A Good Appetite
The aim of this dissertation is to expand a contemporary multidimensional discourse on the nature of eating disorders to encompass also a moral dimension. Eating disorders are complex phenomena which include biomedical, psychological, and sociocultural components. This dissertation brings the psychosocial literature on eating disorders and body dissatisfaction into dialogue with contemporary studies in Thomistic moral theology, and argues that such a multidisciplinary dialogue can illuminate new insights both for the study of eating disorders and for recent efforts to recover Thomistic moral theology in a contemporary context. Beginning empirically, the dissertation examines recent evidence showing that exposure to “thin-ideal images” in the mass media is positively correlated with an increase in body dissatisfaction and eating disorder symptomatology. Socioculturally, the explanation for this phenomenon is called “thin-ideal internalization,” and basically measures the extent to which individuals “buy into” the validity of images using ultra-thin female models as a paradigm of beauty. Women who have a high level of internalization desire to conform to a thin-ideal, and behave accordingly, even when they are rationally aware of the unrealistic and unhealthy nature of such an ideal. Turning to Thomas Aquinas' moral theology, the dissertation argues that thin-ideal internalization is a form of connatural knowledge, an affective form of knowing (per modum inclinationis or ex instinctu) which is at the very basis of Aquinas' moral theology, both in explaining the operation of habits and in explaining the role of grace in the moral life through charity and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This dissertation argues that Aquinas' theory of connatural knowledge provides a relevant and constructive contribution to the study of eating disorders, especially on the relationship between body dissatisfaction and eating disorder symptamatology. Additionally, the incorporation of the psychosocial literature on eating disorders into Thomistic moral theology provide a valuable contribution to Thomistic moral theology in the effort to understand the role of the affections in moral deliberation, the development of habits, and the importance of Christian practices in the moral life.