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The relationship between femininity, notions of control, and
illnesses such as anorexia and agoraphobia is such that the pursuit of “ideal”
femininity results in a perception of freedom from control; however, in reality
it amplifies control of society through illnesses such as anorexia and
agoraphobia.

The body is more than just its physical form. It is what we
do to keep within social ideals (Bordo 2017: 78). As such, the body is easily
influenced through various aspects of society. Throughout history women have
strived to reach the unattainable figure of femininity – physically and
mentally – which has resulted in greater societal control over women. All women
were expected to be whatever the current ideal was. In modern days too, these
pressures are exerted upon women causing their bodies to change from primal to
docile bodies that are just a conscious construct of what is closest to the
current ideal (Bordo 2017: 79). This amplifies society’s control over women
because as they become docile, they are no longer what they want to be but
instead what society wants (Bordo 2017: 79) and in a predominantly
male-controlled society, this results in a loss of power for women but an
increase for men. In the film, “Codes of Gender”, gender display is defined: “the process whereby we perform the roles expected of
us by social convention” (Sully 2012). Women
were expected to take care of the home, nurture and raise children, and look
out for the needs of the husband. This made the ideal image of femininity
passive, weak, and verbal rather than physical, making it easier to ensure that
women fulfilled their “duties” (McGarry 2017). This stereotypical gender role
is still present today in Western society and aids the continued male dominance
of power.

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            These notions of control and gender
roles lead to diseases like anorexia and agoraphobia. At its extreme, the power
over women and their body shaping results in doing anything to reach these
unrealistic goals and that is when such illnesses begin. After staying at home
for so long they begin to fear going outside and may be afraid of unfamiliar
environments. They might feel as though they are unable to go out without
someone to help them feel comfortable. This only results in an even tighter
grip on women by society. Now, out of fear of going out, a woman has seemingly
nothing else better to do in the eyes of society than what is expected – tend
to the house, husband, and children. Furthermore, in striving towards this
ideal image portrayed by society, many women try to maintain the slim figures
that are often considered an ideal feminine body. At first they start by
dieting but may continue to eat less and less until eventually, they are eating
the bare minimum to keep themselves alive (). At this point, society has
complete power over the woman. By trying to reach the impossible goal of
perfection, now the agoraphobic or anorexic woman has become an entirely docile
body.

            These illnesses are however also
connected to the notion of control in a different way. Another reason women may
begin to diet and then continue eating less is because of the idea that in resisting
the hunger and urge to eat, they are attaining traits normally considered
masculine – which society values (Bordo 2017: 84). In the film, it states, “Masculinity is about power
and strength and femininity is superficial and weak” (Sully 2012). Due to the dominance of male power in society, these
“masculine” traits would not normally be considered possible for a woman to
achieve – thus part of the reason that it is possible for a woman to willingly
supress her appetite. The power in our society that comes along with these
attributes of control over oneself and self-mastery can be very addictive,
especially to a woman that would otherwise lack this power (Bordo 2017: 84). In
addition, for a woman that understands that ideals of society are unfair and
impossible to achieve, anorexia or agoraphobia can seem like a form of protest.
These women, by becoming so slim and malnourished, cannot physically fulfill
their stereotypical “duties.” This makes them feel as though they are protesting,
in the form of a strike, against the necessity to perform (Bordo 2017: 83). Too
sick to clean the house, take care of a husband or children, a woman may feel
that she is fighting against the pressures of society. This however, is not
true.

Therefore, the relationship between femininity, notions of
control, and illnesses like anorexia and agoraphobia shows that a perception of
freedom from control, and even a form of protest, come from the pursuit of
“ideal” femininity; although in reality, becoming ill to this point is no
protest; in the grand scheme of things, society is powerful and has absolute
influence over femininity and the body of women. 

 

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