate Distin (
Date: Mon 09 May 2005 - 08:22:17 GMT

  • Next message: Scott Chase: "Re: more on bigorexia"

    Scott - your comments about mental disorders that focus on body-image kicked off some trains of thought for me.

    First, some second-hand experience of anorexia: at my girls' boarding school in the 1980s there was for a couple of years a *hugely* disproportionate number of girls who developed the condition. It was a real problem in my year group in particular: of 38 girls at least 5 became anorexic, two to the extent of being hospitalised. I know for a fact that one of these girls became anorexic within weeks of it being obvious that her best friend had gone down that path. It really felt like an epidemic - we had psychiatric nurses in to talk to us, lots of focus on it, and still they kept dropping like flies, and not just in our year group. Utterly bizarre, in retrospect, though at the time we just accepted it as part of life (some people get glandular fever, others become anorexic . . .).

    Now it is well-known that anorexia and related disorders disproportionately affect girls - about 10:1 compared with boys. What has become interesting to me lately is a parallel statistic about a disorder that affects more boys than girls, at that same 10:1 ratio - and that's autism. The work that makes me think this may not be just a coincidence has been done by Simon Baron-Cohen, of Cambridge University's Autism Research Centre. He's suggested an "extreme male brain" theory of autism: that there's a male type of brain and a female type (he emphasises that not all men have the typically male brain and not all women the typically female one), and that autism is a sort of extreme version of that male-type brain. What I've wondered is whether anorexia and similar self-harming disorders could have their basis in an extreme version of the female-type brain.

    Obviously this is just speculative but it would suggest a biological basis to the disorder: perhaps one that could be triggered by the right cultural input, but would provide a reason why some girls succumbed to it and others didn't, even given the same cultural input. The biological basis to the human brain is after all a crucial part of the memetic environment.


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