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Mortality Salience, Terror Management, and Hollywood Film: Theorizing on the Absence of Anorexia as a Subject in US Mainstream Movies

Gender and the Media: Women’s Places

ISBN: 978-1-78754-330-0, eISBN: 978-1-78754-329-4

ISSN: 1529-2126

Publication date: 12 November 2018


Films focusing on girls and women with anorexia have not found major producers and distributors in Hollywood, yet movies on subjects such as suicidality and bipolar disorder have been showcased. Eating disorders affect approximately 30 million people in the United States alone, and it has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, so this invisibility seems incongruous. The authors theorize that Hollywood avoids this subject because of ontological anxiety. Movie plots are schemas and young females are inextricably associated with fertility and futurity. An anorexic’s appearance contradicts and nullifies this symbolic role because anorexia often leads to infertility and death. Psychological studies and philosophical arguments claim that a belief in an afterlife and the regeneration of humankind create coherence and meaning for individuals. An anorexic’s appearance and behavior represent images of self-destruction – images that inflame the viewer’s unconscious and primordial fears about the annihilation of the species. By avoiding the topic of anorexia, Hollywood defends against its symbolic fears of mortality but diminishes the importance of the subject through its absence; it ignores its place in women’s social history and erases its place in American history. Because of Hollywood’s social reach and because greater visibility is correlated with a reduction in stigma, the authors conjecture that a film on this subject would inspire necessary attention to women’s roles, public mores, public policies, and the social good.




This work is dedicated to Michael Stanley Kirby (1931–1997), in acknowledgement of his inspired teaching and writing on drama, performance, and the visual arts.


Margolis, T.L., Rones, J.L. and Algaze, A. (2018), "Mortality Salience, Terror Management, and Hollywood Film: Theorizing on the Absence of Anorexia as a Subject in US Mainstream Movies", Segal, M.T. and Demos, V. (Ed.) Gender and the Media: Women’s Places (Advances in Gender Research, Vol. 26), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 165-182.



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