Sunday, 1 December 2013


Another essay focusing on the gaze and eating disorders, which is a fundamental part of the essay idea proposed. 

            As Jacques Lacan developed the theory of the “mirror stage,” he proclaimed it was a double edged sword, he described it “as a phenomenon to which I assign a two-fold value” (Muller, 1985).Lacan states that not only is the recognition in the mirror stage an essential turning point in a child’s development, he says the mirror stage, and its reverberations throughout life, represent an essential relationship between a person and their body image (Lind, 2009). Everyone is guilty of looking in the mirror and not being able to separate themselves from reality and their un-reality of how they look or feel through recognition of their flaws (DePalma, 2009). While the mirror stage may be a direct link to an infant’s formation of the ego, the mirror and the mirror stages’ ideas are also directly linked to adolescents and adults self images, especially in individuals who suffer with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.

            Delving even further into the two-fold idea of the mirror stage it’s important to look at the mirror itself as being two-fold. Lacan and other psychologists such as Freud point out thatthe mirror itself is a “double,” where the person is one self and the image theperson sees is another self (Lind, 2009). Since this produces a double image, what is visible may actually be invisible or altered through our ownperceptions. It has been stressed that the mirror casts doubt on self-identity because instead of reflecting our own image, we reflect the responses of othersas well (Muller, 1985).  This can be incredibly dangerous to human’s self-esteem and overall self regard for several reasons. As a baby in the mirror stage we are enthralled by our image and the connection we have to it, while depressed thoughts may follow, they are minor and the baby remains content with what he or she sees in the mirror (Lind, 2009).However, as an adolescent or an adult, the image of ourselves is often replaced with an idol, someone that we wish was the image of ourselves for whatever reason (Felluga, 2002). This, however, goes into an entirely separate phenomenon dealing with the gaze. Part of the displacement of our own gaze comes from experiences that we add to the image we see in the mirror, thiscombined with our own ego, can create a distortion of what we see in the mirror. This distortion can in turn give us either a positive or a negative self-image (Cleveland Clinic, 2006). What people view in the mirror defines the manner that they think and the way that they act; regardless of what side of the spectrum the view lies on, the real or the imaginary.

            In the case of many patients with anorexia and bulimia, the problem is the latter. They see the imaginary when the look in the mirror because they are distorting the image they have of themselves. Their gaze has been distorted by a plethora of outside forces thathave destroyed their ego, the same ego that was partly formed by the mirror and its effects. In fact, one of the diagnostic criteria used for labeling anorexia and bulimia is a disturbed or distorted body image that is seen in the mirror (Huon,Brown, 1986). The fact that the affected individuals cannot see reality causes them to harm themselves in a quest to see what they define as perfect. The only problem in this quest is that because they cannot see reality, they will never reach their idea of perfection through purging or starvation because it is their self-image that needs to be fixed. They need to revert back to a clean mirror image, where they focus on what is behind the image, and not the image itself, and reform their damaged ego. One study on the body image of individuals with anorexia and bulimia showed that they don’t really focus onthe visual image when they look at themselves in the mirror; they focus on theimaginary image they have already placed in their head, regardless of what they see (Huon, Brown, 1986).

           This creates the mirror’s place in the “magical world,” although in this case it is negative, the mirror maintains the power ofthe gaze. In individuals with such disorders and low self-image, the mirrored self has power over the real self because it is able to deter the mind from recognizing what is real and what is imaginary within the magical world. Gazing in a mirror allows a viewer to take on two roles of the gaze. First, he or she has the power since they are the one looking into the mirror, but he or she is also in the less powerful role of being gazed at. It seems that in individuals with low self-image, or disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, are choosing to identify with the less powerful role, the imaginary image they see. They have subjected themselves to the power of their own gaze. 

             An even further problem caused by the negative mirror gaze is Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Often people with Anorexia or Bulimia suffer from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, which is clinically defined by being preoccupied and overly obsessed with imaginary defects in appearance (Grant, Phillips, 2005).Two of the most common behaviors of Body Dysmorphic Disorder include comparing appearance to the appearance of others, and thus losing the recognition of the self, and “excessively checking the perceived flaws in mirrors or other reflecting surfaces” (Grant, Phillips, 2005). By constantly looking at themselves in the mirror they continually exaggerate the imaginary flaws further destroying their ego and self-image. Research shows that constant mirror confrontations produce a significant reduction in body satisfaction (Keyet. Al, 2001). Perhaps this is because they become more focused on the image they are gazing at and end up dehumanizing themselves, instead of realizing that the image is merely a representation of them. They cannot differentiate between the two self’s, the self in the mirror and their body; they see thefalse image of themselves as an exact replication of all of theirimperfections. For them, there is not a proper distinction between real and imaginary and often time what is real is seen as unattainable or imaginary.

             So then the question must be asked about what the difference is between the mirror stage for infants and the mirror stage that we experience for the rest of our lives. In Lacan’s theory, as a baby we are fragmented until we find ourselves in the mirror. We use the mirror and our image to make us whole. While infants may experience some depressed like symptoms that they do not look like their mother, they are content because the mirror has made them whole; thus giving them a humongous ego boost that is deemed crucial to the development of a healthy ego (Lind, 2009). As we age we stay in the mirror stage but the mirror plays a different role for our ego often times. Especially in individuals with low self-esteem the mirror does notmake them “whole” like it does the baby, it defragments them back to the stagethey were at before they were able to recognize themselves in the mirror. This low self-esteem seems to come from many places and is highly linked to negative experiences and opinions that have been drilled into these individuals’ heads(Key et. Al, 2001). Perhaps society in general is also a culprit or the simple fact that as we age we naturally lose our innocence. Whatever the reason,individuals with low self-image and harmful disorders have let the imaginarywin. They have proven the second-fold portion of Lacan’s theory that the mirrorstage continuously represents an essential relationship between a person andtheir body image, just in a negative manner.


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Key,A., George, C. L., Beattie, D., Stammers, K., Lacey, H., Waller, G. (2001).Body
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