The difficulties and disturbances that women experience with their bodies, especially in relation to food, is explored by Marion Woodman in The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter.
The title of the book is taken from a line of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “They say the owl was a baker’s daughter. Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. 11 (Act IV, scene v, lines 41-11-3)
This refers to an old English legend in which a baker’s daughter begrudges giving bread to one who turns out to be the Savior; she reduces the dough her mother had already put in the oven to a very small size, but miraculously it swells to an enormous size and she is changed into an owl.
In another version of the legend the baker’s daughter is angry with her father for feeding a beggar at the back door; the bread she takes back swells enormously and she finds herself transformed into a bird of night.
Woodman sees Ophelia as “a little walking owl,” a father’s daughter, who never finds her own voice, her own feelings or thoughts, even her own body.
She cannot make the transition from childhood to adulthood. She is a girl who never develops into a woman.
As she floats downstream in the waters which finally swallow her up, Woodman imagines her as “a princess sleeping in an obese body.
This is a fantasy of Ophelia that I find difficult to share.
The symbolism of the legend, however, speaks eloquently to the experience of the woman with an eating disturbance.
This is the woman estranged not only from her body, but, much more important, estranged from her self. In the legend the baker’s daughter does not recognize the god, the incarnation of the self, in fact denies the god and as a result loses her identity, as both a woman and a human being.
What must be acknowledged are the contents of the unconscious, the irrational, the emotions and feelings.
As Woodman says, “Whatever the reasons, the feminine libido is blocked, the feminine goddess is outraged and sends her ultimatum to the ego through the b11ated body.
Only by establishing communication with that unconscious force can the body ultimately be healed and the feminine spirit released. II (p. 23)
The baker’s daughter may also be considered narcissistic, referring to Kohut’s use of the term.
She does not have time for anyone else or interest in anyone else.
She is cut off from others, hut most of all from herself.
In the myth, Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, then pines away in one version or actually kills himself in another.
Certainly not eating, as in anorexia nervosa, becomes a form of suicide and compulsive overeating to the point of obesity may be considered another form of suicide, figurative if not literal. There seems to be a serious defect in the structure of the self in both the anorexic and the obese woman.
Eating or not eating becomes defensive or compensatory, serving purposes other than the basic nutritional and social ones.
When eating becomes disassociated from the body and from interpersonal relationships (one usually binges or starves alone), the schism between mind and body is complete and both have lost.
The mind without the body is as meaningless and destructive as the body without the mind.
Life must be lived whole, not in fragments.
Woodman believes we must rediscover the lost goddess, we must reintegrate the lost feminine.
Since the Great Goddess was effectively destroyed a few thousand years ago in the Western world, the process of finding her again is an awesome task and not many of us know where to start.
But perhaps a beginning may be found if each of us can discover, in Woodman’s words, the “sacred mystery” within the body and “revere it both as sacred and as a mystery.
Prejudice and discrimination against the obese are rampant, as numerous studies testify. (See especially Allon, Natalie. The Stigma of Overweight in Everyday Life,” in Bray, George, ed. 9besity in Perspective. Washington, D. C., U. S. Government Printing Office, DHEW Publication No. (NIH) 75-708, 1973, pp. 83-102.)
For obese adolescent girls, otherwise fully qualified, being admitted to the college of their choice is more problematic than for their nonobese peers; in fact, in one study only a third of the obese girls were accepted into college, whereas almost as many obese boys were accepted proportionally as nonobese boys and girls. (Canning, Helen and Jean Mayer. “Obesity–Its Possible Effect on College Acceptance,” New England Journal of Medicine, 275, 19fi6, pp. 1172-1174.
This study reveals quite dramatically society’s rather different attitude toward obesity in women and men: to be fat is literally more unacceptable Yet one must first deal with the proscriptions of one’s society.
To be fat in a society that idolizes slimness is to be an outcast. Despite the admonition implicit in the adage “appearances are deceiving,” appearance has an enormous effect, sometimes a determining effect, on one’s destiny.
Especially for a woman.
Weight, most particularly overweight, is not only a stigma, it has become a taboo in our society, especially for women in the middle and upper classes.
“Fatness, not sex, is a taboo in our culture, and fatness has taken on evil and moral overtones, observes Marion Woodman as she explores the psychological problems of obesity in women from a Jungian point of view.
But the psychological consequences of this particular physical condition have to be seen in the context of the society in which a person lives.
In American society obesity is much more prevalent among women of lower socioeconomic status.
According to one study obesity was found to be six times more common among women of low status than among women of high status. (Goldblatt, P. B., M. E. Moore, and A. J. Stunkard. “Social Factors in Obesity,” Journal of American Medical Association, 192, 1965, p. 1039.)
Anorexia nervosa, in contrast, is found more typically among those from upper class and I ‘super-rich” backgrounds, although the problem seems to be rapidly encroaching on the middle class. ‘(Bruch, Hilde. Eating Disorders: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Person Within. New York, Basic Books, 1973, p. 13.)
These findings present a grim paradox: in affluent societies obesity is more associated with the lower socioeconomic strata and anorexia nervosa with the upper classes, while in underdeveloped countries obesity is found mainly among a privileged minority and starvation among the poor.
That in our society obesity is more associated with the lower socioeconomic levels and becomes less visible as one rises along the class ladder would seem to indicate, among other factors, much greater disapproval among the middle and upper classes.
This disapproval has devastating consequences in many areas, not the least of which is the psychological.
Numerous studies indicate the dangers of overweight, the association of obesity with serious medical problems such as diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
Yet there is evidence that losing and then regaining substantial amounts of weight over and over again is more of a threat to one’s health than maintaining an overweight condition consistently over a lifetime.
There is disillusioning evidence that weight lost seldom stays lost; it is usually regained sooner or later (usually sooner).
In other societies and time periods, what we call fat has been considered normal, healthy, and desirable.
One is reminded of the paintings of Rubens and Renoir. Margaret Mackenzie, an anthropologist, has made a comparative for women than for men.
Thus a woman’s education, career, even (or especially) marital possibilities are all more crucially related to her appearance than is the case for a man.
In a recent study indicating severe job discrimination for fat people, the researcher noted: “We treat people who are fat as handicapped people, but we don’t give them the sympathy that we give to other handicapped people. In other words, they’re completely rejected and blamed for their handicap.” (Stimson, Ardyth and Jack Kamerman, reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 1981.)
In another recently completed study of forty women, none of whom were overweight medically, thirty-nine considered themselves to be fat nevertheless, and some of them felt this caused problems in their relationships. (Stimson and Kamerman)
Clearly being of normal weight may not be sufficient: a woman needs to be thin.
When the prevailing fashion image for woman is an adolescent girl with the shape of a boy, the pressure to look slim (and young) is very real. In a study of sisters, Elizabeth Fishel discovered that the worst jealousy sisters had of each other was that “‘She’s thinner than me.
What society teaches all women, sisters internalize in the family circle.
Their bodies become the focal point, both real and metaphorical: To be acceptable, says each woman, each sister, I must be thin, thinner than her, another woman, another sister … ” (Sisters. New York, William Morrow, 1979, p. 220).
There is a genuine threat.
Among women who have moved down ln social status, there is a much higher incidence of obesity than among those who have moved upward or even those who have remained in the class to which they were born. (Goldblatt, et al, p. 1040)
So obesity may be predictive of downward mobility whereas thinness may be predictive of upward mobility.
Significantly, men tend to move from the “obese to the “normal group with increasing status, whereas women move from the “obese” to the “thin” category as they move from lower to higher socioeconomic levels. (Goldblatt et al, p. 1042)
Clearly thin has much higher value for a woman than for a man who is upwardly mobile. And this despite the biological fact that becoming thin is more difficult for a woman than for a man since women normally have more fat cells than men, while men have more lean body mass, more muscle and bone, than women.
Other evidence suggests that males do not want to look thin; instead they prefer to look strong, muscular, powerful. (Dwyer, J. T., et al, “Adolescent Attitudes Toward Weight and Appearance,” Journal of Nutrition Education, I, 1969, p. 19.)
Thus extra weight does not have the stigma for men that it has for women.
Being thin, in fact, may be interpreted as being weak in the male population. .
Woodman uses the classifications “primary” or “endogenous” and “secondary” or “exogenous” to categorize the obese.
The primary or endogenous group develops obesity from within, in other words is programmed to be fat due to hypercellularity, an increased number of fat cells.
This Becoming conscious of the shadow in oneself and accepting those rejected, despised elements is the beginning of the individuation process.
It is also the beginning of true acceptance of others and compassion for their imperfections.
If the shadow in oneself is not acknowledged and accepted, scapegoating inevitably occurs.
What is denied in oneself is projected, often with great enthusiasm, onto others, who due to race, religion, nationality, sex, socioeconomic status, or even weight seem to exhibit a significant difference from oneself.
Or perhaps the shadow is projected onto a part of oneself.
In discussing the obese woman, Woodman concludes: If She does not experience herself and her body as one.
Body takes on the projection of the shadow and is experienced as evil.
Sexuality therefore becomes evil. (p. 41)
When this occurs the mind body dichotomy is experienced with all its destructive force as the self is identified with the mind and the shadow with the body.
For the anorexic who must totally control and deny her body, even to the point of annihilation, the body is also experienced as shadow and the self projected onto the mind or will (i.e. the ego).
In the advanced stages, sexuality is rejected as the menses stop, breast development is curtailed, desire is extinguished.
Woodman noticed that in the dreams of obese women the shadow frequently appeared as an anorexic girl, while for the anorexic the shadow emerged as obese study of body weight in American and Samoan societies. (Fear of Fat: The Politics of Body Size, to be published by Columbia University Press in 1982.)
The information she has collected has important implications. Adult Samoans tend to be fifty percent heavier, or more, than their American counterparts, yet do not suffer from hypertension and heart disease (although there is some diabetes).
Gaining weight in adulthood is expected and considered normal in Samoa.
Losing weight is viewed with concern since it may ·mean illness.
As Mackenzie emphasizes, The essence of fatness may lie in the meanings that people give it.
In our society the extreme distaste and rejection of a certain group solely on the basis of their weight would suggest psychological attitudes in the collective open to examination.
The obese seem to be easily available targets for the collective shadow.
Fat people are considered to be lacking in will power, self-control, responsibility, competence.
Instead they are considered to be self-indulgent, slothful, gluttonous, lacking in moral character.
(I am indebted to Margaret MacKenzie’s manuscript for crystallizing my thinking on the moral issues and shadow problems involved in the fear of fat. “)
And their problem, according to the prevailing societal attitudes entirely of their own making; if only they would diet rigorously and exercise vigorously, the problem, and the fat, would dissolve.
There is rarely acknowledgement of the part played by heredity or even environment.
The problem is entirely the individual’s, therefore entirely psychological.
The individual must change her body shape (through assertion of her will, i.e., her ego) to conform to what is acceptable in this society or else suffer the consequences of discrimination in the areas of education and employment, as well as problems in developing relationships with both women and men.
This occurs during the two great growth spurts, the first during the first few years of life leads to childhood obesity, the second at puberty leads to enormous distress at adolescence and later.
Extra cells once present can never be eliminated, only decreased in size.
So even if weight is lost, it is easily regained since the extra cells are always ready and eager to be refilled.
For those with a normal number of fat cells and no other physiological or psychological problems, dieting and exercising may be an effective means of weight control.
Here we meet the secondary or exogenous group who develop obesity for reasons primarily external in origin.
Endogenous and exogenous, however, are two extremes: from my observation, experience, and study there are many stages in between these two extremes.
In fact, I think it is rare to have a clear-cut demonstration of endogenous or exogenous factors; instead there is almost always some interaction between inner and outer, constitutional and environmental influences.
A predisposition must have a climate in which to develop.
Overweight parents tend to have overweight children, thin parents tend to have thin children.
Family eating habits, as well as heredity, have an enormous influence on body weight.
Instead of a simple linear causal model, then, we need to adopt a cyclic systems model which views obesity (and anorexia nervosa) in terms of the interrelation of physiological, psychological, and environmental experiences. (See Bruch, p. 6.)
In a chart on pages 50-51 of The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter, Woodman presents what she feels are the differences between the endogenous and exogenous groups in terms of stress.
What is clear here is that she is distinguishing between obesity that develops very early in childhood and obesity that develops much later in adulthood.
Her assumption that those with adult-onset obesity have, almost by definition, had a happy childhood and adolescence is open to serious question, I think.
Although weight problems are important, they are not the only reason for disturbance in childhood.
Parents of obese children are seen to be fundamentally rejecting.
However, what has been frequently observed as parents’ overprotection may not serve a totally ignoble purpose since in fact obese children and adolescents are exposed to painful peer rejection, as well as rejection by other adults, such as relations, neighbors. sometimes even teachers and doctors.
What seems obvious is that those who suffer obesity from an early age (what Hilde Bruch calls developmental obesity) have a much more difficult time both physically and psychologically than those who develop obesity later in life (what Bruch calls reactive obesity).
When the weight is gained as an adult, the person’s body image is not as brutally distorted and disturbing as when he or she has suffered the problem from childhood.
There are a tremendous number of studies now indicating the complicated interactions of biological, chemical, metabolic, endocrinological, and enzymological factors in the development of obesity.
The human body is an incredibly complex organism which strives, as does the psyche, for homeostasis.
We seem to have an inner regulator, a set point, like an inner thermostat, which regulates our weight; to radically alter this inner set point is extremely difficult.
Woodman quotes a study indicating the difficulty of normal weight individuals (but male) to gain substantial amounts of weight through deliberate overeating.
Volunteers from a state prison were recruited who could remain inactive and thus gain more weight.
When the study was completed, the subjects were able to lose the excess weight quite naturally and easily returned to their former weight.
In another study, subjects (also male) were fed about half their usual calories.
Although they lost weight at first, eventually the weight stabilized.
Basal metabolic rates decreased substantially.
The body seems to adapt to excess calories or insufficient calories, just as the body adapts to excessive heat or cold.
When the experiment was concluded, the subjects began to eat normally again and regained all the weight they had lost.
(Stunkard, Albert J. Introduction and Overview, in Obesity, Stunkard, ed. Philadelphia, W. B. Saunders, 1980, p. 9. See also Richard Keesey, “A Set-Point Analysis of the Regulation of Body Weight.”)
The ability to store fat undoubtedly had survival value in the past when, the food supply was unpredictable, when an abundant supply was frequently followed by a long period of scarcity.
Now what seems to have been a survival gene for past generations has become a liability in our present affluent society.
What must be remembered, however, is, as one researcher quoted’ by Woodman states: The most impressive single fact about the experimental obesities is their variety, i.e., the fact that animals get fat for quite different reasons. (p.59)
Therefore, there is not one solution for everyone, but rather many possible approaches for many different causes.
Diagnosis of the particular type of obesity is a critical issue.
And, as Woodman points out, people suffering from hypercellularity may have to accept an overweight condition as inevitable for them.
Still, when she recommends the views of an English psychiatrist who endorses a diet low in carbohydrates but high in protein and fat, similar to the “Dr.’ Atkins Diet” popular in this country, I must protest, since a high fat diet has been exposed as potentially dangerous, leading frequently to elevated cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease.
Besides other studies indicate the importance, the necessity, of carbohydrates in the diet.
Eliminating carbohydrates completely may create an enormous craving for them, leading inevitably to a binge.
To study the psychological dynamics involved in obesity, Woodman conducted Jung’s Association Experiment with forty women, twenty obese and twenty controls of normal weight.
Significantly, all the subjects were from middle class backgrounds with one quarter of each group involved in analysis.
Race was not reported, and for this very reason one may assume that all the women were Caucasian.
From the reactions of these women, Woodman assembled data and constructed two tables comparing their responses.
Additional, questions were asked of the normal weight women in order to contrast their relation to food with the obese women for whom food emerged, understandably, as a dominant force in their lives.
Woodman concluded from the data that all of the obese women suffered from a punitive negative animus which she felt contaminated their entire personalities.
This is the voice that thunders: ‘Thou shalt not. Thou shalt not. Thou shalt not. W
while the inner child starves, the negative animus is continually fed but, of course, is never satisfied, never satiated.
Eating in response to depression, repressed anger, and anxiety; eating as a replacement for sexuality; eating for control; eating when out of control; eating in rebellion– food becomes, as Woodman suggests, lithe scapegoat for every emotion and forms the nucleus around which the personality revolves.
Most of the obese women had negative mother complexes whereas most of the normal
What is essential is that the child be considered an active participant in the process, not just a p:assive recipient or receptacle, so that as the mother differentiates the child’s needs, the child learns to differentiate his or her own needs.
Unfortunately even the most conscientious and attuned mothers are not always able to clearly distinguish their child’s needs and desires, so mistakes are undoubtedly inevitable.
Mothers after all are human too.
What strikes me as impressive is that one-fifth of the obese women (four out of twenty) evidenced a positive mother complex despite their obesity.
All mother-daughter relationships then are not necessarily doomed to disaster despite severe weight problems.
Of course, it would be helpful to know the etiology of the weight problems of those with a positive mother Hilde Bruch has noted that what is most important in the way a mother feeds her child is the ability to respond differentially to the child’s signals, distinguishing the needs and desires of the child rather than superimposing an artificial schedule inappropriate and unresponsive to the child or else feeding the child at every cry simply to keep it quiet, a practice which ultimately ends in overfeeding.
When a mother offers food in response to signals indicating nutritional need, the infant will gradually develop the engram of “hunger” as a sensation distinct from other tensions or needs.
If, on the other hand, a mother’s reaction is continuously inappropriate, be it neglectful, oversolicitous, inhibiting, or indiscriminately permissive, the outcome for the child will be a perplexing confusion.
When he is older he will not be able to distinguish between being hungry or sated, or between nutritional need and some other discomfort or tension. (Bruch, p. 68)
Overweight women had positive mother complexes.
Most of the obese women felt their mother’s animus had dominated the home, yet over half the normal weight women felt the same way.
According to Woodman the growing part of the obese woman’s personality was somehow more constricted by the mother’s animus, by her mother’s fear of the instinctive, unconscious inner woman.
That the mother, including her animus, dominates these homes is not surprising given the separation of roles between men and women in Western society, and the fact that traditionally the home has been considered the mother’s domain.
That she socializes her daughter (i.e., brings her up to adapt to the social mores and to adopt roles considered appropriate) is of course the mother’s function in all societies.
That she herself is a victim is all too often overlooked.
She, too, after all, was once a daughter and thus initiated by her mother into the role expectations of the society.
If the daughter rebels or resists, and eating disturbances may be considered a form of rebellion or resistance, this is naturally threatening to a mother who has built her life on conforming to the collective value system.
Also she knows the heavy penalty the daughter will have to pay for this nonconformity.
Deep conflict between mother and daughter seems inevitable under such circumstances as complex as contrasted with those with a negative mother complex.
Undoubtedly there are significant differences.
That the mother should be associated with eating disturbances is quite natural when one considers that in the beginning mother and food and self are one.
Food is not only nourishment, but also an expression of the mother’s love, or in some cases perhaps resentment, indifference, or anger.
Since initially food is fused with love and the primal relationship, the development of the sense of self is interwoven with the earliest feeding experiences.
At first food is equated with life, with growth; the child develops a sense of self in relation to his or her own body.
We know our body first in relation to our mother’s body, living within her body before birth, deriving nourishment from her and her body after birth.
So body and feminine and mother are inextricably connected, for males as well as for females.
For the obese woman in Woodman’s study the relation to the father was ambiguous, ambivalent, usually positive, frequently idealized, yet lacking in real sustenance or substance.
For the father was a puer, a dreamer, idealistic, connected to be creative, but not a fully mature man.
For such a father the daughter is needed to fulfill a double role: first as a puella who can share his dreams, inspire his dreams, and join him in the search for spiritual meaning; then as a mother figure who can be nourishing and protective of him (here we can perceive psychic incest).
The archetype which constellates the puer at one end constellates the senex at the other.
The senex is the old man who may be wise but more often is encapsulated in the rigidity of order and structure, lithe archetypal principle of coldness, hardness, and exile from life.” (Hillman, James. “Senex and Puer: An Aspect of the Historical and Psychological Present, II Eranos Jahrbuch, XXXVIII, 1969, p. 321)
The senex is cut off from his inner child without which there is no vitality or joy; the puer is cut off from inner development which could lead to growth and maturity.
Both are estranged from the feminine.
In the man predominantly puer in orientation there lurks a senex waiting for ascendance.
In my own experience I have more often noticed the senex father as the predominant pattern with the puer in the unconscious.
This is the father totally identified with the patriarchal structure, resistant to anything new, different, creative.
Daughters unwilling to conform to traditional patterns may resort to eating disturbances as an escape from conformity.
In the attempt to fulfill her father’s needs while at the same time responding to her mother’s needs, the daughter is caught in a conflict, an unresolvable conflict, and becomes a pawn in the marital battlefield, a double-bind situation.
In the cases Woodman discusses in her book, the father is usually alcoholic and leaves the family due to insurmountable conflicts with the mother (he either leaves literally or stays physically but is estranged emotionally).
Hilde Bruch discusses the development of obesity and anorexia nervosa in relation to the family dynamics that also spawn schizophrenia.
In the family of the obese child there is usually severe marital discord which seems to be more camouflaged in the family of the anorexic where appearances are of the utmost importance.
Bruch remarks on the “open fighting and mutual contempt” observed in parents of obese children. (p. 68)
The mother is usually domineering and overinvolved with the child; the father plays a subordinate role, appearing rather weak and unaggressive.
The parents of anorexics, on the other hand, try to present a picture of harmonious family life, but deep conflict emerges subtly despite denial and evasion.
What is noticeable about both obese and anorexic young women is the lack of a sense of their own identity, their own self worth, a lack of awareness that they are living their own life.
For both the body image is cruelly distorted; for both there is a problem in interpretation of inner and outer stimuli, especially the sensation of hunger.
The anorexic is usually conforming, a high achiever in a family where conformity and achievement are essential.
Slimness is accorded the highest value.
The anorexic in her pursuit of slenderness is actually conforming to the family (and societal) value system; ironically and disastrously, she does not stop, but over conforms and tries to eliminate all weight from her body.
As Woodman recognizes, obesity and anorexia nervosa are counter-poles of one neurosis.
The feminine has been devalued and distorted for centuries.
For those suffering eating disturbances, the feminine, as experienced through the body, is a quantity to be feared and rejected.
How obese and anorexic women share these problems is shown in Table 4 of Woodman’s book.
For instance, in the home there is both a “clinging dependency and “rigid control; the daughter is not loved for herself and her own individuality.
Emotions are repressed; the child is overly compliant and “too desirous to fulfill parents unlived lives.
There is a “basic disturbance in self-awareness and body awareness,” also the inability to recognize hunger as well as other bodily sensations.
Typically the eating disturbance begins at puberty when the menstrual cycle commences.
The girl attempts to gain control over her life through eating or through refusing to eat.
Yet her ego is probably weak; there may be the danger of a psychotic break.
Food seems to serve as a defense against depression, however, and the suicide rate is significantly lower for the obese.
There is an impressive difference in how the obese and anorexic girls feel about themselves since the anorexic feels accepted by the culture as she is thin whereas the obese girl feels unaccepted and unacceptable by the culture.
Although the anorexic becomes rebellious and stubborn in her teens the obese girl tends to remain outwardly compliant.
The obese girl feels the terror of deprivation as much or more than the terror of being fat whereas the anorexic is in terror only of being fat; she denies, in fact, any experience of deprivation or hunger.
The anorexic becomes elated with her ability to lose weight and feels confirmed in her course of action.
The obese girl feels a constant failure as she is unable to lose weight and suffers continual rejection from others.
Thus the ego of the anorexic is reinforced whereas the ego of the obese girl is constantly battered.
Woodman perceives the anorexic as being preoccupied with Light, the obese preoccupied with Darkness.
The anorexic in becoming lighter and lighter is striving to become pure spirit, the ultimate Light; the obese girl in her heaviness is drawn deeper and deeper toward the earth and darkness.
Both are drawn to death, yet different aspects of death, for one the pure spirit of eternity, for the other the heaviness of weight and matter, which consumes spirit, leaving death in life.
In the syndrome of rigid dieting on the one hand and indiscriminate binging on the other, which is a common pattern for the obese as well as for those anorexics who cyclically starve themselves, periodically binge, then vomit the food up, we may see a pattern symbolized by the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus.
In the Dionysian rites an animal was torn apart and its raw flesh eaten as a sacrament.
Some commentators even say a child was originally sacrificed.
Cooking an animal, a young goat, a kid, in milk is also described.
As god of the vine and wine, Dionysus was of course the god of intoxication, and his followers, who were women for the most part rather than men, expressed themselves in dance, abandoning themselves in ecstasy.
That at this time women could totally let themselves go, experiencing union and communion with the god, is of crucial significance.
As Woodman suggests, perhaps the binge is a way to become unconsciously connected with the god, not the Apollonian god of reason, logic, and consciousness, but the Dionysian god of the irrational and the unconscious.
In her struggle to diet, in the denial and control necessary to diet, the woman, whether overweight or anorexic, is in contact with the god of light, the god of consciousness, Apollo.
In the experience of losing control over food, finding herself eating anything and everything, she experiences release and connection with the god of intoxication, Dionysus.
The effects of food may also lead to an altered state of consciousness, namely relaxation, drowsiness, and sleep, as does alcohol.
The conflict between the opposites symbolized by Apollo and Dionysus must be resolved, must be integrated: light and dark, conscious and unconscious, rational and irrational.
Spirit and matter must be united: spirit needs to be experienced through matter, matter needs to be realized through spirit.
Neither is sufficient unto itself; each needs the other for completion.
Today’s woman urgently needs to rediscover that lost goddess who reigned for thousands of years in many parts of the world.
She was called Inanna, Ishtar, Astarte, Ashtoreth, Artemis, Aphrodite, Athene, Demeter, Persephone … there were other names as well.
She had many faces. She may be called the goddess with a thousand faces.
She personified the meaning and wisdom of the feminine.
The snake, who can regenerate, symbolizing rebirth, was associated with the goddess as were prophecy and revelation.
Creation and love were her providence.
What is required is not just rediscovery and reintegration of the lost or repressed feminine, but transformation to a deeper more authentic level of experiencing life and this is necessary for men as well as for women. ~ Thelma Bryant, Review of Woodman, Marion. The Owl Was a Baker’s Daughter: Obesity, Anorexia Nervosa, and the Repressed Feminine, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/jung.1.19188.8.131.52