Monday, January 31, 2011

Veganorxia: A Term that I Thought I Coined, but Didn’t (damn it)

Well, first off, I think it goes without saying at this point that the extent of my scholarship for this semester will consist of this blog.  I’ve had two conference papers accepted, one at ASLE, an extremely selective venue, and the other at NEMLA.  And I haven’t written either paper.  I did, however, submit a review of someone else’s book (Monica Popescu’s impressive South African Literature After the Cold War) to Safundi, and I’ve been asked for a book cover blurb for a collection of essays on J. M. Coetzee, so I guess that’s something.  But all I seem to be doing is reading other people’s work, which is great, and other people’s program prioritization reports, which isn’t. 

But let’s not talk about me and my university service woes.  Let’s talk about veganorexia.

OK, so a couple of entries ago, I was sort of kidding when I said that my next entry would be on veganorexia and Natalie Portman’s portrayal of an uber-eating disordered ballerina in Black Swan (the first meal that she eats is half a grapefruit and boiled egg.  Of the grapefruit, she claims, “it’s so pink and pretty”).

Nothing vaginal there.

I was thinking of Portman, who is vegan as a result, she claims, of having read Jonathan Safron Foer’s Eating Animals.  As she notes, “what Foer most bravely details is how eating animal pollutes not only our backyards, but also our beliefs. He reminds us that our food is symbolic of what we believe in, and that eating is how we demonstrate to ourselves and to others our beliefs.”   

There has been much in the media about the rigors of both actual ballet training and what Portman put her body through in order to achieve the elongated and sinewy female form that we observe, via an extremely male-oriented gaze, in Aronofsky’s film.*  Victoria Looseleaf has written an essay on the ways that Black Swan fetishizes not only the anorexic body but also enforces various other forms of body fascism.  So there’s ample information out there for me to make a kind of joke of Portman’s vegan constructed balletic anorexia.

This photo says it all, don't you think?

Back to veganorexia, a term that I thought I’d coined.  But a search for the term pulls up all kinds of things, including an entry in the Urban Dictionary: a veganorexic is “A person with Anorexia who denies or hides it by saying he/she is Vegan.” And there is a perverse and performative vegan presence on various pro-ana web pages (note: possibly disturbing material), a call to women who want to get super skinny to become vegetarian or vegan.  Even Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s Skinny Bitch, a book that I grudgingly admire, is, as Julie Klausner claims, “a PETA pamphlet in chick-lit clothing and an innovative fusion of animal rights activism with punitive dieting tactics that prey on women's insecurities about their bodies.” 

The links between vegetarianism and veganism and anorexia are real in ways that are all too familiar to me, primarily because becoming vegan was, for me, part of a long process of overcoming a history of anorexia and bulimia, eating disordered behaviors that are defined by the willing denial of food.  Far more often, I fear, veganism or vegetarianism and used as the excuse for this denial; in my case, veganism was the excuse that I needed to get over it, to eat, to empower myself to react to cultural dietary proscriptions over which I had historically had no control. And, again for me, the gender implications of becoming vegan were profound and empowering.  I wish that could be the case for everyone.

But more on that later.  

* I really hated Black Swan.  Sorry.  But this is pretty funny:

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