Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Starving for Perfection: The Art of Samantha Manns Anorexia, Binge/Purge Subtype

14x16 oil painting on canvas pad

“Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by immoderate food restriction and irrational fear of gaining weight, as well as a distorted body self-perception” (citation).  Anorexia is a disorder that commonly begins in adolescence and can be a life long affliction that is never cured, only controlled.  Because sufferers of Anorexia struggle with a distorted self-image, often self-loathing, and find it impossible to find contentment with their body image or figure, excessive weight loss is typical with this disorder.  What starts as a mental affliction can swiftly develop related severe physical complications, sometimes fatal.  In Anorexia patients, it is common for the body to contain high levels of Ghrelin, the body’s hormone triggering hunger.  This suggests that the body of an Anorexia patient is desperately trying to “turn on” the hunger trigger, but the trigger is being overridden or ignored.  There is no set socioeconomic group that is more affected by Anorexia, however it is 10 times more prevalent in females than males.  Anorexia is commonly misunderstood as the patient’s “stubbornness” to not eat, or attempt to get attention.  However, Anorexia is a severe and unfortunate psychiatric disorder, which has a high rate of fatality, and it is common for other conditions mental and physical to be present.

Anorexia can also consist of a subtype of binging/purging that has a certain characteristic of behavior.  Anorexia patients with the binge/purge subtype restrict their food intake, but also regularly engage in binge eating and subsequent purging, and then will return to the cycle of restricting food.  The presence of this subtype in Anorexia patients can also indicate misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas.  Often, this subtype is also an indicator of other existing impulse control problems and mood disorders (citation). 

Though Anorexia is a real medical condition and diagnosis, and a very serious one, people suffering from Anorexia are often misunderstood, alienated, and even ostracized in their communities and peer groups.  Sometimes thought of or treated as attention seekers, or fakers, their world can become very lonely and secluded.  Anorexics don’t like being the way they are; in fact they often hate it.  That is essentially the main problem underlying the affliction.  They hate the way they are, but they wish they didn’t, and they wish they could change.

Artist Sam Manns is an 18-year-old female suffering from Anorexia with a binge/purge subtype.  Sam’s struggle with Anorexia began when she was only seven years of age.  Sam has been hospitalized ten times for other associated psychiatric illness, and for physical problems stemming from her ordeal with eating disorders.  In 2009, Sam made a suicide attempt.  Fortunately for this world, Sam’s life and art have not been lost.  After her suicide attempt, Sam starved away 110 pounds of her body.  Sam’s work, attached at the top of this post, conveys beautifully the loneliness an Anorexic encounters when she is locked inside a huge world full of people who do not understand.  With that painting, Sam has made us understand how much an Anorexic is in need.  Anorexics aren’t looking for a person to save them.  They are looking for a world to accept them and not judge them.  They don’t necessarily need to hear from every direction what they must do; they know what they must do.  They need us to take the journey with them.  They need us not to give up.  Not to think we know, because we do not.

Sam reports that since her dramatic weight loss in 2009, she has finally connected with the appropriate case worker to help her understand why she starves herself and why she feels compelled to binge and purge. 

Pencil on paper, Ugly Like Me
This pencil drawing by Sam, entitled, “Ugly Like Me” is another of her works to convey the emotion of an Anorexic.  Sam says that it is hard when you’re in a place of self-loathing to look inside yourself and realize we’re all the same regardless of your weight, height, name, sexual preference, etc.  Sam drew this portrait to give herself insight, to tell herself that it would be ok, and to assure herself that indeed, we are all the same.  I found this to be a very key point in the struggle of an Anorexic.  Perhaps this would not be such a struggle for a person with this affliction, if more of the world instead of only the afflicted were to realize that indeed, we are all the same.

Photography by Samantha Manns

This four part photography series of Sam, and by Sam are representative of her time struggling to recover from her frighteningly unhealthy weight loss.  Though she knew and knows that recovery is the best thing and her only viable option, she took these pictures as a way to attempt to see herself as she really is, and to explore the raw emotions she’d been hiding.  During the worst part of her weight loss catastrophe, Sam was weighing herself up to 30 times a day and obsessively taking body “progress” photos.  Refraining from taking the pictures and weighing herself has represented a huge step in Sam’s recovery.  As conveyed by Sam’s top picture in this series, and the pain in her face, a viewer should realize that the starvation essentially nothing to do with food, calories, weight…  As Sam says, she was starving for perfection. 

Perfect is the word that causes the downward spiral of a terrible lot of the afflicted.

Drawing by Samantha Manns
In Sam’s next drawing, entitled, “Perfect?” she has conveyed her Anorexic perception of perfection.  Sam states that, “To me, this was beautiful. This was what I wanted to be, and at one time, this was what I was.”  So sorrowful to think, in the afflicted mind, we sometimes imagine that to be perfect is to be nothing.

The mind of this afflicted soul has somehow failed to notice how amazingly she has succeeded in achieving perfection through her art.  At only 18 years of age, Sam has so much to give the world and the gift and power to spread understanding.  At this point, Sam uses her art as part of her healing process.  I don’t think she has any idea about how much she is going to help others tremendously.  Currently, Sam’s art is not for sale.  However, she can be contacted here about commissions. 

All images in this posting are sole property of Samantha Manns, not to be reproduced in any way without her express written consent.