Human Nature

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 105–116 | Cite as

Anorexia: A “losing” strategy?

  • Linda Mealey


Several theorists have tried to model anorexia on Wasser and Barash’s (1983) “reproductive suppression model” (RSM). According to the RSM, individual females adaptively suppress their reproductive functioning under conditions of social or physiological stress. From this perspective, mild anorexia is viewed as an adaptive response to modern conditions; more severe anorexia is viewed as an adaptation gone awry. Previous models have not, however, examined the full richness of the RSM. Specifically, Wasser and Barash documented not only self-imposed reproductive suppression, but also manipulative reproductive suppression of subordinate females by dominants. I propose that the modern “epidemic” of anorexia is explained neither by adaptive self-suppression nor by environmental mismatch (an adaptation gone awry); I propose that the “epidemic” levels of anorexia seen in modern western society are a direct consequence of intrasexual competition, the scope of which has been enhanced by the power and reach of modern communications media. According to this perspective, anorexia, even in its mild forms, is a manipulative strategy imposed on subordinates by dominants. Anorexia is, in both senses, a “losing” strategy.

Key words

Anorexia Evolutionary psychiatry Female competition Intrasexual selection Reproductive suppression 


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Copyright information

© Walter de Gruyter, Inc 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentCollege of St. BenedictSt. Joseph

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