The Semantics of Starvation

Burrows, Lianda (2019) The Semantics of Starvation. Westerly, 64 (2). pp. 57-65.

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[Extract] I used to go down to the local pool, biding time between hospital stints. I waded in the shallow end through the heat of summer as my sister did laps in the next lane. I could often only walk a few steps before stopping. My lungs felt strained and my heart had developed random piercing pains. A lifeguard watched closely from nearby. I remember looking at myself in the change room afterwards and being frightened. I had initially caught sight of myself in my peripheral vision and I—unexpectedly—suddenly appeared clearly. I normally saw myself as I had always looked and struggled to perceive the changes wrought by a thirty-kilo weight loss. But when I saw myself, this time, from the corner of my eye, it struck me that I looked like a starved bird. All bones and veins, palpitating. I was a diaphanous skeleton with human gestures, but without a face. An assortment of features had gathered on my skull, but failed to impersonate anything recognisably human. I avoided eye contact because when I found it I saw nothing but a reflection of the spectre I had become.

Research Statement

Research Background Recent scientific developments suggest that Anorexia Nervosa (AN) has underlying ‘risk-loci’ that predispose some individuals to the disease (Watson et al, “Genome-wide Association’, Nature Genetics, 51.8, 2019: 1207-1214). Representations of the illness in clinical literature and in the public domain commonly characterise AN as a predominantly psychological illness driven by control-seeking behaviours and extreme dieting. New genetic studies are increasingly dispelling some of these popularised notions. By drawing on my own patient experience, broad understanding of medical humanities, and background in English literature, this article asks whether a work of creative non-fiction might offer a bridge between these complex scientific discoveries, common misconceptions, and entrenched underfunding of AN services.
Research Contribution “The Semantics of Starvation” is a work of creative non-fiction that has been medically reviewed by two independent doctors and an eating disorder clinician to ensure that my discussion of the physiological processes of the disease is accurate. Combining the clinical review with my own lived experience and training in rhetoric, the article clarifies misconceptions around AN and informs public health discussion and policy surrounding the illness.
Research Significance This work combines lived experience of Anorexia Nervosa (AN), research training in language and literature, and a discussion of recent developments in scientific and clinical studies of AN to offer a nuanced account of a disease often miscast as a predominantly psychological preoccupation with “control”. Emerging research increasingly suggests that AN has a genetic, and even metabolic, mechanism. By using literary accounts of the time I spent as an in-patient, I provide an accessible anchor through which this nascent area of complex research might be more widely understood. This article acts as a unique and creative public health intervention which calls upon increased resources to both adequately treat existing patients and advance existing molecular psychiatry research projects.
Item ID: 73728
Item Type: Article (Creative Work)
Media of Output: Creative Writing
ISSN: 2207-8959
Keywords: Medical humanities, Anorexia, creative non-fiction, feminism, hysteria, illness.
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2016 Westerly.
Sensitivity Note: The article contains a trigger warning.
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2023 23:29
FoR Codes: 36 CREATIVE ARTS AND WRITING > 3602 Creative and professional writing > 360299 Creative and professional writing not elsewhere classified @ 60%
42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4206 Public health > 420699 Public health not elsewhere classified @ 40%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280112 Expanding knowledge in the health sciences @ 30%
13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1302 Communication > 130203 Literature @ 60%
20 HEALTH > 2001 Clinical health > 200105 Treatment of human diseases and conditions @ 10%
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