ANTHROP 1AA3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Anorexia Nervosa, Medical Anthropology, Oaxaca City
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Culture-Specific Syndromes Case Study: Anorexia
Culture Specific Syndromes
•Health problem with symptoms associated with a particular culture
•Underlying causes - stress, fear, shock
•Victims often socially marginalized
Major CSS of "the West": Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia
•Associated with industrial, western societies
•Found mostly in Euro-American adolescent females - 90%
•Difficult to cure medically (can't just make themselves eat, very difficult for them to tell
themselves they need to take care of themselves)
•No clear biological cause*
•Culturally linked to concern with appearance and body weight
-Issues of control, other aspects of their lives that they cannot control; the one thing that
they CAN control is their bodies
•Increase in prevalence since 1970s
-may be due to actual increase in the occurrence of this order
might also have to do with increase of awareness of this order, and reporting of this
-in the past, people possibly did not know they had anorexia and did not report it
•Not seen in 'developing' world until 1990s
-places other than NA and Western Europe
-cases of anorexia in Africa, for example, were unknown and unreported
•Is this an urban, modern, western disease?
-is the location specific to what is causing this disease?
•Why is it so prevalent in 'western' societies?
-biologically, we're exactly the same... so what is culturally different about these places
that leads to higher anorexia in western society?
•Historical evidence for 'holy anorexia'
-14th and 15th century - evidence that young women would experience some kind of
religion contact, express their devotion to God through denying themselves food & water.
Called "miracle maidens" Seedism - living a very fruitful life
-St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) -> started to experience contact with Jesus when
she was a child, wanted to become a nun, viewed her body as a sign of devotion to god,
believed it would bring her closer to god, died of a stroke at 33. one thing we do know
now is that anorexics who are really thin are at a risk of having a stroke, because the
heart is very weak
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