Eating disorders and self-harm in Japanese culture and cultural expressions

Hansen, Gitte Marianne

Since the 1980s, eating disorders and self-harm among Japanese women have been on the rise. This socio-cultural study suggests that these behaviours are based in Japanese culture and have today become a female lifestyle. Motivated by cultural and historical constructions of femininity and the fear of social disintegration, this female lifestyle expresses a paradox: an attempt by women to over-perform and at the same time escape the obligation to navigate normative femininity. In parallel, eating disorders and self-harm are explicitly thematized in Japanese cultural expressions, from literature and manga to films and popular music. Using accounts from women engaged in this lifestyle, in addition to various fictional representations, this study conceptualizes a set of socio-psychological markers that exposes how eating disorders and self-harm are potentially represented in cultural expressions where such behaviours are not explicitly thematized. Miyazaki Hayao's animation Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi from 2001 serves as an example of how eating disorders, as a female lifestyle, have become a normative form of entertainment.