Svetlana M. Bardina

MSSES, Moscow


The article examines the social aspect of the phenomenon of distorted body image perception in anorexia nervosa. In classical social theory, particularly, in Erving Goffman’s sociology, a social interaction is made possible by mutual bodily visibility of participants. Anorexia nervosa is an example of a complicated relation between the look, the body and a social interaction. Various conceptions of anorexia nervosa, which explain the phenomenon of body image disturbance in anorexia nervosa, including ‘individualistic’, ‘sociological’ and phenomenological conceptions, are analyzed in the following text. In individualistic model distorted body image is understood as a result of congenital or acquired disturbance of visual perception. In contrast, sociological model is focused on the social sphere. Phenomenological model allows describing both individual and social aspects, because it is presumed that a patient perceives himself as being seen by the Other. Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenology, concepts ‘beingfor-other’ and ‘look of the Other’ are important for this model. Distorted perception of the body is regarded as an effect of feeling the look of the Other, hence, reducing the body to an object-like state, alienation, and feeling bulky and awkward. Then the author describes this phenomenon in terms of symbolic interactionism. Anorectic’s behavior might be interpreted as a hypertrophied wish for avoiding a scene of confusion and ‘saving one’s face’. Thus, the given model of anorexia nervosa demonstrates that the same phenomena under normal circumstances make social interaction possible, but when the perception of the body and of the Other’s look is distorted and hypertrophied, they destroy social interaction.

Keywords: Jean-Paul Sartre, Erving Goffman, phenomenology of the body, body image, anorexia nervosa, look, social interaction