Stigmas Associated with Women and Eating Disorders

In “The Hunger Artist” by Kafka, the willing starvation of a man is viewed by outside persons as a noble form of entertainment. Instead of voicing concern at the emaciation of a man making his livelihood by abusing his body, the crowds observe and even mock him, implying that his fasting is an acceptable behavior and even one to be rejoiced rather than condemned. Had the character of the hunger artist been a woman, the story would have read differently to a modern-day audience, particularly with the emphasis placed upon women and eating disorders in modern society.

On principle and as a reader, I would have displayed a greater internal outrage had the character been a woman. Not only because of the differing views the crowds would undoubtedly portray, but also because of the prevalence and publicized incidences of eating disorders amongst women. The control that the hunger artist attempts to inflict upon his life by restricting his food intake is one that would be much more disturbing had he been a woman due to my bias as a reader. Because female anorexia permeates the media, as a reader, I would have been more likely to view the hunger artist’s “craft” as a form of eating disorder rather than an art of self-control. As Kafka illustrates, one of the main drives of the hunger artist’s behavior is to prove to the spectators that what he is doing is right in every sense of the word; he becomes irritated when he assumes that they believe that he is sneaking food and later even apologizes for his emphasis upon his desire for the crowds to admire him for his masochistic actions, ” “I always wanted you to admire my fasting.” Additionally, the way his death was treated, although horrendous regardless of his sex, would have been much more profound had he been a women. The victimization of the hunger artist, significant as it was, would have been heightened had he been a woman.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Stigmas Associated with Women and Eating Disorders

  1. I do agree that the story would be read completely different if the hunger artist were a woman. I don’t believe eating disorders were exactly prevalent in Eastern Europe in the 1920’s, however, the offense you feel as a woman to this glorification of an eating disorder would probably derive from the the ideology that women should be weak and objectified. For women to have eating disorders, generally it is for their obsession to be thin, and to be thin garners a deluded sense of validation for fitting into this social ideology of being weak to bolster the appearance of strength in the male. Had the hunger artist been a woman, it could come across as offensively misogynistic because it may be viewed as condoning this ideology. But fortunately the character is male, so there is not this perception of a woman catering to a misogynistic principle.

  2. aeernst

    I think that this is a very interesting perspective, and I completely agree that I would have been personally offended if the Hunger Artist was a woman thinking that it was a female stereotype. But as you stated, we would have this outrage because our personal bias. In thinking how it would have been received at the time if the Hunger Artist was a woman, I feel like the character would have been one that had been pitied, instead of a source of entertainment, because women were not seen to be as strong or capable even at this time.

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