The most profound course I have taken thus far in my academic experience is Nutrition. Not only did this class teach me the essentials of nutrition like proteins and carbohydrates, but even sub-related topics such as eating disorders. The main reason our professor delved into such a sensitive subject, though, was to make the distinction that—contrary to popular beliefs—eating disorders are not about the actual food at all, but about some sort of inner-emotional conflict the individual is undergoing. Because this person has lost control over some aspect of his or her life, they are only left to control what goes in and out of their bodies. While this is a complicated and confusing idea, it occurs to me that this phenomenon can sufficiently be explained through an anthropological analysis.
Through the lens of symbolic anthropology, there is somewhat of an explanation of why the popular misconception about eating disorders exist. People associate eating disorders with modern American culture’s stress on being thin and having body types similar to those seen in the media. Having a thin or fit body is not only a symbol of beauty in our culture, but may also symbolize wealth, or status. Carrie Arnold combats this in her article Is Anorexia a Cultural Disease? She admits, “Anorexia may have looked like a disorder brought about by the fashion industry, by a desire to be thin and model-perfect . . . Except that it wasn’t.” She reports that according to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, only 5 percent of a person’s risk for developing anorexia came from shared environmental factors like models and magazine culture. Society continues to address the issue of eating disorders by targeting cultural phenomenon, especially in the media. It is increasingly evident, however, that this is not the true issue at hand.
She notes that a far greater environmental risk came from what researchers dub, ‘non-shared environmental factors,’ such as being bullied or abused. This follows a Culture and Personality perspective. How are these personality traits that serve as the causation for eating disorders—bully vs person getting bullied, abuser vs the abused—acquired via culture? Can these personality traits be linked to environmental factors? It is no surprise that eating disorders appear in younger, more naïve age demographics. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood.” If bullying be the case, the dichotomy of normal versus abnormal or undesirable traits that is particular to this theory can be identified. Unfortunately, our society is very much so defined by a normative structure, so such feelings of being ‘undesirable’ or abnormal can weigh heavily on an individual’s personality and thus, will cause eating disorders as a last resort.
Although society has benevolent intentions to address a growing concern over eating disorders, it will never achieve this goal if it does not redirect its efforts towards culture-personality interactions rather than modern society.
 Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 1105 Method and Theory in Cultural Anthropology, 31 August 2015.
 Carrie Arnold, “Is Anorexia a Cultural Disease,” in Medical Examiner, Sept. 27 2012, p.1.
 Lecture, Professor Carole McGranahan, ANTH 1105 The Individual and Society-Part 1, 14 September 2015.
 http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml, accessed 16 September 2014