Sunday, January 29, 2012

Garland-Thompson, Cont'd

Time to get back on track with part 2 of the post that I wrote last week...

At one point in the article, Garland-Thompson explores what it means when a woman is "too much." Historically, she has been labeled "hysterical." Always, she is labeled un-masculine and, by extension, inappropriate and unmanageable. In Hornbacher's memoir, she touches on the idea that her eating disorder was a way of avoiding this sense of being "too much." Hornbacher writes that as a child she was sturdy, loud, explorative, and, for my purposes, masculine. And since we can't have imperfect men (Garland-Thompson writes that historically the female body has been regarded as a flawed version of the male body), a female body performing a male gender role must obviously be quieted - its "too much-ness" brought back to a degree that a patriarchal society can swallow (pun intended).

What better way to erase female excess than an eating disorder? As Hornbacher shed pounds, she shed sturdiness, emotion, voice, sanity. Through the lens provided by Garland-Thompson, Hornbacher embodied the idea of femininity as disability - it was only when she was fifty-two pounds that she subjectively felt accepted, and it was only when she lost any grasp of an "I" (even in the context of a "you" or "we," as the pages in which she is most critically ill are written in fragmented sentences, many of which lack any definitive subject) that she understood herself to be a socially appropriate woman.

On the flip side of GT's meditation on female excess is her commentary on female "not enough-ness." When a woman erases her "excess" (which is perceived to be disabling and which is then treated as such), she gets "not enough-ness," another disabling condition in which a woman is weak, incapable, and dependent. This state of being "not enough" mirrors Hornbacher's illness at its height - when she is hospitalized time upon time, when she leaves college due to her disorder, when she moves back in with her parents after several lengths of time away. As excess is erased, "not enough" sets in, creating a creature incapable of finding social acceptance because she cannot advocate for herself. So it seems that the remedy to excess - erasure - becomes a disability in itself, and that GT's idea that the socially constructed female condition ultimately results in feminine disability finds ground.

Without saying as much, GT implies that a woman's best communication is not through her words, but through her body. GT writes that both women and the disabled are objects of gaze. Thus as objects of gaze, performance becomes their medium. Hornbacher's weight loss screams, "Do you accept me?!" and  her subsequent emaciation asks, "Am I crippled enough?" I see Hornbacher's eating disorder as a series of ongoing queries extended to society - queries, not statements. Always asking, never telling.

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