Bulimic bodies and “bearers of production” : representing bulimia in Todd Haynes’s Superstar: the Karen Carpenter story and Mika Rottenberg’s NoNoseKnows




Sparapani, Grace Mi

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The majority of literature on eating disorders has favored anorexia over bulimia, assuming self-starvation as the default mechanism of eating disorders, and placing bulimia in anorexia’s shadows, presuming that the the two disorders must have the same motives and reasons, despite being drastically disparate in process. This thesis asks: Must all eating disorders be placed in the realm of starvation? After Karen Carpenter’s untimely death in 1983 after an overuse of Ipecac, she has become known as the first public face of anorexia. Discussions of Carpenter are often tautological, with her diagnosis as anorexic turning the spotlight on her controlling mother and low weight, as they are two main components often found in theories of anorexia; this focus then makes anorexia seem to be the obvious— even only —diagnosis. The main process of her disorder—purging rather than fasting—is forgotten. Similarly, Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987), a film by Todd Haynes which uses Barbie dolls to reenact Karen’s life and stardom leading up to her death, describes Carpenter as anorexic, even though images of Ex-Lax, Ipecac, and toilets populate the film. This thesis uses the visuals of Superstar and of the video NoNoseKnows (2015) by artist Mika Rottenberg, in which a 6’4” fetish performer repeatedly sneezes out plates of noodles after her sneeze reflex is triggered by a pulley-powered fan that blows pollen in her face, to examine bulimia in the context of waste and production. I argue that the bulimic body is not a deprived body, but a body that is too full; it is not a body defined by a lack of intake, but by an almost impossible excess of output. I then examine Carpenter’s life, her unfulfillments and alienations, to find what other aspects have fallen between the cracks of other anorexia-centered narratives, and reveal what other interpretations of her life can be made and what connections can be found using a new context for her disorder.



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