Text Size: A A A
Article
Anorexia Nervosa and the Language of Authenticity "It feels like there's two of you inside, and it's a constant battle."

We came to the concept of authenticity belatedly, one might say. We had been talking to people who had a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa about their experiences of living with their condition, and though we had not raised issues of authenticity or identity ourselves, they often did. They struggled with questions of authenticity, either applying it to the self as a whole or to specific desires, emotions, or choices. We were surprised and full of questions. As clinicians, we were intrigued by how those with anorexia nervosa thought about authenticity. If it is such a prominent and important idea, at least for those who have obtained treatment, then clinicians will need some understanding of the role that it is playing. As philosophers, we were puzzled by the status and implications of claims about what is, or is not, authentic. Does respecting other people imply, for example, respecting their authentic—but not their inauthentic—choices?

There is a long history to the idea that authenticity is relevant to how we should live, and that the point of our lives is to be true to ourselves—true, that is, to our authentic selves. This idea that we should be true to ourselves has led to criticisms of the use of drugs and other technologies for enhancement. In Peter Kramer’s description of the effects of antidepressants, some of his patients claimed that the medication caused them to be more authentically themselves. Many commentators, however, argue that using technologies to enhance the self leads to loss of authenticity and is for that reason ethically problematic; it is a failure to be “true to ourselves.”

The data we present show that issues around authenticity are of significant concern for adolescents and young adults with anorexia nervosa.

We came to the concept of authenticity belatedly, one might say. We had been talking to people who had a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa about their experiences of living with their condition, and though we had not raised issues of authenticity or identity ourselves, they often did. They struggled with questions of authenticity, either applying it to the self as a whole or to specific desires, emotions, or choices. We were surprised and full of questions. As clinicians, we were intrigued by how those with anorexia nervosa thought about authenticity. If it is such a prominent and important idea, at least for those who have obtained treatment, then clinicians will need some understanding of the role that it is playing. As philosophers, we were puzzled by the status and implications of claims about what is, or is not, authentic. Does respecting other people imply, for example, respecting their authentic—but not their inauthentic—choices?

There is a long history to the idea that authenticity is relevant to how we should live, and that the point of our lives is to be true to ourselves—true, that is, to our authentic selves. This idea that we should be true to ourselves has led to criticisms of the use of drugs and other technologies for enhancement. In Peter Kramer’s description of the effects of antidepressants, some of his patients claimed that the medication caused them to be more authentically themselves. Many commentators, however, argue that using technologies to enhance the self leads to loss of authenticity and is for that reason ethically problematic; it is a failure to be “true to ourselves.”

The data we present show that issues around authenticity are of significant concern for adolescents and young adults with anorexia nervosa.

Tony Hope, Jacinta Tan, Anne Stewart, and Ray Fitzpatrick, "Anorexia Nervosa and the Language of Authenticity," Hastings Center Report 41, no. 6 (2011): 19-29.