THE HUNGRY SELF by Kim Chernin


Email this review


Following upon her examination of the ""tyranny of slenderness"" in The Obsession, Chernin here reveals the root cause of women's eating disorders: namely, their mingled fears of and need of surpassing mother. ""An eating obsession comes into existence so that the need, rage, and violence of the mother/daughter bond can be played out in a symbolic form that spares the mother."" Improbable? For every disorder, yes, but potentially explanatory of some sufferers. Mixing equal parts of Freud and Friedan, Chernin sees food disorders as one way out of the crisis of identity: the fact that, unlike boys, girls are afforded no legitimate way of breaking with mother. But she refuses the ready accusation that she is ""blaming mother""--""To say that women of our time experience a profound, remorseless conflict about motherhood and that this uncertainty and resentment have had an impact upon their daughters--does not commit us to the blaming of the mothers."" For the daughter, food becomes heavily symbolic of ""things past,"" of ""the unseen conflicts and ambivalence that keep her back from moving into her own development. . ."" Chernin is willing to recognize other psychological sources, particularly the cult-like communal vomiting she alleges occurs on some campuses, but otherwise does little to embed her theory in the social context: to explain why this opening of new possibilities affects some women in this peculiar form, and not others. She hopes that young women will learn to reject this diseased effort at identity resolution to try more positive routes: ""Imagine a generation of women bringing to the work of self-evolution the same devotion, the same discipline. . .the same militant care and concern for detail they presently invest in their search for the perfect diet. . ."" To the extent that this helps in that end, then, a useful effort, if unnecessarily overstated and inclusive.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1985
Publisher: Times Books