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No skinny chicks : on the deliberative capability of pro-anorexics Lougheed, Devon Richard 2007

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NO SKINNY CHICKS: On the deliberative capability of pro-anorexics by D E V O N R I C H A R D L O U G H E E D B.A.(Hons), Queen's University at Kingston, 2006 A THESIS S U B M I T T E D IN P A R T I A L F U L F I L L M E N T O F T H E R E Q U I R E M E N T S F O R T H E D E G R E E O F M A S T E R OF A R T S in T H E F A C U L T Y OF G R A D U A T E S T U D I E S (Political Science) T H E U N I V E R S I T Y OF BRITISH C O L U M B I A August 2007 © Devon Richard Lougheed, 2007 11 ABSTRACT Questions of basic human capabilities for reasoning, speech, communication, and judgment are central to many contemporary theories of deliberative democracy. Many contemporary theorists of deliberative democracy suggest that the equal capacity of participants to advance persuasive claims is a necessary precursor to an effective, legitimate deliberative outcome. In this paper, I examine two strains of this 'capacity-first' assumption and highlight the potential problem of the active censuring and censorship of truth-claims in way that is fundamentally unjust - before the claim has even been voiced. Instead, I argue that deliberation can actually serve as a mechanism of adjudication of truth claims in a way that is fundamentally more free. I test my argument with regards to a specific case, that of pro-anorexics or "pro-anas." I present and analyze various responses to pro-ana claims: the biomedical model; the culture of disgust; a sociocultural response; and a postmodern feminist perspective. I argue that open dialogue with pro-anas, rather than pre-discursive censorship, is in this case more fair, free, and quite probably strategic. Finally, I highlight the potential of my case-study-based analysis to offer lessons for deliberative democratic theory at large. i i i TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract i i Table of Contents i i i Acknowledgements v i Dedication v i i 1. Introduction 1 2. Theoretical Background 3 3. Case Study: Pro-Anorexic (Pro-ana) Discourse 11 a. the biomedical ethos of (pro) ana 11 b. deletion dot com: an understanding of pro-ana websites 14 c. contextualizing the culture of disgust 16 d. the medium is the nuisance: a sociocultural feminist response 21 e. subverting dessert (and more): a postmodern feminist response 24 f. the three models in review: how capable are pro-anas? 28 4. Deliberation as fair, free, and strategic 36 5. Conclusion 41 Bibliography 43 iv A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S Thanks to Dr. Barbara Arnei l , Dr. Bruce Baum, Dr. Laura Janara, and Dr. Mark Warren. Thanks to Tom Malleson and K y l a Reid. Thanks to my parents, Beth and Lawrence. Thanks to all my friends and enemies, my alphas and omegas, my comrades and cronies. V D E D I C A T I O N this one goes out to the ones i love. 1 I N T R O D U C T I O N Questions of basic human capabilities for reasoning, speech, communication, and judgment are central to many contemporary theories of deliberative democracy. Many contemporary theorists of deliberative democracy suggest that the equal capacity of participants to advance persuasive claims is a necessary precursor to an effective, legitimate deliberative outcome.1 In this paper, I examine two strains of this 'capacity-first' assumption and suggest they are both problematic because they result in the active censuring and censorship of truth-claims in way that is fundamentally unjust - before the claim has even been voiced. Instead, I argue that deliberation can actually serve as a mechanism of adjudication of truth claims in a way that is fundamentally more free. I explore this line of argument from a more general interest in deliberative democratic theory through to a more specific analysis of the discourse and struggle of the concrete phenomenon of "pro-anorexic" identity. Examining the discourse of pro-anorexic identity as a case study illuminates how pre-deliberative censure and censorship results in the exclusion of supposed 'crazy' or 'non-rational' participants, which is harmful to the free-and-just potential of deliberation at large. This discourse has been dominated by multi-sourced censure and censorship as a result of the prominent biomedical/psychiatric model of anorexia and its formative relationship with the eminent 'culture of disgust' that surrounds anorexic eating behaviours. Thus, in this paper I explore the censoring/censuring reactions to pro-ana discourse and suggest that deliberation, rather than silencing, creates the potential for a truth-adjudication dialogue that is both fair and strategic. For the purposes of my argument, a fair outcome is one 1 See especially: John Rawls; Amartya Sen; Thomas Christiano; Jack Knight and James Johnson; Joshua Cohen; Frank I. Michelman; Jurgen Habermas. 2 that is qualifiedly legitimate because of the equal (and thus, just) treatment of participants. A strategic dialogue is one that attempts not only to mitigate fairly between competing truth-claims in the present tense, but also in the long run, attempting to alleviate the 'problem' (whatever that may be) of the 'problematic' identity. M y argument proceeds in three main sections. First, I review the literature on the necessity of equal capability (including opportunity and access) for deliberation. This requires a 'fine tuning' of the concept of capability. I argue that this term has a double usage: first, to indicate the basic human ability to speak and reason, in the Aristotelian sense; and second, to signal a more complex formulation of opportunity and access, which is more concerned with power relations than cognitive abilities. I suggest that a Rawlsian reliance on capabilities in the first sense can result in the undemocratic exclusion of voices, and trace this problematic aspect of capabilities through post-Rawlsian deliberative theory. From this theoretical grounding, 1 turn to the second section, a description and analysis of pro-ana discourse and its respondents. In the third section, I argue that open dialogue with pro-anas, rather than pre-discursive censorship, is in this case more fair, free, and quite probably strategic. Finally, I highlight the potential of my case-study-based analysis to offer lessons for deliberative democratic theory at large. 3 T H E O R E T I C A L B A C K G R O U N D When contemporary theorists of deliberative democracy invoke the concept 'capacity,' they are talking about one (or both) of two meanings, each of which I explore in this section. The first is concerned with cognitive abilities to reason, speak, and comprehend, and, with a nod to Aristotle, finds a contemporary champion in John Rawls. The second is interested in the actual opportunities for a voice to speak, and suggests that equalizing the practical set of participative opportunities is much more important than trying to secure a sense of equal cognitive ability. This second usage of 'capacity,' as invoked by Amartya Sen, Jack Knight and James Johnson, James Bohman, and Joshua Cohen is, I wi l l argue, intrinsically linked to the first. Consequently, capacity-as-opportunity thinkers are potentially implicated in the exclusion of the so-decided cognitively-disabled, even i f this is not their intention in the first instance. Much of the contemporary push towards equal capacity in deliberative theory can be traced back to John Rawls. What begins as somewhat of an assumption in Rawls's deliberative theory is taken up and strengthened by other deliberative theorists. Rawls's focus on equal access to primary goods takes for granted that deliberative participants "do have, at least to the essential minimum degree, the moral, intellectual, and physical capacities that enable them to be fully cooperating members of society over a complete life." For Rawls, this is the "reason" of a political society, an "intellectual and moral power, rooted in the capabilities of its human members."3 Drawing on what he feels are inherently shared pre-deliberative qualities (note his use of the word "rooted", as i f shared capacities are already planted into the pottery of humanity), Rawls is able to 2 John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), 183. 3 Rawls, 93. 4 distinguish clearly between reasoning and rhetoric or means of persuasion: Now all ways of reasoning - whether individual, associational, or political - must acknowledge certain common elements: the concept of judgment, principles of inference, and rules of evidence, and much else, otherwise they would not be ways of reasoning but perhaps rhetoric or means of persuasion. We are concerned with reason, not simply with discourse. A way of reasoning, then, must incorporate the fundamental concepts and principles of reason, and include standards of correctness and criteria of justification. A capacity to master these ideas is part of common human reason.4 For Rawls, capacity to reason is shared, common, and inherent to the citizens of a political society. There is a clear link between reason, reasoning, and reasonableness, and deliberation. Thus, capacity to reason is, in fact, an understood precursor to deliberative existence, because it is an assumed component of human existence. A s long as access to resources is distributed fairly and equally (as in the ideal outcome of Rawls's famous original position thought experiment), the assumption is that capacity to use these resources is more or less equal. The ramifications of a Rawlsian capacity-first line of argument are twofold. First, deliberating with someone who does not have at least approximately the same capacity is not ideal, but instead, is extremely undesirable. Here, the concern lies primarily with preventing the domination of the less-capable by the more-capable. Second, and following from the first, the silencing of non-capable participants could be potentially construed as legitimate and acceptable as we strive forth toward this deliberative ideal. 5 4 Rawls, 99. 5 The "non-capable" participants that Rawls would have to exclude are those who lack the basic capacities for reason and cognition, i.e. "to the essential minimum degree." Sen and Knight and Johnson are concerned that unequal power relations wi l l result in the silencing of the legitimate concerns of the relatively powerless; nonetheless, because of the link between opportunity and cognitive ability there is the same predeliberative judgment of legitimacy/illegitimacy. Thus, while a voice should not be silenced because Here, the concern is that the incapable, by definition, w i l l derail and de-legitimize deliberative procedures. I f the legitimacy of deliberation is rooted in the requirement that participants are "able to advance arguments that others might find persuasive"6 and are able to form what Gerald Gaus calls "the social dimension [of] rationality: a shared judgment with others"7, then the incapable participant poses a large threat. The argument is straightforward and convincing at first glance: someone who is incapable, irrational, "crazy" has nothing to contribute to deliberative procedures (since capable, rational, "sane" participants w i l l quite likely never agree with the positions advanced by the incapable). Censorship, while not justified by mere unpopularity, is justified by the degree to which a participant is demonstrably incapable of deliberation. Although this demand for the essential minimum degree of capacity is not intentionally, maliciously, or automatically exclusionary, the vagueness surrounding how (and by whom) that minimum is specified allows for the (potentially just/unjust) silencing of voices. Could someone really share in the deliberative processes without having at least some capacity for moral and intellectual reasoning, to say nothing of the physical necessities? The answer seems somewhat obvious i f we are talking about infants, toddlers, coma patients, or mimes - the Lavinias of civic life. This first reaction is muddied by more troublesome and controversial cases. Do women have an equal capacity for intelligence as men? Are homosexuals too morally deficient to contribute it is powerless, it can still be 'properly' silenced i f it is deemed illegitimate, or rather, cognitively unable. 6 Jack Knight and James Johnson, "What Sort of Equality Does Deliberative Democracy Require?" in Deliberative Democracy, ed. James Bohman and Wi l l i am Rehg (Cambridge, M a : M I T Press, 1997), 295. 7 Gerald F. Gaus, "Reason, Justification, and Consensus: Why Democracy Can't Have It A l l , " in Deliberative Democracy, 226. 6 anything valuable to a discussion? W i l l we benefit from listening to the claims of the deaf? These examples are not so controversial - anymore. Instead, they serve as a testament to the shifting dynamics of a 'minimum capacities' argument and its potential for exclusion. A n d therein lies the rub: how can we tell i f a claim is being advanced by someone with an equal deliberative capacity or not? Who or what defines and determines capability, rationality, legitimate participation, and reasonable argument? Contemporary citizens would likely be uncomfortable with a Hobbesian reason-defining arbitrator -forced submission of "private reason" to "public reason" is not a popular option for the modern liberal individualist. 8 A t a theoretical and ideal level, deliberative democracy enables public reason to come from the people - Rousseau's general w i l l , or Habermas' force of the better argument, emerging from the populous through correct deliberative procedures. Yet, much actual deliberation exemplifies a clash of private interests that is symptomatic of the less-than-intellectual clashes of the Hobbesian state of nature. So, certain voices are being silenced because they are deemed incapable of deliberation. But what is the source of this judgment, and how legitimate is it? Is more-or-less equal capacity truly required for deliberation to remain democratic, or does this precursor actually hinder the 'democraticness' of deliberative procedures. Rawls's approach has not been altogether unchallenged by his contemporaries. Other theorists, such as Amartya Sen, Jack Knight and James Johnson have argued, without completely discounting the spirit of Rawls's argument, that equal capacities are Hobbes argues famously that the only way to mitigate for the natural conflict between private individuals is to create an unconstrained authority. See Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (New York: Collier Books, 1962). integral but not inherent to deliberative and political life. 9 Sen attacks Rawls 's focus on capacity in the first sense, suggesting that an adequate conception of equality understands "freedom in the form of alternative sets of accomplishments that we have the power to achieve." 1 0 Opportunity and access (the "extent o f freedom") are more important to the fairness, equality, and democraticness of deliberative proceedings than the resources possessed by a participant ("the means of freedom"), including the ability to reason so emphasized by Rawls . 1 1 Knight and Johnson establish a similar hierarchy of 'capacity-type' importance. They admit that "deliberation requires equal capacity to advance persuasive claims [and so we must] accommodate and remedy the asymmetrical distribution in any political constituency of relevant deficiencies and faculties (e.g., in the ability to reason, articulate ideas, etc.);" however, they qualify this as secondary in importance to a more Sen-like concern with opportunity. They suggest that "first, deliberation presupposes equality of resources needed to ensure that an individual's assent to arguments advanced by others is indeed uncoerced [and so we must] mind such factors as material wealth and educational treatment."13 These theorists are all fundamentally concerned that Rawls's assumption of cognitive equality w i l l render deliberation undemocratic by favoring those with the most education (generally an 9 While it could be suggested that Sen is not always considered a 'pure' deliberative theorist, he has engaged Rawls in many instances on primary goods, and is a major theorist of basic human capabilities. Furthermore, Bohman draws directly on Sen for deliberative purposes. In short, although Sen might fit into my discussion of deliberative democratic theory in a slightly different way than the other theorists, it is certainly not a category error to include his perspective. 1 0 Amartya Sen, Inequality Reexamined (Cambridge, M A : Harvard University Press, 1992), 34-35. u Ibid, 8 1 2 Knight and Johnson, 281-2. 13 Ibid. indicator of upper-class status), the most social privilege (which allows access to special information and resources), and the most robustly developed understanding of civic life (since, following Aristotle, it is the landed gentry who can afford the leisure time to participate in civic life). Yet, it seems like something is missed i f capacity in the second sense is separated from capacity in the first: while ability and opportunity to deliberate are certainly linked to power relations, they are just as linked to cognitive abilities. So, at least at a theoretical level, demanding that participants be equally capable attempts to mitigate for the disparities of reality in order to retain the democratic element of deliberation. James Bohman suggests that "capability equality underwrites a fundamental feature of deliberative theories of democracy by developing an account of the minimal level of public functioning necessary for the deliberative equality of all citizens." 1 4 But, Rawls's assumption is problematic for Bohman because "people differ in the capacities necessary to use available resources effectively." 1 5 Thus, merely demanding a minimum amount of capacity, regardless of how and by whom that minimum is defined, does not automatically orient a deliberative process towards 'truth,' consensus, or even conflict-resolution. Cohen agrees, suggesting that "in ideal deliberation, parties are both formally and substantively equal... Everyone with the deliberative capacities has equal standing at each stage of the deliberative process." 1 6 He argues that in ideal-type deliberative democracy, "the members recognize one another as having deliberative capacities, i.e., 1 4 James Bohman, "Deliberative Democracy and Effective Social Freedom," in Deliberative Democracy, 325-6. 1 5 James Bohman, Public Deliberation (Cambridge, M A : M I T Press, 1996), 128. 1 6 Joshua Cohen, "Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy" in Deliberative Democracy, 74. the capacities required for entering into a public exchange of reasons and for acting on the result of such public reasoning." 1 7 These democratic theorists share with Rawls the belief that equal capacity is a necessary precursor for fair and democratic deliberation; however, their usage of the term capacity suggests that opportunity and ability are not inherently equal, but rather, are asymmetrical and require some sort of accommodation. There is little concern with the cognitive ability and legitimatization of voices; their focus is simply elsewhere. Let me clarify what is lost i f the two senses of capacity are pulled apart. Bohman is seeking to correct power imbalances, effectively empowering the powerless, giving votes to the voteless, and forums to the fora-less. This seems to be an effective prescription, and I am sympathetic to Bohman's project. Despite this, his innate concern with the powerless means he does not discuss those judged to be cognitively unable, and thus excluded. What I am suggesting, then, is the extension of Bohman's demand to empower the powerless, which involves altering the dominant power structures to accommodate the voices of the less powerful, to the supposedly cognitively unable. The goal becomes to enable (or try to enable) the 'unable' and examine the discursive result. This involves altering the dominant understandings of cognitive 'ableness' or rationality. If Bohman's plan comes to fruition, and the less powerful are empowered, granted a voice, and given a vote, the question of the less-able still prevails; even granted equal access and opportunity, the fact is that some voices are still deemed 'unable' or 'insane' and their voices, considered 'not worthy,' are excluded. Again, the silenced infant or coma patient do not present a huge threat to the equality, fairness, or democraticness of X1 Ibid., 73. 10 deliberation; however, there are other, more troublesome identities where the line is not so clear. I suggest that it is possible, desireable, and, indeed, necessary, to extend Bohman's project of equal capacity in the second sense to these problematic voices, enabling deliberation to act as a testing mechanism. To shed some light on these issues, and to offer preliminary, more specific answers to these larger, more general questions, I now turn to a case study of a voice that has been silenced after being deemed incapable/irrational. Examining the reactions to the pro-anorexia (pro-ana) movement illuminates how pre-deliberative censure and censorship is harmful to the free-and-just potential of deliberation at large. 11 C A S E S T U D Y : P R O - A N O R E X I C ( P R O - A N A ) D I S C O U R S E the biomedical ethos of (pro) ana In order to properly contextualize the pro-ana movement and reactions against it, it is important to grasp an understanding of the dominant medical discourse surrounding anorexia itself. From an understanding of disease as a phenomenon of nature, 1 8 the biomedical ethos medicalizes anorexic behaviour as an urgent psychological disorder that requires immediate corrective treatment through diagnosis and intervention. The American Psychiatric Association's ( A P A ) rubric of diagnoses is fourfold: in order to be clinically diagnosed as "anorexic" a patient must refuse to maintain a body weight of 85% of the norm for her/his age and height; demonstrate a severe fear of becoming fat (even i f underweight); possess a "disturbed body image"; and consecutively miss three menstrual cycles. 1 9 The behaviour of consistent and drastic under-eating is not only defined in medicalized psychiatric symptoms; indeed, the entire "epidemiology, 20 prognosis and treatment" of the behaviour is understood through "a biomedical frame." Consequently, it is not surprising that those medically diagnosed as anorexic, and hence disordered, have voices that are understood by the biomedical ethos as inherently disordered. The biomedical reaction to pro-ana ideas remains appropriately couched in the language of individual psychiatry. The passionate embracing of an eating disorder as Christopher Boorse, "On the distinction between disease and illness," Philosophy and Public Affairs 5:1 (1975): 49-68. 1 9 American Psychiatric Association. 2000. Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders: D S M - I V - T R . Washington, D C : American Psychiatric Association. Here it is also interesting to note that the fourth criterion means that one must be biologically female and rather young to be considered anorexic by these medical standards. 2 0 N ick Fox, Katie Ward and Alan O'Rourke, "Pro-anorexia, weight-loss drugs and the internet: an 'anti-recovery' explanatory model of anorexia," Sociology of Health and Illness 27:7 (2005): 949. 12 a lifestyle is recognized by the medical community as a type of subconscious justification, a form of extreme denial. 2 1 Leslie Regan Shade Shade suggests that according to the biomedical ethos, anorexics in general (but especially pro-anas) are [...] unhappy, seek to control their every behaviour, are perfectionists, seek approval by authoritarian figures, and have difficulty managing the stress of growing up. They therefore have low self-esteem, [and] think they are fat 22 when they are not. This is not to suggest that all those within the medical community completely discount a pro-ana patient's voice as 'crazy, nothing more.' Cynthia Bul ik and Kenneth Kendler recently acknowledged in the American Journal of Psychiatry that "indeed, for some individuals with a long-standing illness, the eating disorder can develop into an integral part of their identity" and suggest that "a well-intentioned therapist, whose goal is to ameliorate the symptoms of an eating disorder" could unintentionally damage a patient's sense-of-self.23 Despite this recognition of the importance of a patient's disease in the formation of her own identity, disordered speech (such as the ideas of a pro-anorexic) is viewed a result of a disordered constitution. A pro-ana identity, no matter how passionately it is defended by the patient, is nothing but a barrier to recovery - albeit one which requires/deserves careful, intentioned circumvention on the part of the medical practitioner. 2 4 The disordered patient speaks with a disordered voice, and it is useless 21 Marlene Boskind-Lodahl, "Cinderella's Stepsisters: A Feminist Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa and Bul imia ," Signs 2:2 (1976): 342-356. 2 2 Leslie Regan Shade, "Weborexics: the ethical issues surrounding pro-ana websites," Computers and Society 32:7 (2003): 7. Cynthia M . Bul ik and Kenneth S. Kendler, "I am what I (don't) eat: establishing an identity independent of an eating disorder," American Journal of Psychiatry 157: (November 2000): 1755. 2 4 See G . F . M . Russel, "Anorexia nervosa: its identity as an illness and its treatment," in Price, J H . ed. Modern Trends in psychological medicine, V o l 2. (London: Butterworth, 13 (almost silly) to suggest that a pro-ana deserves deliberative consideration. While I w i l l critique certain aspects of the biomedical model in this essay, it is important to underscore the simple fact that anorexic behaviour is both statistically dangerous and increasingly prevalent. Notwithstanding the existence of a certain amount of historical precedent for food-refusal despite conditions of splendor, 2 5 there has been a remarkable intensification of the presence of the disorder in Western/European countries since World War I I . 2 6 The condition is also surfacing in countries "previously believed to be unsusceptible to i t " 2 7 such as China, India, Mexico, and B r a z i l . 2 8 Anorexic behaviour as defined by the A P A has a 20% mortality rate, 2 9 in addition to other fatal instances of unnoticed-until-too-late or not-quite-anorexic-yet (according to the diagnostic model) action. It is this context of urgency and consequence that demands an analysis of pro-ana voices and reactions to them. In the next section, I review how pro-ana identity has been made manifest online before turning to an analysis of the various responses to pro-ana claims. 1970), 131-64; Jacinta O. A . Tan, Tony Hope, and Anne Stewart, "Anorexia nervosa and personal identity: The accounts of patients and their parents," International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 26:5 (September/October 2003): 533-548; Peter Weinreich, James Doherty, and Paul Harris, "Empirical assessment of identity in anorexia and bulimia nervosa," Journal of Psychiatric Research 19:2-3 (1985): 297-302. 2 5 Joan J. Brumberg, Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease (Cambridge, M A : Harvard University Press, 1988). 2 6 Shade 1-2. 2 7 Emma Rich, "Anorexic (dis)connetion: managing anorexia as an illness and an identity," Sociology of Health and Illness 28:3 (2006): 285. 2 8 Richard A . Gordon, "Eating disorders East and West: A culture-bound syndrome unbound," in Eating Disorders and Cultures in Transition, ed. A . Nasser, M . N . Katzman, and R . A . Gordon (East Sussex: Burnner-Routledge, 2001). 2 9 Deborah Pollack, "Pro-eating disorder websites: what should be the feminist response?" Feminism and Psychology 13:2 (2003): 247. 14 deletion dot com: a n u n d e r s t a n d i n g o f p r o - a n a w e b s i t e s The pro-ana community is visible almost exclusively online, in the virtual world of the Internet for reasons of censure and censorship that w i l l be discussed in the next section; thus, an examination of the digital voice of pro-anas - personal websites - is integral to a developed understanding and analysis of the community itself. There are several 'features' or types of content that are common amongst most pro-ana websites. Nearly all of these sites begin with one (or more) pop-up "warnings" that direct potential viewers to proceed at their own risk. Some of these warnings target 31 specific groups, such as those under eighteen , those currently recovering from an eating disorder, 3 2 those without an eating disorder 3 3, or those trying to "just shed some pounds." 3 4 After browsing forth through the warnings, a visitor to a pro-ana website is often provided with most or all of the following: exercise tips and lists of 'safe foods' 3 5 ; 'thinspirational' picture galleries and quotations 3 6; a journal written by the site's creator; a message board or interactive 'forum'; E.D.ucational information (where E . D . stands for eating disorder) on a wide range of topics including philosophy, mental health, recovery, body mass index scales, and society at large; tricks to avoid detection or 'fake' treatment These commonalities are documented in the literature, as well as verified by the author in the course of researching this paper. 3 1 "Notice," Pro Ana Nation, http://www.pro-ana-nation.com/notice.html (accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). 32 ...as a rail, http://www.asarail.moonfruit.com (accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). 3 3 Ana Angel , http://www.freewebs.com/OoanaangeloO/ (accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). 3 4 Pro Ana Nation, http://www.pro-ana-nation.com/ (accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). 3 5 Safe foods fall into two categories: food that burns more calories in digestion than it provides (such as celery); or food with total calorie count under 100 (such as two soda crackers and a tablespoon of ketchup). 3 6 Galleries generally contain pictures of uber-thin women, quite often celebrities, and may often place these alongside pictures of 'heavy' women. Aphorisms and pictures are meant to 'thinspire' other pro-anas to stay true to eating behaviours in moments of weakness. 15 once detected; and, generally, a ' l inks ' page providing hypertext connections to other pro-ed websites. While some of the content, such as recipes, philosophical 'rant' pages, or exercise tips, is 'one-way' in delivery, the interactive message boards and networking 37 links pages are typically considered the source of the pro-ana 'community,' forging ties of support between similarly-minded individuals. Research of pro-ana websites has produced an interesting, but under-developed, body of analysis. While there is a tension within the pro-ana community between advancing anorexia as a chosen 'lifestyle' on the one hand, a 'disease' not ready to be dealt with on the other, or somewhere in the middle as both a disease and a lifestyle, there is widespread agreement on the claim that they, as individuals or as a community, "should be neither criticized by the public nor regulated by the medical community" 3 8 for their behaviour. The communal reveling in pro-anorexic images and text demonstrates a denial of victimhood, suffering, and mental instability that permeates across the boundaries of individual pro-ana sites. Furthermore, many of the websites are aligned towards continued survival while maintaining the 'disordered' eating behaviour. Debrah Ferreday suggests that "although their tone is often celebratory, most of the sites I looked at in the course of my research contain information on how to survive and how to avoid becoming seriously i l l . " Similarly, Abigai l Richardson and Elisabeth Cherry argue that Leslie Regan Shade, "Weborexics: the ethical issues surrounding pro-ana websites," Computers and Society 32:7 (2003): 2; Karen Dias, "The Ana Sanctuary: Women's Pro-Anorexia Narratives in Cyberspace," Journal of International Women's Studies 4:2 (Apri l 2003): 34-36. 38 Abigai l Richardson and Elisabeth Cherry, "Anorexia as a lifestyle," The Georgia Workshop on Culture, Power, and History, (University of Georgia, Fal l 2006), 16. 39 Debrah Ferreday, "Unspeakable Bodies: Erasure, embodiment, and the pro-ana community," International Journal of Cultural Studies 4:2 (Apri l 2003): 284. 16 "the inclusion of health maintenance tips seemed to indicate a desire to stay al ive." 4 0 While these health tips also indicate some sense that anorexic-type eating behaviour complicates 'normal' healthy life, this type of behaviour is embraced as an understood health risk - much like smoking cigarettes. Finally, the 'polit ical ' nature of these sites is evident. Leslie Shade suggests that the pro-ana discourse is "often libertarian in sentiment and certainly anti-authority."4 1 The 'authority' against which these libertarians are railing is sometimes general (i.e. "The Man"), but is mostly specific, directed against medical authority, parental/familial authority, and/or social pressures. The warnings of potential danger to visitors seem more-or-less honest, and site authors claim that these pro-ana websites are not actively 'recruiting' 4 2 but rather are aimed at the survival and community-building of an extremely small percentage of the anorexic population. Why then, it must be asked, are they subject to censor and censure with such immediacy and intensity? Who says these voices in particular must be shut up because they are not capable of deliberation? contextualizing the culture of disgust Is the dominant biomedical model powerful enough to demand the silencing of pro-ana voices across larger political society? Does the A P A have the power or capacity to truly and effectively decide which citizens are or are not capable of deliberation? The Richardson and Cherry, 11. 4 1 Shade, 4. 4 2 The comments of the author of the website ...as a rail serve to summarize the sentiment of pro-ana authors in general against this charge: " I ' M encouraging your 10 year old sister to be ana? N O ! I must disagree. I don't want to turn anyone into ana at all you thickheaded jit. Hence the warnings on the intro page (did you see those?)" http ://www. asarai 1 .moonfruit. com/ 17 somewhat ominous answer, at least in this case, appears to be yes. How is this possible? The dominant biomedical model of anorexia, discussed above, informs the discursive framework used by society at large, creating a culture of disgust that censors and censures pro-ana voices prima facie - before words have even been spoken. In this section I w i l l highlight the various manifestations of the culture of disgust, and trace its roots within the biomedical ethos and assumptions about patient responsibilities, before examining the largest public conflict between pro-ana and disgusted culture in the summer of 2001. The culture of disgust is evident in the jolting effect pro-ana statements have on those outside of that movement; this sudden jolt is suitably reflected in texts which analyze those ideas, as well as in the shift of popular perception of pro-anas from victim to villain. Deborah Pollack highlights both the "shock" and "intrigue" of her academic colleagues, and the hyperbole of the mass media who, "equating the disorders with 'breast cancer' and alcoholism, can't understand why women would be purposely attempting to cultivate a deadly 'disease.'" 4 3 Indeed, throughout the literature on pro-ana (both academic and otherwise) there exists the all-encompassing tendency to 'anonymize' the pro-ana voices, attributing statements to faceless, pseudonymous entities. 4 4 The ideas springing forward are so 'disgusting' that society must be protected from knowing from 4 3 Pollack, 246, quoting Bonnie Rothman Morris, " A Disturbing Growth Industry: Web Sites That Espouse Anorexia," NY Times, Sunday June 23, 2002, and Nanci Hellmich, "On the Web: Thinness worship," USAToday, Monday June 24, 2002. and Hellmech, USA Today 2001). 4 4 While much of the secondary-source analysis of the pro-ana movement relies on websites that are often created semi-anonymously by a writer with a "handle" instead of a real name, it is interesting to note that even the primary-source research conducted academically through ethnographic interviews relied on pseudonyms when reporting findings - even when a guarantee of anonymity was not made a condition of the original interview. 18 whence they came, just as those producing them must be protected from society. It is possible that this strong reaction is one of sympathy and not disgust. Even after acknowledging that this may be true initially, sympathy is problematic for two reasons. First, feelings of sympathy and pity deny the subject's agency by suggesting that there is an injury to be 'fixed, ' thus constructing and perpetuating an unbalanced power relation. Second, and more troublesome, is the slippery-slope from sympathy to disgust. Ferreday skillfully highlights the shift in perception of pro-anas as victims (deserving of sympathy) to villains (deserving of disgust). She suggests that pro-ana authors are positioned as confused victims, who as a direct result of this confusion, produce "hate speech" that must be censored: This drive to delete, to censor, becomes re-imagined as a desire to protect vulnerable others, such as teenage girls, from danger. So we can see a shift here from seeing pro-ana authors as pitiable victims to an insistence that these sites victimize others... One article blames pro-ana exclusively for the increasing numbers of pre-adolescents developing the disease. 4 5 Thus, what begins (arguably) as a feeling of sympathy for all anorexics is cultivated into a culture of disgust at the villainy of pro-ana authors the moment vulnerable others are considered. However, given the insistence of the pro-ana community that it is not actively recruiting members, Roxanne Kirkwood seems correct in arguing that "the frustration, shock, and outrage seem to stem from the boldness with which these girls claim their identity and share it, though not necessarily promote i t . " 4 6 The censure of pro-ana voices, and the resulting demand for their censoring, is not born from sympathy, 4 5 Ferreday, 289. 4 6 Roxanne Kirkwood, "Support choice, support people: an argument for the study of pro-anorexia websites," Atenea: a bilingual journal of the humanities and social sciences. Special Issue on the Discourse of Disability 25:1 (2005): 117. 19 but from disgust. What is the source of the dominant and dominating social disgust? Not consensus; instead, the culture of disgust is rooted more-or-less consciously in the biomedical ethos of anorexia as a disease that must be cured. Although the medical community is only a fraction of society-at-large, the power of scientific and medical authority to influence (and even determine directly) the consciousness of society-at-large awesome. The biomedical ethos as an explanatory model normalizes a set of scientific expectations for disease and other "deviant behaviours" and "natural life events." 4 7 Emma Rich argues that "the medical and psychological professions possess a profound capacity to structure the mainstream discourse on 'thinness' and 'eating disorders'." 4 8 Thus positioned by the powerful medical discourse as a deviant behaviour, anorexia becomes a problem for society, which Ferreday suggests 'must' be cured by a "higher, usually medical authority." 4 9 This is the key to understanding the wondrous strength and passion present in reactions to pro-ana - the pervasiveness of the biomedical model, and the high degree to which its diagnoses are accepted as 'true' or 'common sense,' means that any voices that say otherwise are disgusting. 5 0 Arguably the most public (and certainly the most memorable) evidence of this can be found in the guest appearance of Dr. Hol ly Huff on the Oprah Winfrey show in 2001. Huff, representing the National Eating Disorder Association of America, evoked 4 7 Peter Conrad, "Medicalization and social control," Annual Review of Sociology 18 (1992): 209-32. 4 8 Rich, 294. 4 9 Ferreday, 290. 5 0 The quintessential theorist of how the medicalization of certain identities creates this sort of disgust is, o f course, Michel Foucault, especially in History of Sexuality and Discipline and Punish. 20 precisely the 'villainous hate-speech' line of argument described above in her attack on pro-ana websites, suggesting that allowing them to exist "is like placing a loaded gun in the hands of someone who is feeling suicidal." 5 1 The resulting public outcry (of a quality and quantity that few in America other than Oprah could generate) led search engines such as Yahoo! and free hosting companies such as geocities, angelfire, and M S N , to catalogue and remove pro-ana sites from their servers and directories. Kirkwood anecdotally notes that shortly after this widespread removal of pro-ana sites, a Yahoo! search for 'get drunk fast' returned over two billion links. H u f f s simile, however, remains the key to understanding why pro-ana sites are erased within a culture of disgust while others that promote 'harmful behaviour' are allowed to remain. In contrast to the biomedical ethos (and so in contrast to the biomedically-shaped 'common sense' of the lay population), pro-ana sites do not define all anorexia as deviant behaviour that requires curing. This set of ideas becomes the 'loaded gun' in the hands of the 'suicidal ' person. O f course, one does not have to dig too deeply to understand the underlying implications of H u f f s statement: pro-ana pages place 'ideas' into the minds of'deviant' , 'vulnerable', 'incapable' women. In the face of such a highly publicized and particularly inflammatory (and yet not uncommon) reaction to pro-ana, it is not surprising or unfounded that a number of feminist criticisms have proposed a different kind of understanding of anorexia, not as medical condition but as political construction. 5 1 "Gir ls Who Don't Eat." Oprah Winfrey Show. A B C . December 5, 2001. quoted in Shade, pg 5. 5 2 Kirkwood, 128. 21 the medium is the nuisance: a s o c i o c u l t u r a l f e m i n i s t r e s p o n s e Along with the culture of disgust discourse, which was buttressed by the biomedical model of anorexia, one of the initial and most powerful critiques of the pro-ana community arises from the feminist community. Here, attention is focused not only on problematizing pro-ana voices, but also laying blame for the emergence of eating disorders in general squarely on the oppressive patriarchal structures of both the biomedical model and the disgust propagated by the mass media. For the purposes of this essay, this argument w i l l be referred to as the 'sociocultural critique.' A t an essential level, this critique is concerned with challenging the biomedical model's deeply-rooted implication that eating disorders (and especially the disordered thought of pro-anas) are the result of the deviant psychopathy of individual women; instead, disordered eating must be understood within a context of the broad historical, sociocultural, and economic oppression of women by the dually patriarchal ideologies of late capitalism and Western ideas (and idealization) of female beauty. Pollack suggests that " in Deluzian terms, one could make the claim that the medical and psychiatric institutions deterritorialized the feminist discourse on anorexia by redirecting its attention from oppressive misogynist practices to those of biology and illness." 5 3 Thus, a pro-anorexic standpoint is not merely symptomatic of a psychological disease, but is also indicative of attempts to regain control within larger structures of subordination. But what, for proponents of this critique, is the root cause of eating disorders? What is the origin of these oppressive misogynist practices and larger structures of subordination? If the biomedical ethos incorrectly or inadequately locates the source of Pollack, 247. 22 disordered eating within the 'insane brains' o f individual women, the sociocultural critique is eager to highlight likely contributors to, i f not constitutors of, the problem: the mass media. Claire Carter suggests that popular culture, propagated through mass media by capitalism, "has focused a great deal of attention on young women and their bodies," 5 4 presenting messages of female agency and empowerment (think "girl power") together and in cooperation with images of feminine beauty that are not pragmatically realizable. One needs only to think of the plethora of imagery and dieting advice in popular 'women's ' magazines such as Cosmopolitan or Seventeen to understand how disordered eating might be posited as flowing from a societal pressure to 'perfect' the feminine body. 5 5 The work-out tips, crash diets, 'empowering' aphorisms ("look cute instead of colossal" 5 6 with "405 ways to look hot" 5 7), clothing and perfume ads, and other ad nauseum depictions of ideal standards of Western beauty are only one step removed from the lists of'safe foods', the anorexic pyramids, the similarly 'empowering' aphorisms (there are "long lean days ahead" 5 8 because "thin people look good in all clothes" 5 9), and the thinspirational photo galleries found at pro-ana websites. Indeed, the thinspirational galleries provide an especially pungent example for the sociocultural argument. As Clair Carter, "Negotiations with Femininity: 'The Personal is Poli t ical ' Revisited in Third Wave Feminism," Views from the Edge 11.1 (2002): 120-121. 5 5 See Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, (New York: Harper Collins, 1991). W o l f s historical argument is that as the legal and political barriers to women's full agency/participation were broken down by second wave feminism, there was a societal backlash in the form of a more insidious campaign around women's body images and 'beauty.' This has a correlated ( if not causal) relationship to the steady rise of anorexia in the last twenty to thirty years. 5 6 Cosmopolitan Magazine, December 2006 5 7 Seventeen Magazine, December 2006 5 8 A n a Angel , http://www.freewebs.com/0oanaangelo0/ (accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). 5 9 "67 Reasons not to eat", Crispy Penguin's GYM. http://www.freewebs.com/crispypenguin/waterfoutain.htm (Accessible as of Nov 27 2006). 23 indicated above, these collections often present photos of 'anorexic' bodies alongside photos of hyper-thin models and actresses. Pollack aptly underscores that " i f the models and celebrities were not familiar to us, it would be very difficult to discern between the 'deviant' bodies of the anorexics and the 'normal' and 'acceptable' bodies of the models." 6 0 It is important to note that while this line of critique tends towards the absolution of individual women who display disordered eating behaviours ( if not at least forgives them for succumbing to the patriarchal pressures of the free market), it shares, for different reasons, the same goal as the biomedical community: the end of the behaviour and the silencing of the voice. Just as a pro-ana "identity" is unacceptable in the biomedical understanding because it represents disordered thinking, so too is a pro-ana identity unacceptable in sociocultural feminist critique because it represents over-acceptance and reinforcement of patriarchal pressures. Indeed, it could be suggested that pro-anas are merely suffering from a false consciousness, fetishizing the (over)control of their own body in a context of social discipline and punishment of female bodies in general. Cressida Heyes cites Susan Bordo and Sandra Bartky as the "best-known advocates" of a feminist perspective that posits dieters (and thus, by extreme association, anorexics) as women who have been ideologically duped by an oppressive set of beauty ideals: being thin w i l l make us (hetero)sexually desirable, aesthetically pleasing to ourselves and others, and better able to build an image that is appropriately feminine. 6 1 6 0 Dias, 36. 6 1 Cressida J. Heyes, "Foucault Goes to Weight Watchers," Hypatia 21.2 (2006): 125. Susan Bordo, while not resorting to an extreme false-consciousness-based argument, nonetheless presents a patriarchy-oversubscription line of argument. See Susan Bordo, 24 Thus, just as the disease is to be cured in the biomedical model 'whether pro-ana or not', the sociocultural critique demands the reversal and destruction of the historical, sociocultural, and economic forces of female oppression of which anorexic behaviour is symptomatic. The voices of those in the pro-ana community are still, in this line of analysis, anomalous, problematic, and i f not 'dysfunctional', at least ' i l l-informed', 'one-dimensional', or an embodied 'false consciousness.' The sociocultural model thus shares the anti-hermeneutic dimension of the biomedical model - the refusal to take seriously the voices and self-understandings of the agents in question. Thus, the silencing of pro-ana voices is still viewed as appropriate - or even necessary. Pollack offers the eerily predictive caveat that she is "wary of the possibility that postmodern feminists may romanticize pro-eating disorder websites as political statements, and, in essence, condone the inherent self-destructiveness that such protest entails and create new possibilities for 62 the pro-anorexic to become a symbolic martyr." subverting dessert (and more): a p o s t m o d e r n f e m i n i s t r e s p o n s e There is a prophetic element in Pollack's 'wariness.' Conversely to Pollack, Kirkwood argues that "as a whole, the initial reaction from feminists was a dismissal of the girls' voices as authentic in favour of a patriarchy indoctrinization of which the girls were unaware." 6 3 The postmodernist feminist perspective problematizes this dismissal, wary that silencing the voices of pro-ana devastates agency. Karen Dias underlines the Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). 6 2 Pollack, 249. 6 3 Ki rkwood, 125. 25 sociocultural disapproval of the pro-ana community, suggesting that they ignore "other possible causes of [pro-ana] behaviour, aside from conformity and 'slavery to the media ' . " 6 4 The implication is that pro-ana narratives could reveal an important understanding of how the sociocultural, political, and economic contexts are implicated in the production of subjectivity, life experience, and the body of the anorexic 6 5 - a more robust understanding that is missed i f the pro-ana community is dismissed as ' i l l -informed' or composed of women who (oversubscribe to patriarchal ideals. Contrary to sociocultural theories of anorexia as the result of female submission to the beauty standards perpetuated by the media, Grosz asserts that anorexia behaviour (and thus by implication, especially pro-ana behaviour) is "precisely the renunciation of these ideas." 6 6 From this line of argument flows the postmodern position that the voices of the pro-ana community are an online manifestation of agency. Conceived in this way, pro-ana websites are literal 'sites' of challenge as anorexics, empowered through digital connections and community, agentically resist the dominating oppression of the biomedical ethos and the culture of disgust. This articulation of resistance can be seen, following Judith Butler, to involve a significant and subversive resignification - the uptake and use by pro-anas o f the precise discourse that they wish to challenge according to this postmodern perspective. Thus, the careful documenting of symptoms and treatment techniques on medical/psychiatric websites is used by pro-ana sites to teach Dias, 37. 6 5 Helen Malson, The Thin Woman: Feminism, Poststructuralism and the Social Psychology of Anorexia Nervosa (London: Routledge, 1998): 138. 6 6 Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994): 40. 26 lessons on detection avoidance and ways to fake compliance with prescribed treatments.67 Similarly, there is evidence of the resignification of those beauty ideals propagated through the mass media in the thinspirational galleries, in which pro-anas "claim" celebrities like Mary-Kate Olsen and Nicole Ritchie as their own. Perhaps even more interesting is the digital manipulation of photos to make people seem 'more anorexic'. The author of Pro-Ana Nation acknowledges this resignification, suggesting that "manipulated photos are used extensively in the fields of the media, beauty and fashion 68 industry, and have also been used in pro-ana websites." This postmodern understanding posits pro-anas as agents, with voices providing a type of'reverse discourse' that challenges the accepted discursive mainstream. Most importantly, this emphasis on the importance of the subjective agential voice implicates ' l ived experience' in the formation of narrative - individual pro-ana's become "choice biographers par excellence." 6 9 Thus, the subjective experience of anorexic life and anorexic body cannot be explained through grand narratives either of medical/psychological supremacy, or of overbearing patriarchal domination. Pro-anas should be allowed to speak, because all perspectives should be voiced. The postmodern feminist position is one of inclusion, but inclusion in a larger aggregation of subjective experiences rather than in a conflicrual but consensus-aspiring deliberative/adjudicative procedure. Pro-ana voices provide a valuable alternative to the dominant discourse and are valued as such, and their inherently subjective truth-content "Thinspiration", Ana Angel, http://www.freewebs.com/OoanaangeloO/thinspiration.htm (Accessible as of Nov 27 2006) 6 8 "Manipluated Pics", Pro Ana Nation, http://www.pro-ana-nation.com/vl /index.php?option=content&task=view&id=78 (Accessible as of Nov 27 2006) 6 9 Anita Harris, "Revisiting Bedroom Culture: New Spaces for Young Women's Politics," Hecate 27:1 (May 2001): 131. 27 cannot, from a postmodern position, be challenged. A challenge might be leveled against an interpretation of these web techniques as any sort of resignification or reclamation: certainly the thinspirational galleries, prescriptive regiments of diets and pills, and techniques of treatment-avoidance do nothing but reinforce patriarchal norms and exemplify the unfortunate 'dysfunction' of the anorexic. Admittedly, pro-ana sites are filled with representations of anorexics specifically and anorexia in general; however, these representations are presented through an arguably subversive medium, leaping from Internet server to Internet server. The very pervasiveness and vigour demonstrated by the authors of pro-ana websites in terms of a commitment to circumventing the censure and censoring of their creations suggests there may be something happening that is much more than a simple online mirror of offline patriarchy. Dias highlights that "their very presence in public spaces and their ability to resist and subvert pressures to behave creates something of a parody of these impossible norms and demonstrates their agency pose in spite of the backlash." 7 0 Even i f one is wil l ing to accept the claim that there is a certain amount of patriarchal reinforcement occurring through the images and text of pro-ana websites, this does not foreclose the possibility of authorial agency; reinforcement of dominant norms is not mutually exclusive with resignification of the dominant norms - indeed, they might be seen as, to some degree, mutually dependent. The argument that pro-ana sites reinforce hegemonic, patriarchal norms of beauty does not, by implication, remove the attribution of a postmodern form of agency within the narratives of the pro-ana community. Dias, 42. 28 the three models in review: h o w c a p a b l e a r e p r o - a n a s ? The three models of anorexic eating behaviour argue that pro-ana voices are not suitable for discursive consideration, either because they question the cognitive capability of the pro-ana or, in the case of the postmodern feminist perspective, because experiences are subjective and thus cannot be considered 'more true' or 'less true.' While each perspective certainly sheds some light on the shadowy questions of pro-ana, they are not without their limits and risks. M y suggestion is that the biomedical model deals unnecessary damage to pro-anas through the effective quarantining of the pro-ana standpoint.7 1 The sociocultural feminist response is similarly damaging; however, rather than simply excluding a pro-ana voice from popular discourse, this reaction is harmfully patronizing. Finally, the acute voice-focus and agent-endorsement of the postmodern feminist model of anorexia has a dangerous consequence when taken to its limits: it becomes impossible to adjudicate between competing truth claims. It is difficult to suggest that the biomedical model offers no insight into the understanding and treatment of the health of anorexia; however, by censoring pro-ana voices as mere symptoms of a larger psychological disordered rationality, the biomedical model dominates these voices through a double quarantine. First, the biomedical model segregates pro-anas from the mainstream understandings of rationality (from where the 72 roots of both anorexic behaviour and pro-ana embracing may spring forth). Rich aptly highlights how the biomedical perspective displays a tendency "to understate various 7 1 A criticism could be raised that in making this argument I am privileging agency over health. While I understand this line of argument, my intention is not to privilege one or the other, but to underline their interrelation - something perhaps misunderstood by the biomedical, sociocultural, and postmodern feminist reactions to pro-ana. Malson, The Thin Woman, tx-x. 29 73 social and moral dimensions" of whatever 'disease' it is modeling. More strongly, Fox et. al critique the over-individualizing tendencies of biomedical diagnoses as a "colonizing narrative that emphasizes individual responsibility for health and wellbeing." 7 4 Those who lay claim to the pro-ana lifestyle must do so in opposition to the dominant biomedical model and its focus on recovery. Being forced to label themselves 'anti-recovery', anorexics find that social support systems (traditionally offered by friends and family) are problematized by the culture of disgust. It appears as i f the only place to turn is to the medical and psychiatric community - there is simply no discussion of the larger influential ( if not causal) oppressive structures like patriarchal beauty ideals or the perpetuation of diet information through the mass media. The second quarantining effect is the individualizing of the pro-ana voice; as a consequence, most in the medical community would deny the existence of a pro-ana "community" outright. Instead, as Dias argues, congruent with medial and psychiatric discourses about the 'irrational' and 'distorted' individual thinking patterns of those with eating disorders, we are left with the impression that the problem lies in these individual women and the 75 'outrageous' practices they endorse. This reaction further reinforces the separation of those who engage in disordered eating from those who do not, but more problematically, it separates the former from each other, from others who engage in the same behaviour. This implication of biomedical diagnosis may actually act as a correlative influence on the creation of the pro-ana voice in the first place by further removing social support systems: there are very real health Rich, 285. Fox et al, 947. Dias 37, emphasis mine. 30 ramifications that stem from not being heard. Documenting the results of an ethnographic study of a disordered-eating institution, Rich provides examples of the loneliness and feelings of separation that accompany anorexia. 7 6 It is not too difficult to understand how a colonizing, quarantining model of a 'dysfunctional behaviour' might influence similarly-diagnosed individuals to seek out similarly-minded individuals simply for support. For this reason, the double-quarantining domination of the anorexic that occurs as a result of the biomedical disease-model is implicated somewhat in the construction and maintenance of pro-ana discourse. Perhaps the most tragic aspect of this connection is that the lesson is not learned: by positing pro-ana self-identification as a mere psychological symptom of a greater psychological disorder, the biomedical model further quarantines and separates the patient from society-at-large and other patients. The sociocultural critique of pro-ana is similarly problematic. While this model locates 'blame' overtly and primarily on sources away from the medical subject (instead focusing on the media and their perpetuation of patriarchal socio-cultural norms), it endorses a harmfully patronizing insinuation that there is something inherently and weakly anti-feminist about engaging in 'disordered' eating. As a consequence, those pro-anas who wil l ingly maintain this behaviour, while not 'insane' or 'irrational' as the biomedical model might suppose, are certainly very stupid. Here, I use the (admittedly) loaded term "stupid" as shorthand for the patronizing belief that anorexic women lack agency in the face of the overwhelming patriarchal structures in which they are immersed. Thus, their actions are defined wholly in terms of the oppression of patriarchy without leaving any room for the idea that they may be agents acting in accordance with Rich, 300. 31 their free w i l l . This is not to suggest that acknowledging some sense of agency demands the acceptance of pro-ana experience as completely objective truth. Kirkwood parodies what she refers to as the "hypocrisy" of the sociocultural critiqur, stating "after all , aren't 77 we all subjected to these messages? A n d we don't become anorexic." I am responsible for the term "stupid" - the sociocultural response to pro-ana is implicated in its appropriateness. Looking at pro-ana websites suggests that this patronizing attitude may be unsubstantiated. Pro-ana websites do not provide evidence of the underlying delusion or stupidity of their creators; rather, they are composed agentically and reveal a greater knowledge about medicine, media, and indeed, feminism than that with which their authors are popularly attributed. Pro Ana Nation documents the medical "horrors of ana" 7 8 including damage to vital organs, hormonal abnormalities, and osteoporosis, as well as criticizing "bad tips" 7 9 like diet pills, eating paper, or the use of the emetic syrup of ipecac. Writer and webpage creator E m i Koyama regularly self-publishes what could fairly be called feminist manifestos on "intersex, sex workers' rights, (queer) domestic 80 violence, genderqueer, anti-racism, and other issues." One of those 'other issues' is often pro-ana. 8 1 Pro-ana [DOT] U S even takes an actively political tone in a perhaps " K i r k w o o d , 124. 7 8 "Horrors of Ana" , Pro Ana Nation. http://www.pro-ana-nation.com/vl/index. php?option=content&task=view&id=67 (Accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). 7 9 "Bad Tips", Pro Ana Nation. http://www.pro-ana-nation.com/vl/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=53 (Accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). O A http://www.eminism.org 8 1 E m i Koyama, Whose Feminism Js It Anyway? and other essays from the third wave. http://www.eminism.org/readings/pdf-rdg/whose-feminism.pdf (Accessible as of Nov 27 2006). 32 surprising way: after distinguishing between medical diagnoses of anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia, and binge disorder, the author(s) of the site criticizes remaining medical category of "eating disorder, not specified", demanding that this behaviour be further researched. 8 2 These are not silly overdieting tips from stupid little girls who have read too many fashion magazines; there is a level of developed thought and reasoning that exists in tension with a sociocultural patriarchy-over-subscription critique of anorexia. The irony is that by overlooking the developed agency and reasoning of pro-anas, the sociocultural critique misses the counter-patriarchal feminist critique that is (at least somewhat) contained in pro-ana messages. There is much evidence in the literature of pro-ana analysis to support my claim that pro-ana websites challeng the patronizing implications of the sociocultural line of criticism. Kirkwood argues that pro-ana advocates "seem to understand that their 'illness' is more like depression, anxiety, and alcoholism than the doctors may have previously thought." 8 3 Dias suggests that "these women, unlike the portrayals of them as being in denial, are actually quite articulate and seemingly aware of their circumstances," 8 4 and, thus, that "there is much more depth and meaning in women's pro-anorexia narratives than may be obvious by listening to dominant interpretations of their messages."8 5 This deeper understanding and factual knowledge about the 'disease' with which they have been diagnosed, the 'healthier/healthiest' ways to ensure the continuation of the behaviours that they value, and the likely reaction of the 8 2 "Eating Disorders Not Specified", Pro Ana Nation. http://www.pro-ana-nation.com/vl/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=72 (Accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). 8 3 Kirkwood, 117. 8 4 Dias, 38. 851bid., 41. 33 medical/psychiatric and sociocultural communities (to say nothing of the knowledge of H T M L , web-design, and Internet publishing) highlights an essential paradox of the pro-ana community. While anorexia is understood by pro-anas explicitly as a 'disease' to an extent not understood by the patronizing sociocultural feminist criticism, it is simultaneously endorsed explicitly as a 'lifestyle'. Attributing pro-ana claims to disillusionment, stupidity, or lack of knowledge denies outright the agency and level of 86 comprehension of those making the claims. Certainly this does nothing to break down the sociocultural, historical, patriarchal body/beauty ideals that are the target of this line of feminist criticism; arguably, an embracing and study of these agential voices would reveal a wealth of information invaluable to just such an attack. There is, however, a danger in oversubscription and overbelief in the inherent "truth" of the claims made by pro-ana voices. There are two dangerous implications of extolling the agency-focus of postmodernism with regards to pro-ana. The first is immediately tangible. It is not difficult to foresee the tragic potentiality of a pro-ana statement like "I embrace anorexia because I am not yet ready to recover" i f postmodern feminism dictates a response along the lines of "I respect your agency and wi l l provide you with treatment i f and when you are ready." A belief in the agency of a pro-ana individual must not be allowed to translate into a belief in the pure, unadulterated objective Truth of that individual's claims, clearing the conscience of the postmodern theorist while the anorexic slowly expires. The second complication of a postmodern feminist endorsement of pro-ana agency flows from the first. Even i f agential voices are (properly, I wi l l argue) 8 6 This is not to suggest that all pro-ana advocates are automatically models for appropriate behaviour by very nature of their support. 34 understood as relating subjective experiences deserving of discursive consideration, the postmodern position provides no method of adjudicating between competing truth claims. Examples of this can range from small, almost definitional disagreements (is anorexia a 'disease', a 'lifestyle', both, or neither?) to large, cavernous, irreconcilable divides. The latter is exemplified in the emergence of anti-pro-ana sites created by self-identified 'anorexics. ' 8 7 It is important to distinguish between anti-pro-ana sites created by anorexics and anti-pro-ana sites created as a reaction from the biomedical/psychiatric community and the culture of disgust. While the overall message of these websites may be alike, the latter voice is not subject to charges of irrationality, disorder, or disease (and, consequently, the discounting of agency) that the former experiences. Postmodernism suggests there is something inherently valuable in a diversity of voices and perspectives: the anorexic struggling with treatment; the anorexic embracing the behaviour as a lifestyle; the anorexic who is repulsed to find that someone else is will ingly engaging in the behaviour with which she is fighting; the ex-pro-ana who feels she has now 'come to her senses' and wants to warn others against maintaining a pro-ana mindset. It does not, however, provide any sort of mechanism or standard with which to judge these competing truth-claims. I f the voices of pro-ana agents, taken together, represented a singularly homogenous idea, this task might be made easier; unfortunately, this is not the case. The postmodern feminist deconstruction of pro-ana creates a positive and beneficial focus on the agency of pro-ana individuals. The dangers exist in the lack of normative mechanisms of evaluation. It appears that the proposed answers to the questions raised by the existence of a 8 7 "What is Pro-Ana?" Ana Death | Its a Slow Suicide. http://www.freewebs.com/anadeath/whatisproana.htm (Accessible as of Nov 27, 2006). pro-ana identity are problematically dominating. Although it provides a valuable understanding of the physiological workings of anorexia, the biomedical model, with its treatment-focus, is harmful to pro-anas. The biomedical model breeds a culture of disgust, then quarantines patients more or less successfully from community support. Only on the boundaries of the Internet has a shared identity been able to show signs of formation. A sociocultural feminist interpretation is valuable, on the one hand, for its attack on the propagation of patriarchal norms; on the other, its patronizing-by-implication understanding of the anorexic subject seems to discount the value to be gleaned from the lived experiences of these subjects, and the use of these narratives to attack those same dominating, patriarchal discourses. Finally, postmodern feminism underlines the importance of those subjective pro-ana voices dismissed by the other models of anorexia, but at a dangerous normative (and potentially physical) cost. Where, then, i f anywhere, can answers be found? 36 DELIBERATION AS FAIR, FREE, AND STRATEGIC I argue that open dialogue with pro-anas, rather than pre-discursive censorship, is in this case more fair, free, and quite probably more fruitful. Thus, I propose the 88 somewhat radical solution of dialoguing with the voices of the pro-ana community within the non-virtual public sphere (as opposed to merely on the Internet) as a potential identity group. While I believe Dias is correct that an accommodative suggestion of this o n nature may appear to be a "transgressive act" , I maintain that this level of transgression carries two important and related potentialities, each of which are examined below. First, in listening7azV/y to these voices in the channels appropriate to identity-type claims, the embodied protest and subjective lived-agency of pro-anas would not be harmfully undermined. 9 0 It is important to recall the correlation between agency and physical health; thus, I am not merely suggesting that dialogue is good because it is agentically-enabling, but, furthermore, that open dialogue may have considerable health benefits for the anorexic. Second, and following from the first point, considering pro-ana in this way can be seen as a strategic move. At the very least, it wi l l provide a more appropriate reason for the future censure and censoring of pro-ana voices than that of knee-jerk disgust; taken to its extreme, perhaps it wi l l render pro-ana unnecessary for reasons that I use this term to encapsulate the communicative acts of 'listening to,' 'considering seriously,' and 'responding to'; the 'obviousness' of dialoguing perhaps betrays its novelty. This can be properly revealed by contrasting it with the other reactions to pro-ana, all o f which immediately 'respond to' it without 'listening' or 'considering' what is being said. 8 9 Dias, 31. 9 0 While a discussion of how to decide which identity claims are legitimate and which are not is beyond the scope of this paper, and, indeed, is hotly contested within the literature of identity politics, I believe that my argument remains cogent: pro-ana should be treated, at least in the first instance, as any other "potential" identity, whatever that treatment may entail. 37 are acceptable from all sides of the debate. Al lowing the collective voice of the potential-identity "pro-ana" to become included in, rather than positioning it as subversive of, the dominant discourse would prevent the crippling of agency without necessarily endorsing those agents as Truth-sites; this compromise would be the most fair way to answer the pro-ana question. If the anorexic body is properly understood by a sociocultural critique as a site of struggle, then so too is there a struggle over where and how the anorexic (or pro-ana, anti-pro-ana, or otherwise) gives voice to the body, narrating that body's experience. 9 1 It is the latter struggle that demands fair reconciliation between two seemingly incongruent positions. On the one hand, the culture of disgust banishes pro-ana narratives to the outskirts of cyberspace, and, even then, it would prefer i f those narratives ceased to exist entirely. On the other, pro-ana websites maintain that their choice of behaviours be respected by the public-at-large, and attempts to 'cure' them (effectively extinguishing their 'community') should cease. It appears, at first, that reconciliation of these viewpoints is impossible. Nonetheless, I believe there is a potential for reconciliation here. The (albeit transgressive) erosion of the culture of disgust and amplification of pro-ana voices does not come without obligation from the 'other side.' Dialogue means that, allowed to speak, a pro-ana voice must be open to consideration, challenge, and crit icism. 9 2 It also requires a certain kind of basis for respect for all participants as a condition of dialogue, which is certainly possible, i f not necessarily easy. This inclusion of pro-ana narratives 9 1 Dias, 31. 9 2 Here, I am drawing on Habermas' suggestion that free and open discourse requires the ability for all parties to introduce any assertion whatever, question any assertion whatever, and speak honestly at all times. See Jurgen Habermas, "Discourse Ethics,: Notes on Philosophical Justification," in Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge: M I T Press, 1990), 43-115. 38 within public discourse is enabling of agency without endowing the narratives with some type of metaphysical Truth. Ferreday argues that the ideal discursive community is not one in which the body is transcended, but one where 'different' 's ick' bodies are made visible and where it is possible to speak out about one's experiences of embodiment and of encountering abuse and prejudice as a result of being positioned as other. 9 3 Thus, it can be seen that beneath the radical attacks on both the biomedically-dominated, overtly patriarchal culture of disgust and the postmodern feminist investment in embodied subjectivity lies a perhaps more simple idea: all parties benefit from fairly and properly dialoguing with a voice that appears from a body that is disappearing. There are prospective strategic results of the discursive inclusion of the pro-ana community as a potential-identity. A t the very least, the fairness of the compromise provides whatever discursive results arise with some sort of legitimacy. Thus, at the conclusion of a hypothetical debate between pro-ana voices and disgusted voices, claims about the ordered or disordered nature of a certain set of behaviours would have been necessarily grounded in appeals to reasoned lines of argument. The silencing of pro-ana voices would take on a qualitatively and normatively different aspect depending on i f it occured after careful consideration of the voices themselves or not: it would become acceptably non-dominating. While I am wary of making predictions, it does appear that 'silencing' in such an altered circumstance could also take new forms, such as the legal requirement that pro-ana websites, while allowed to exist, include mandatory information about the dangers to health posed by anorexic eating behaviours. Alternatively, the Ferreday, 287. 39 outcome of discursive compromise might be a refining of biomedical and socio-cultural assumptions about anorexia (as well as pro-anorexia) as a result of well-reasoned, convincing pro-ana arguments. While there is no way to predict the outcome of fair, well-considered debate, it is clear that the discursive result would be more strategically useful than simple, instantaneous silencing. Taken to a strategic extreme, dialoguing with pro-ana voices might effectively remove the 'need' for a pro-ana standpoint for reasons that would be acceptable to all parties. There is ample evidence of this potentiality in the literature. Pollack argues that silencing these women "perpetuates the current interplay of dominant cultural discourses that enticed the anorexic to take a pro-eating disorder stance in the first place" and highlights that "history should show that the 'moral panic' route propagated by the popular media is most likely not going to convince pro-anorexic supporters to give up their quest."9 4 We cannot undermine the mysticism of the pro-anorexic by hunting her as i f she were a witch. Dias targets the "surveillance and regulatory mechanisms of control of the public sphere" as the reason why women who are struggling with anorexia turn to the Internet for sanctuary.9 5 Indeed, Fox et al. suggest that the pro-ana community is a coping mechanism, and i f pro-ana is "a response to social and emotional difficulties, and one that enables individuals to cope, then it makes no sense to 'cure' this coping mechanism." 9 6 I f pro-ana websites, community, and potentially even identity, are thus understood as a coping mechanism for dealing with the exclusionary discipline of the public sphere, then the true strategic potentiality of my inclusive suggestion becomes Pollack, 249, 247. Dias, 31. Fox et all, 963. 40 clear: rather than 'curing the coping mechanism,' the fair, dialogical inclusion of pro-ana narratives in dominant discourse might just 'cure' the conditions to which the pro-ana community was formed as a response in the first instance. Finally, using deliberation to check and legitimate the capabilities of its participants enriches and democratizes the act and process of deliberation itself. Thomas Christiano suggests that "public deliberation transforms, modifies, and clarifies the beliefs and preferences of the citizens of a political society." 9 7 For Gaus, deliberation builds "shared judgment." 9 8 Knight and Johnson argue that "deliberation revolves centrally around the uncoerced give and take of reasoned argument." 9 9 Meanwhile, passing judgment on the capacities and capabilities of potential participants prior to deliberation taints these desirable effects with a decidedly undemocratic flavour. So, public judgment is like salt: used incorrectly (too much and too soon) it spoils the dish; used properly (at an appropriate time and in proportion) it enriches the final outcome. Habermas suggests that "normative reasons can achieve an indirect steering effect only to the extent that the political system does not, for its part, steer the very production of these reasons." 1 0 0 Capability should be defined through deliberation, not before. Thomas Christiano, "The Significance of Public Deliberation" in Deliberative Democracy, 244. 9 8 Gaus, 226. 9 9 Knight and Johnson, 281. 1 0 0 Jurgen Habermas, "Popular Sovereignty as Procedure" in Deliberative Democracy, 56. 41 CONCLUSION In this paper I have highlighted the tensions between, and weaknesses of, three of the most prominent reactions to pro-ana voices, and have argued for the dialogical treatment of these previously (and currently) silenced voices in mainstream public discourse. While a precise plan of the implementation of my suggestion is outside the scope of this paper, the fair and strategic potentialities of such an accomodative course of action highlight this as an important area for further research. Evaluating pro-anas as potentially-capable complicates understandings of anorexia itself. Rather than focusing on a single, disordered, irrational individual, space is opened up for the extension of real, tangible benefits to a group of people who are excluded, quarantined, and judged. B y arguing for an end to the individualizing, agency-damaging effects of the biomedical model, the deconstruction of the culture of disgust, and the inclusion and contemplation of pro-ana voices, I am not asking for the widespread support of anorexia. Instead, I am demanding the support of those people who are struggling, in one way or another, with their own behaviour patterns. Society-at-large seems to find a pro-ana identity rather hard to swallow; however, perhaps there is an important normative difference between being "pro-anorexia" and "pro-anorexic." 1 0 1 The former suggests support of a disease, nothing else. The latter encapsulates a human subject, irreducible to 'disease', for whom attention and cure must go hand in hand. The necessary first step is to stop forcing food and words into the starved mouth of pro-ana and, instead, open up to the potentialities of dialogue. While I am wary of carelessly generalizing my thesis to all silenced-because-they-1 0 1 Fox et al, 963. 42 are-deemed-incapable voices, it does seem to illuminate the potential of deliberative democracy to 'handle' such 'problematic' identities. Many once-excluded voices are now, at least somewhat, included in mainstream deliberation. Deliberative procedures have been made more democratic, free, and fair thanks to the testing of the capabilities of queer, deaf, and anti-racist theorists. Similarly, post-deliberative judgment has enabled a more legitimate denunciation of homophobic, colonial, and white supremacist beliefs than would be possible i f these undesirable opinions had been pre-censored as incapable. So, perhaps there is potential for deliberation to flesh out the complicated, often-censored voices of prisoners, homeless activists, and hard-drug users. I f the choice of test is "the people say so" versus "Oprah says so", it is clear exactly which option is more democratic and desirable. Indeed, Habermas suggests that "the exercise of political domination [can] be legitimated neither religiously (by appeal to divine authority) nor metaphysically (by appeal to an ontologically grounded natural law) ." 1 0 2 Instead, capability and capacity should be tested and verified through deliberation and only then included/excluded as appropriate. With a nod to the pro-ana, the homeless, and the hard-drug activist, Bohman is correct in saying that "more is at stake in this debate than the adequacy of theories." 1 0 3 Even i f this debate is at first theoretical and abstract, human lives hang tangibly in the balance. Habermas, "Popular Sovereignty as Procedure," 41. 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