I Want to Disappear: Mafalda Rakos

‘Eating disorders are not just about food or the desire to be thin, and they are much more widespread than commonly assumed.

Worldwide, up to 70 million individuals suffer from Anorexia, Bulimia or Binge Eating; affected persons are of all genders, appearances and ages. Research confirms that young women and girls in industrialized nations are at the highest risk to be affected.

One out of ten … will experience an eating disorder at least once in their lifetime. Nevertheless, the sources and effects of this illness are still highly stigmatized, discreeted and excluded from societal discourse.

In I want to disappear, 20 young women intimately share their testimonies with the viewer. What does it feel like to be affected? How is this conflict linked to one’s own (sexual) identity, and why does controlling one’s body help someone to feel “better”, even just for a short time?

Altogether they provide a surprising and confrontative insight into the personal conflicts, ruptures and insecurities which lie at the root of the disease. Very soon, a new perspective is revealed: eating disorders are never a sign of weakness. And one is by no means alone with it.’

– I want to disappear, Mafalda Rakos

R., Vienna, 2013. Rakos, 2015. R., Vienna, 2013

Rakos 1

Rakos, 2015. C., Vienna, 2015

The images which feature in Mafalda Rakos’ I want to disappear are often disturbing and always poignant.

They visually describe life with anorexia from the point of view of the sufferer, indeed the collaborative project is a collection of images, drawings, texts and other material provided by the subjects of the study, although this is a term Rakos tries to avoid, preferring instead to use protagonists.

Arguably, Rakos’ methodology is a form of photo elicitation.

Whilst the term photo elicitation refers to a method of social scientific investigation in which an image is provided, either by the interviewer or the interviewee, and the response of the interviewee to that image is recorded, in Rakos’ study, the images themselves are the response.

Each image contains a detail which is the punctum – a detail which ‘pricks or bruises’ (Barthes, 1980) the viewer’s consciousness, evoking a sense of emotion.

The significance of these details may not be immediately recognisable: a plaster on an arm, an exposed abdomen – at first glance perhaps innocuous.

A lingering gaze, however, together with the context of the project, reveal something more disturbing: the plaster covering the puncture site for the latest blood test at the clinic for eating disorders, the burn marks on the abdomen which result from the use of hot water bottles to combat the ever-present feeling of icy coldness so typical of anorexia.

Due to the collaborative nature of I want to disappear, it is impossible to identify one particular style of photography beyond a recognisable documentary/reportage. A range of aesthetics is present in the body of work with images being taken from many angles, images in colour and black and white, and images presented in various ratios. This variety, I feel, acts to provide a cohesion for the work of several photographers, there is unity in variety.

This is relevant as I explore the different ways in which the images for Jo-Ana can be produced in terms of angle of view, colour or black and white, and aspect.

I want to disappear is not a time-based series, each image depicts how anorexia and its impact can be summed up for each individual at the particular moment of taking the photograph. How circumstances develop over time for either the individual or individuals is not the important factor here, instead what is significant is how several unique moments in time can provide a wider, summative description of life with an eating disorder.

This is in contrast to Jo-Ana which is a longitudinal study: the story of one individual told over a period of time through a series of images.

Rakos’ approach in taking a wider, summative approach to describe life with an eating disorder is not unique: Laia Abril’s Thinspiration, for example, also makes use of discrete moments in time recorded and shared by a number of individuals, with Abril harvesting the images herself once they had been shared.



Barthes, Roland (1980). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill & Wang

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