Is Testosterone and Social Mobility Causing Anorexia in Women?

August 27, 2012

You can never be too skinny or too rich. Nancy and Henry Kissinger.

A recent study published in Personality and Individual Differences 51 (2011) showed a link between prenatal testosterone levels (as measured with the ratio between the second and fourth finger) and anorexia.  Why would that be?

Earlier, several studies have found that men as well as women with high levels of testosterone react with stress specifically when their social status is in jeopardy and they become very eager to regain their status.

But social status is not the same for men and women. Traditionally, but also in present time, men measure status in terms of social dominance and power. Women, on the other hand are more likely to assert themselves by weight control. Because from an evolutionary standpoint women haven’t had much power other than that of attracting the powerful male. And one way to do that is to look good and stay in shape.

The question is how normal weight control can turn into anorexia. I think this relates to how modern society clashes with our evolutionary nature. As a species, we have lived most of our time in small groups that have been relatively equal. People have always fought to climb the social ladder and to maintain their positions. But modern society has enormous class differences. So anyone high testosterone person in the upper part of the hierarchy can now fall so much further down, even lose their place in it altogether.

This explains why white women are more anorectic than women of other races, and why women from the upper class or upper middle class are more affected than lower classes. They are the ones who are highest in the hierarchy so they are most likely to end up in a situation in which they feel their status is being threatened. And in today’s society, social mobility makes this threat more realistic than ever. This increased threat from the modern environment probably makes some of these high testosterone women go overboard in their attempt to maintain their status. They lose perspective on things and their genetic programing gets the better of them.

This is just a theory of course proposed by the late Linda Mealy and others. But it makes sense in light of this study. And it makes a whole lot more sense than conventional wisdom of how it’s the media or the fashion industry or evil men who pressure women to lose weight. Any part of those industries with an agenda to change women rather than to make money would be outcompeted. And men are horny, regardless of where in the social hierarchy they are. They would not pressure women into becoming something they found sexually repulsive.

So that’s why Henry Kissinger, who once proclaimed that power makes a man sexy,  judging by the picture above, thought skinny does the same for a woman.

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