Form and Content
Emerging from the intersection of female identity and the prevalence of eating disorders among American women, The Hungry Self: Women, Eating, and Identity asks why so many women have a troubled relationship with food. In answering this question, Kim Chernin draws upon her work counseling women suffering from bulimia and anorexia. She argues that underlying women’s obsession with food are the basic components of a rite of passage, the elements of a transition from one stage of life to the next. The problem of food thus becomes its failure as such a rite, its inability to enable women to move from one stage of life to another.
Throughout the book, Chernin recounts the stories that women have told her about the place of food in their lives. These are stories of obsession, descriptions of the compulsion to exercise, to ingest huge quantities of food and then vomit, and to allow calorie-counting to disrupt normal activities and behavior. Furthermore, as Chernin delves more deeply into women’s stories, she explains how the problem of food cloaks a more fundamental problem of identity. Her thesis is that at a time when women are encouraged to forgo traditional feminine pursuits, eating disorders appear as sites for the struggle over the meaning and validity of female identity. In other words, an eating disorder signifies an identity crisis.
For example, some women develop eating disorders when turning to a new career after having spent a number of years mothering and caring for husbands and children. Others, generally younger and preprofessional, the first generation of women socialized to expect career and educational opportunities, take on the styles and manners of the group in power—men. These young women seek to rid themselves of the flesh that makes them feminine and often adopt the men’s-wear look encouraged by the media. Both groups, the older as well as the younger women, are...
(The entire section is 786 words.)