Re: more on bigorexia

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Mon 09 May 2005 - 11:24:50 GMT

  • Next message: Derek Gatherer: "Re: more on bigorexia"

    --- Kate Distin <> wrote:

    > 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.
    Not sure autism is comparable to anorexia. It seems from preliminary reading that when comparing boys and girls it would be best to look at the body image disorders of anorexia versus "bigorexia". Both could be based in part on preoccupation with the way we look. I've skimmed some studies that look at stuff like how different factors impact perception of body image and body change strategies. Parents (vertical transmission), peers (horizontal transmission), and media (horizontal or oblique? transmission) have been explored. The studies I've briefly skimmed use survey methods that seem questionable to me, in that I'm not sure if the researchers are measuring what they think or are able to get rid of enough self-reporting bias to actually make their results valid. Research participants might answer the way they think they should given what their perceptions of research parameters are. How can this be accounted for in a survey method. Some survey methods might be better than others. Still though, given limiting factors, the research is interesting and it's amazing that such effort has been made to counteract what has been said to be a neglect of body image issue in males (versus) females. It's becoming a cottage industry perhaps.

    In a strange synchronicity, there was a 1994 movie on HBO (kinda like an afterschool special type thing) starring Ben Affleck about a football player concerned with his size and performance who gets involved with some heavy steroid usage and starts getting violent and has side effects besides "roid rage" like losing hair, a shoulder injury and bloody noses. I've read in the news about problems of steroid use in boys and how school districts might randomly test athletes. With athletes, it might not be just "body image" per se, but also peerformance issues that are driving the steroid use.

    At least with some of the survey methods I've read about, it looks like the bread and butter of memetics
    (horizontal versus vertical transmission) is being addressed. Can't say I've read enough to evaluate the differences between parents, peers and media in imparting body image ideals or ways of changing one's features to match the image, but it's interesting to say the least. I'll be reading the _Adonis Complex_ book pretty soon. I'm really interested in reading first hand what the authors have to say about GI Joe. I'm *a priori* a little skeptical about focusing on an action figure, but hey maybe there's a point to be made. Did Barbie affect girls that much over the years? If not a cause of body image skewing, GI Joe could be taken as an index of change in societal body image ideals, given GI Joe has significantly changed his physique over the years. The take home message might be that males are just as susceptible to body image skewing as females, but towards a different ideal and with different strategies to achieve this ideal.

    But body image is a visual thing, which for memetics would take us away from the recent list focus on linguistics. Yes words and their relation to concepts about body image might play a role, but looking at images of fit and trim females or buff males is kinda non-linguistic. We could look at the changes in body image word usage or we could look at the changes in image ideals over time. One measure would be linguistic and the other visual. These respective shifts over time might be processed differently by the brain...

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