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Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa

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Winner of four major awards, this updated edition of Joan Jacobs Brumberg's Fasting Girls, presents a history of women's food-refusal dating back as far as the sixteenth century. Here is a tableau of female self-denial: medieval martyrs who used starvation to demonstrate religious devotion, "wonders of science" whose families capitalized on their ability to survive on flow Winner of four major awards, this updated edition of Joan Jacobs Brumberg's Fasting Girls, presents a history of women's food-refusal dating back as far as the sixteenth century. Here is a tableau of female self-denial: medieval martyrs who used starvation to demonstrate religious devotion, "wonders of science" whose families capitalized on their ability to survive on flower petals and air, silent screen stars whose strict "slimming" regimens inspired a generation. Here, too, is a fascinating look at how the cultural ramifications of the Industrial Revolution produced a disorder that continues to render privileged young women helpless. Incisive, compassionate, illuminating, Fasting Girls offers real understanding to victims and their families, clinicians, and all women who are interested in the origins and future of this complex, modern and characteristically female disease.


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Winner of four major awards, this updated edition of Joan Jacobs Brumberg's Fasting Girls, presents a history of women's food-refusal dating back as far as the sixteenth century. Here is a tableau of female self-denial: medieval martyrs who used starvation to demonstrate religious devotion, "wonders of science" whose families capitalized on their ability to survive on flow Winner of four major awards, this updated edition of Joan Jacobs Brumberg's Fasting Girls, presents a history of women's food-refusal dating back as far as the sixteenth century. Here is a tableau of female self-denial: medieval martyrs who used starvation to demonstrate religious devotion, "wonders of science" whose families capitalized on their ability to survive on flower petals and air, silent screen stars whose strict "slimming" regimens inspired a generation. Here, too, is a fascinating look at how the cultural ramifications of the Industrial Revolution produced a disorder that continues to render privileged young women helpless. Incisive, compassionate, illuminating, Fasting Girls offers real understanding to victims and their families, clinicians, and all women who are interested in the origins and future of this complex, modern and characteristically female disease.

30 review for Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa

  1. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Freeman

    This book is a great insight into the fact that anorexia isn't new. It is very well written about how this eating disorder was present throughout history. I do want to add here a theory of my own having lived with the disease for 40 years. I consider part of it to be what I call "instinct". If you study animals there are many that in times of stress shut down and stop eating, moving. And other creatures who in times of stress eat as much as they can because they don't know what is around the cor This book is a great insight into the fact that anorexia isn't new. It is very well written about how this eating disorder was present throughout history. I do want to add here a theory of my own having lived with the disease for 40 years. I consider part of it to be what I call "instinct". If you study animals there are many that in times of stress shut down and stop eating, moving. And other creatures who in times of stress eat as much as they can because they don't know what is around the corner. I think a little of anorexia (for me it is a lot) is biologically programmed into our bodies and not a psychological disease at all. This discussion I should take to my blog but it is a great book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    An old blog post: Historical ideations of starvation and amputation. The book I read yesterday was Joan Jacobs Brumberg's study of the history of anorexia nervosa, Fasting Girls. In it, she explores the nature of the disease by examining the different ways it has manifested itself through history. Not only is the book itself definitive, interpreting cases in their own contemporary idiom rather than imposing modern explanations, it also sheds light on the general question of why certain mental ill An old blog post: Historical ideations of starvation and amputation. The book I read yesterday was Joan Jacobs Brumberg's study of the history of anorexia nervosa, Fasting Girls. In it, she explores the nature of the disease by examining the different ways it has manifested itself through history. Not only is the book itself definitive, interpreting cases in their own contemporary idiom rather than imposing modern explanations, it also sheds light on the general question of why certain mental illnesses appear more frequently in specific times and places. Brumberg begins her discussion with holy women and saints of the late middle ages, many of whom fasted and experienced ecstatic visions. Catherine of Siena, for example, stopped eating except for taking the Eucharist (and by the theory of transubstantiation, I don't suppose this would count as eating at all). Another saint, Columba of Rieti, actually died of starvation. Their condition was referred to as "anorexia mirabilis" by their contemporaries; their decision not to eat was seen as holy rather than pathological and thus no attempt was made to 'treat' them. That attitude carried over into the 19th century, the next period that saw many cases. These sufferers were called "fasting girls," because, then as now, nearly all were adolescent girls. The fasting girls claimed to take no sustenance at all or to subsist on flower petals or tea. They attracted a great deal of attention (the New York Times covered one case extensively), and the public wanted verification that they truly did not eat. Thus doctors would watch over the girls to substantiate that they ate nothing--effectively supervising the deaths of anorectics who had been sneaking tiny morsels of food all along. Only in the late Victorian period did doctors make the breakthrough of seeing through patients' misleading descriptions of their symptoms: they realized that the anorectics were in fact hungry, after all. They told doctors that they weren't hungry, but it was fruitless to pursue the matter as a digestive complaint because the primary cause was psychological. This opened the field to the Freudians (who had some interesting theories about the rejection of the father's phallus). More plausible investigations centered on family dynamics, and how adolescent girls could disrupt their bourgeois families' domestic routines with their refusal to eat. Brumberg's analysis of how the perception of anorexia nervosa changed from a voluntary expression of holiness to a dangerous pathology, led me to re-examine an article, "A New Way to be Mad," that has long haunted me. A discussion of people who voluntarily amputate their limbs, it also broaches the question of why certain psychiatric disorders become prevalent in certain societies, though it frustratingly fails to reach a firm conclusion. The author of the article, Carl Elliott, posits that the availability of a diagnosis either (a) causes people to interpret their pre-existing feelings accordingly or (b) actually spawns new incidences of the disorder. His example is the disorder called apotemnophilia, whose sufferers are so obsessed with the belief that one or more parts of their body are not supposed to be there that many eventually attempt to amputate the offending parts. The condition was not named until 1977, but now newsgroups and websites flourish, offering sufferers support and advice on how to effect the amputations. He compares the phenomenon to the late 19th century mini-epidemic of amnesia, or the more recent wave of multiple-personality disorder cases. Elliott writes:Ian Hacking uses the term 'semantic contagion' to describe the way in which publicly identifying and describing a condition creates the means by which that condition spreads. He says it is always possible for people to reinterpret their past in light of a new conceptual category. (Emphasis added.)This is where the article begins to worry me, since the idea of language creating concepts is dangerous territory. The strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis would suggest that people whose languages have different words for light and dark blue should be more able to tell the difference than we, who call them both 'blue,' but of course that's not the case. So it seems that Elliott is saying something a little different and more believable: that the description and official sanction of apotemnophilia by doctors, not the mere concept of self-amputation, is what leads people to consider it. Brumberg's explanation of why anorexia nervosa is prevalent in our society may help with this. She identifies two stages of the disease: the first, when the sufferer experiments with the restriction of her diet, and the second, where she becomes addicted to starvation as changes in her body actually lessen the hunger pangs she initially experienced. Once a "fasting girl" has reached the second stage, it is difficult to reverse the condition's pernicious effects on the body and mind. Brumberg shows that post-war American society became preoccupied with weight as an expression of health. Millions of Americans diet--more young women dieting means many more young women who are susceptible to sliding into the second phase of anorexia. Furthermore, America's interest in aerobic exercise masks one of the disease's other primary symptoms, hyperactivity. Sufferers have progressed farther into the disease when they are identified; those who are admitted to the hospital weigh ever less at the time of admission. Our society does not cause young women to refuse food, but it makes the disorder more dangerous. Does all this mean that young Americans are expressing what might otherwise be a more generalized sort of depression or neurasthenia through anorexia nervosa? Brumberg's book led me to re-examine Elliott's article in a slightly different and more careful way: both appear to take the position that historical factors can create populations susceptible to interpreting their problems a particular way. The difference is in the disorder: Brumberg says that anorectics use the condition as a tool to make a point about their place in family and society; whereas Elliott suggests that the apotemnophiles turn within and use the diagnosis as a way to express their dissatisfaction with their bodies. Elliott has written a book about how disorders becoming treatable makes them more prevalent, which I will now have to read. Obviously I am still trying to wrap my mind around this one; but in any case Fasting Girls uses its historical basis to present a particularly lucid description of anorexia nervosa and is well worth reading.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Silk

    I was at first hesitant to read this book because it's a little old (it was originally published in the 80s) and because it's the "history of anorexia" and not a history of eating disorders *in general* (which probably has a lot to due with it being written in the 80s, HOWEVER, I thought it was a really interesting read and Brumberg's general arguments still carry weight (no pun intended) in the present cultural milieu. I have to admit that I'm not the biggest history buff because I have no atte I was at first hesitant to read this book because it's a little old (it was originally published in the 80s) and because it's the "history of anorexia" and not a history of eating disorders *in general* (which probably has a lot to due with it being written in the 80s, HOWEVER, I thought it was a really interesting read and Brumberg's general arguments still carry weight (no pun intended) in the present cultural milieu. I have to admit that I'm not the biggest history buff because I have no attention span, so the first few chapters were *interesting* but didn't grab me as much. I was really fascinated by the chapters that (in my opinion) more effectively intertwined historical texts with cultural analysis and the sociology of medicine. I think that Brumberg presented herself as a stricter historian in her writing about the earlier periods and then put herself into the book more as a feminist historian as the text became more current. I think it's very valuable that she traces the historical and cultural production of bodies: from valuing the functionality of bodies to valuing their appearance, by citing the origin of "ideal weight" (versus average weight) by one insurance company, and by weaving issues of female sexuality and class into her framework. I enjoyed that she added a postscript (10 years after the original publication) that was more personal and provided recommendations to women about how to move away from the norm of judging and valuing women by the size of their bodies before anything else.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    This was fascinating. You think of anorexia as a modern disease, especially since food used to be difficult to come by, and in some senses, it is a modern disease, but some of the symptoms have been around/recorded for hundreds of years. This was a great read, very interesting.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

    I read this for Krishnendu Ray's Contemporary Issues in Food Studies, September 2010. A remarkably easy read considering the depressing subject matter, but thankfully it ends on a hopeful note. Choice quotations (based on where I left bookmarks during my reading, which I am now clearing out in order to return the book to the library): Skeptical neurologist George Beard on the case of Mollie Fancher, "The Brooklyn Enigma," who became famous for eating almost nothing during more than 50 years she s I read this for Krishnendu Ray's Contemporary Issues in Food Studies, September 2010. A remarkably easy read considering the depressing subject matter, but thankfully it ends on a hopeful note. Choice quotations (based on where I left bookmarks during my reading, which I am now clearing out in order to return the book to the library): Skeptical neurologist George Beard on the case of Mollie Fancher, "The Brooklyn Enigma," who became famous for eating almost nothing during more than 50 years she spent bed-ridden in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: "The testimony of non-experts amounts to nothing.... If we accept non-expert testimony there can be no science. The first step in any science is the rejection of all average non-expert human testimony relating to it." (86) I mean, wow, dude (by which I mean: "well, screw you too, buddy"). In class we talked about the role of "fasting girls" in the rise of scientific medicine and "expert" doctors to prominence over the previous social and moral authorities (i.e. priests) and this Beard fellow pretty much reeks of having a big ol' "dammit I'm just as good as God" complex, yesh. On Charles Lasègue, the French physician whose 1873 description of what he termed l'anorexie hysterique was crucial to understanding the importance of familial relationships in eating disorders: In effect, it took a Frenchman, convinced of the manifold delights of the palate, to suggest the basic connection between love and food in the making of anorexia nervosa. (127) An excerpt from Hilde Bruch's Eating Disorders, published a century later (emphasis mine): "...eating, from birth on, is always closely intermingled with interpersonal experiences, and its physiological and psychological aspects cannot be strictly differentiated. There is no human society that deals rationally with food in its environment, that eats according to the availability, edibility, and nutritional value alone. Food is endowed with complex values and elaborate ideologies, religious beliefs, and prestige systems." (227) Brumberg actually returns to the line I bold-faced up there in her conclusion, which as I mentioned before is remarkably hopeful given the depressing nature of her book's subject matter. Moving on... the author devotes a few pages to Annette Kellerman, Australian swimmer and silent film star who embodied (ha, ha) the early twentieth century's increasing fascination with the "svelte female figure" (242): Kellerman was proud of her 5-foot-3-1/4-inch, 137-pound body. She alleged that Dudley A. Sargent, director of physical training at Harvard, thought her figure "nearer the correct proportions than any he had ever seen." Although Kellerman's weight and measurements (35-26-37) seem quite ample by today's standards, she was an avid campaigner against fat." (243) Ooh, yeah, with a BMI of 24.1, I can only imagine how doomed Walter "really we shouldn't allow the 'normal' BMI range to be so darned high" Willett thinks she was. Sigh. I had three bookmarks in the endnote sections, and I'm not sure what I meant to highlight with those, but here's a few guesses: In case I need to give myself heartburn: "The Obese Person," Time magazine, 1 March 1943; "Fat Personality," Newsweek, 17 November 1952 — I'm sure those are just delightful reads. (342) But then there's: The word "diet," formerly a more general term for the regulation of food intake for a variety of purposes [or, y'know, just generally what a person eats —TvC], has now come to mean the reduction of food intake to lower weight and slim the body.... See Margaret Ohlson, "Diet Therapy in the United States in the Past 200 Years," Journal of the American Dietetic Association 60 (November 1976), 490-497. Modern dieting has (342) another characteristic that distinguishes it from its predecessors: in the twentieth century the diet is generally based on some quantitative system or unit of measurement that can be counted, such as exchange lists based on the food groups, or calories. (343) Which reminds me: I finally got Measured Meals from Bobst: now I should read it. Brumberg shouts out Hillel Schwartz's Never Satisfied , which I should really read one of these days, and some feminist books which address "modern dieting and the cultural imperative for slimness in women": Kim Chernin, The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness (New York, 1981) and Ann Scott Beller, Fat and Thin: A Natural History of Obesity (New York, 1977). Which I don't know if I could handle reading given their age and my advanced crankitude. Then there's William Bennett and Joel Gurin, The Dieter's Dilemma: Eating Less and Weighing More (New York, 1982), especially chapter 5. And that's Fasting Girls, now bookmark-free, so I can return it to the library. Yay!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Glenn Norris

    A fascinating and informative book! Highly recommend it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Psipsipsi

    I note that not so many of us males have reviewed this book, which is a shame as after reading it I don't think a man can ever look on women the same way. Of course men think about their bodies, but not every day and normally not for long. So I thank my author for opening my eyes to the other half lives. Cultural influences are very important - a truism I suppose. But the mechanistic biomedical explanations are more influential in shaping policies and hence anorexia nervosa and its cousin bulimi I note that not so many of us males have reviewed this book, which is a shame as after reading it I don't think a man can ever look on women the same way. Of course men think about their bodies, but not every day and normally not for long. So I thank my author for opening my eyes to the other half lives. Cultural influences are very important - a truism I suppose. But the mechanistic biomedical explanations are more influential in shaping policies and hence anorexia nervosa and its cousin bulimia nervosa are therapeutically dealt with. This author makes a powerful case for an alternative narrative derived from feminist history. Like several other reviewers I faltered over the first few chapters, on reflection because the facts on which the author fed were limited, and she is too good a scholar to wildly speculate. As the facts became richer the book became more fascinating. As I doubt women in rich countries are going to return to being baby making machines from the age of 13 this tale hasn't neared completion.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Celeste

    I bought this book because I have a student dealing with anorexia. I've always known girls who had disordered eating habits, so I had a working knowledge of the condition, but I had never known someone who was hospitalized for it. I read this wanting to know more about it. It's a history book, which made it refreshing to read. Brumberg is a historian, so while her tone seems a bit clinical at times, she definitely stays away from the common tendency to get dramatic over the subject matter. In fac I bought this book because I have a student dealing with anorexia. I've always known girls who had disordered eating habits, so I had a working knowledge of the condition, but I had never known someone who was hospitalized for it. I read this wanting to know more about it. It's a history book, which made it refreshing to read. Brumberg is a historian, so while her tone seems a bit clinical at times, she definitely stays away from the common tendency to get dramatic over the subject matter. In fact, the straight-forwardness of her presentation of the facts conveyed a seriousness that was truly frightening. And likely as the most refreshing aspect of her reading was the lack of judgement, either on the anorectic or society. I will probably read her other work.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nick Tramdack

    I picked up this book to do some research for a horror story and found it absorbing. I particularly liked the author's argument that Victorian-era anorexia "honored the emotional guidelines governing the middle-class Victorian family." I also learned a cool word from this book: "Parentectomy" - the medical move of removing the patient from her parents... a strategy more effective than sentimental, deluded American adults would like to believe... All in all, a fascinating journey to a dark place. I picked up this book to do some research for a horror story and found it absorbing. I particularly liked the author's argument that Victorian-era anorexia "honored the emotional guidelines governing the middle-class Victorian family." I also learned a cool word from this book: "Parentectomy" - the medical move of removing the patient from her parents... a strategy more effective than sentimental, deluded American adults would like to believe... All in all, a fascinating journey to a dark place.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

    The book itself and the forward and afterward written over a decade ago are very outdated in terms of understanding anorexia nervosa. I am always weary when an author makes a big point about being a feminist and did not appreciate that so little attention was given to men who may develop the condition. People I’ve known who have had the diagnosis come from a variety of backgrounds and so I don’t see the point of focusing on a singular culture. I also did not appreciate that all dieting was consi The book itself and the forward and afterward written over a decade ago are very outdated in terms of understanding anorexia nervosa. I am always weary when an author makes a big point about being a feminist and did not appreciate that so little attention was given to men who may develop the condition. People I’ve known who have had the diagnosis come from a variety of backgrounds and so I don’t see the point of focusing on a singular culture. I also did not appreciate that all dieting was considered bad, as that is not the case.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ashlyn

    This should be a vital History book, not only from a medical, psychology, gender-studies perspective, but as it pertains to the Western culture (and probably for sociology in world history when it spreads). Brumberg's very well-researched work chronicles the historical manifestations of eating, or not eating, food, from Medieval times to modern times in women in middle-class/upper-class societies. Like many others have noted, her conclusions are drawn in the 1980s, and in a new edition Afterward This should be a vital History book, not only from a medical, psychology, gender-studies perspective, but as it pertains to the Western culture (and probably for sociology in world history when it spreads). Brumberg's very well-researched work chronicles the historical manifestations of eating, or not eating, food, from Medieval times to modern times in women in middle-class/upper-class societies. Like many others have noted, her conclusions are drawn in the 1980s, and in a new edition Afterward, she republishes with trends in other genders and ethnicities. Of course, as Brumberg says, this is a complex disorder and it will forever, and ever keep evolving, changing forms, affecting new groups and "help" invent new treatments for this disease, which will potentially be diagnosed as something else (like "carb addiction" instead of "obesity"). Fasting Girls does touch on historical events where other disorders were developing -- and not only focuses on individual cases, but more importantly, how this disease is traced through out own sociological and cultural connections; thus perpetuating it in a myriad of ways. Fast food restaurants, Uber Eats, diet books, these are our cultural "negative" norms now, but I'm also very wary now of the "positive" ones that are drowning the "Wellness" industry via Veganism, Exercise Regimes with new gadgets and Youtube, "Healthy" food-porn instagram accounts, and our obsession with what someone eats in a day -- it's nuts. The motivation for individual and cultural movements to be more mindful about what we put in our bodies is also scary, because pickiness, 'intolerances,' even the grazing "foodie," makes one's food-peculiarities all the more socially acceptance, thus used as a defense in medical offices. Most of all, Brumberg is persistent in her historical insight, and the fact that she's not a medical professional, but does write with passion about what we CAN do -- be an active role model, come up with a personal philosophy about how you're going to engage in beauty/diet talk, even with yourself; and how you will speak up if a person, organization or product is irrational -- stop the habit loop. I loved her suggestion of changing the topics of conversations (especially among women) from make-up, soaps and smoothie to ideas, education, hobbies -- and wouldn't that help ALL humans understand ourselves and one another?

  12. 4 out of 5

    Arwen17

    I agree with most of what she talks about. But I'm extremely annoyed by her avoidance of the obesity epidemic as a reason for the rise in EDs. She does talk about the unhealthy modern food environment a little bit in the last chapter, but she completely dances around it and promotes "fat acceptance" as the "solution" to eating disorders. Instead of promoting nutrition and researching WHY we're having an obesity crisis, she strongly promotes "fat acceptance" instead and basically calls anyone who I agree with most of what she talks about. But I'm extremely annoyed by her avoidance of the obesity epidemic as a reason for the rise in EDs. She does talk about the unhealthy modern food environment a little bit in the last chapter, but she completely dances around it and promotes "fat acceptance" as the "solution" to eating disorders. Instead of promoting nutrition and researching WHY we're having an obesity crisis, she strongly promotes "fat acceptance" instead and basically calls anyone who tries to take care of their health (and as a result becomes thin) as "narcissistic" for doing this. According to her, we should all just accept being ugly and fat and not try to improve ourselves in any way because we might suffer some kind of eating disorder. That is NOT a true solution. As bad as "under-eating" disorders are, the vast majority of the country eats unhealthily, which is why they're fat, which is why they try to "under-eat" to begin with. If you fix nutrition and get everyone on an unprocessed vegan diet, you fix 99% of "overeating" and "undereating" problems. While I agree with her book that anorexia has existed for a long time in one form or another, you CANNOT blame social media alone for the huge rise in eating disorders. It comes from the toxic food environment creating a massive obesity epidemic. This author acts like people in the past were always this fat and that they just didn't notice it because social media wasn't there to tell them about it. Which isn't true. As soon as the population was wealthy enough to eat large amounts of animal products (aka the growing middle class in victorian times), then the population began to grow fat (just like the aristocracy of old). The ever-increasing amounts of "rich foods" (aka animal products) is what set off the worries of "remaining thin", because it suddenly became VERY difficult to remain thin because of what people were routinely eating on a daily basis!! One of my favorite quotes from a TEDtalk is "extremity on one end begets extremity on the other end." AKA because of the massive increase in obesity (because of rich foods in vast cheap quantities), we see a massive increase in dieting and "under-eating". Fix the obesity problem (which is 80% of the population at this point) and you fix much of the eating disorder problem (which is only 1-5% of the population). Whatever the fix is, "fat acceptance" is definitely not the answer. That path leads to continued heart disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, etc.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Rebekah Bell

    This work on the history of anorexia nervosa in the Western world is engaging and interesting precisely because it is a unique entry into the increasingly abundant literature of eating disorders. As a survey on the basic trends and stereotypes that popular culture has about this disorder, Brumberg makes some insightful points and draws meaningful conclusions. However, readers truly interested in understanding the disorder and individuals struggling with it may do well to seek information elsewhe This work on the history of anorexia nervosa in the Western world is engaging and interesting precisely because it is a unique entry into the increasingly abundant literature of eating disorders. As a survey on the basic trends and stereotypes that popular culture has about this disorder, Brumberg makes some insightful points and draws meaningful conclusions. However, readers truly interested in understanding the disorder and individuals struggling with it may do well to seek information elsewhere. Some of the thoughts, ideas, and research are clearly dated - the stereotype that young, affluent, intelligent girls are those most likely to become afflicted serves almost as the thesis of this book. An interesting discussion follows that may accurately treat the historical development of that particular demographic. However, as more and more unreported cases due to shame in certain cultures or lack of financial resources are discovered, this singularly focused book is perhaps in neeed of an update. This book is most helpful if read in context of a wider body of work on eating disorders, and understood as historical and not an attempt to understand the complex and deeply personal psychological causes behind individual persons struggling with anorexia. I do commend the author for her work. It is clearly well researched and ahead of its time, it is simply dated now. She also never claims to have it all figured out. Taken for what it is and nothing more, this is a valuable work.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    Read as part of research. Very interesting from a historian's perspective, but wish it would be updated, since the world of eating disorders and our conceptions of what constitutes "disordered eating" have changed so drastically since publication. Can't 100% stand behind this book from a personal standpoint, but definitely enjoyed reading how disordered eating has been constructed by and understood by the cultures and societies in which it has existed throughout history. "The madhouse is a somewh Read as part of research. Very interesting from a historian's perspective, but wish it would be updated, since the world of eating disorders and our conceptions of what constitutes "disordered eating" have changed so drastically since publication. Can't 100% stand behind this book from a personal standpoint, but definitely enjoyed reading how disordered eating has been constructed by and understood by the cultures and societies in which it has existed throughout history. "The madhouse is a somewhat troubling site for establishing a female pantheon." (37) - Nope - a lot of my research is centered around mad folks'/ eating disordered folks' connection to mythic tradition and the creation of automythography around our madness/creating mythic narratives as healing spaces/connection to myth and nature as intrinsically connected to honouring the nourishment of our bodymind... but you know, I'm still working those thoughts out.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    3.5 stars. This was an interesting look at the history of anorexia and the various cultural factors that lead to its prevalence today. I didn't look closely enough when I picked it up and was disappointed when it was historical and not clinical, but I ended up really enjoying it and learning a lot about the history of women not eating. 3.5 stars. This was an interesting look at the history of anorexia and the various cultural factors that lead to its prevalence today. I didn't look closely enough when I picked it up and was disappointed when it was historical and not clinical, but I ended up really enjoying it and learning a lot about the history of women not eating.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jordan

    Felt a little technical reading, mostly because it's a historian's book and I'm not super familiar with that field's writing. Very informative and interesting conclusions drawn, and I'd be interested in reading about Brumberg's thoughts yet another twenty years after her additional foreword and afterword in 2000. Felt a little technical reading, mostly because it's a historian's book and I'm not super familiar with that field's writing. Very informative and interesting conclusions drawn, and I'd be interested in reading about Brumberg's thoughts yet another twenty years after her additional foreword and afterword in 2000.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Malú Penella

    Great read of you have wondered why anorexia - and eating disorders - seem to be more prevalent in women. Wish the section on modern dieting and pressure over women to be thin had been longer, but the past of the disease is illustrated clearly in this book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Celine

    Fantastic book focussing on the socio-cultural history of anorexia. Sensitive, well-researched, and still current despite originally being published in the eighties.

  19. 5 out of 5

    skaska123

    Good introduction to history of anorexia but doesnt provide much detail especially about the fasting girls.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Addie Maddie Marie

    This book is outdated, alright. Not worth reading, only harms people. Do not advocate parent-ectomy. Do. Not. Thanks, bye.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Susan Bailey

    I read this book as research for a project and found it to be far more than just a clinical history of a disease. Since anorexia nervosa is a psychological disease influenced by personal family history and societal culture, I got a wonderful overview of the social history of food and women particularly over the 19th and 20th centuries where the disease is prevalent. Anorexia was first specified as a disease in the 1870s by both British and French doctors. Freud had not yet hit the scene so anorex I read this book as research for a project and found it to be far more than just a clinical history of a disease. Since anorexia nervosa is a psychological disease influenced by personal family history and societal culture, I got a wonderful overview of the social history of food and women particularly over the 19th and 20th centuries where the disease is prevalent. Anorexia was first specified as a disease in the 1870s by both British and French doctors. Freud had not yet hit the scene so anorexia was pretty much discussed and treated as a strictly medical ailment. Often described as a "wasting disease" similar to TB in the ravages upon the body due to extreme weight loss, anorexia baffled many with regards to treatment because the mind and the emotions were not yet considered. French physician Dr. Lasegue attempted to discuss the influence of the family dynamic upon the patient and cited unrequited love from a male suitor as a possible cause. Dr. Brumberg describes the Victorian culture of the Gilded Age, describing a petrie dish of conditions for the disease. There is way too much to get into here - all I can say is if you love social history, you will enjoy her analysis and find it enlightening. I found myself wondering if anorexia was perhaps at the level it is at today considering the conditions, but it was too new a disease at the time and was not always diagnosed. She then gets into the twentieth century with the decline of the religious, self-sacrificing life and the rise of the Cult of Self (my words), describing the rapid changes throughout the century. She describes the growth of the beauty and diet industries, striving to achieve essentially the same goal as the Victorians sought to achieve by different means - attracting the right man. You may want to read this book to learn more about anorexia nervosa but I highly recommend it also (especially in the last few chapters) for those interested in an overview of social change for women and society.

  22. 4 out of 5

    rachel williams

    Ok, so I am willing to accept that this was originally written in the 80s and that some language and information will be outdated. And she says a lot of wonderful and enlightening things about eating disorders which illuminate SOME myths the general public tends to accept as fact. However, the book (and I know it is intended to focus on women) has a lot of gender bias that is extremely detrimental to male sufferers and alienates them as a demographic needing help. She uses the term "rare male an Ok, so I am willing to accept that this was originally written in the 80s and that some language and information will be outdated. And she says a lot of wonderful and enlightening things about eating disorders which illuminate SOME myths the general public tends to accept as fact. However, the book (and I know it is intended to focus on women) has a lot of gender bias that is extremely detrimental to male sufferers and alienates them as a demographic needing help. She uses the term "rare male anoretic" many times over and it is disconcerting. We know now that just as many men have eating disorders as women but our society has treated the disorder like it is a "woman's disorder" so many young men do not feel compelled to seek help. I think this book should have some with a preface stating that she knows men have eating disorders as well and that they need just as much care and attention. Albeit, the book was well-written despite the many things I considered to be huge red flags. People new to studying eating disorders: make sure you check more up ti date sources as well. I have my B.A. in psychology and art and am working on my M.A. in art therapy. (plus myself and my boyfriend were both sufferers of eating disorders in our youth).

  23. 5 out of 5

    Lizzie

    A history of the disease, or more specifically, a history of how the condition came to be seen as a disease. It starts with accounts of saints who lived on little or no food, and then moves to 19th century cases of "fasting girls" who claimed to be able to live without eating. Anorexia emerged as a psychological disorder in the 19th century when doctors theorized that middle class daughters used it as a way to distinguish themselves in their prosperous families. It wasn't until the 1920s that ov A history of the disease, or more specifically, a history of how the condition came to be seen as a disease. It starts with accounts of saints who lived on little or no food, and then moves to 19th century cases of "fasting girls" who claimed to be able to live without eating. Anorexia emerged as a psychological disorder in the 19th century when doctors theorized that middle class daughters used it as a way to distinguish themselves in their prosperous families. It wasn't until the 1920s that overeating was seen as a disorder as well. The afterword in the updated edition describes the pressure young women in college are under both to conform to modern ideas of beauty yet not be thought of as anorexic.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Liralen

    Fascinating. To be perfectly honest, I checked this out of the library three times without reading it - I'd get a few chapters in and then wander off to some other book. I'm glad I finally read it, though. Brumberg is a historian, not a psychologist or patient, which gives this book a unique tone in comparison to many (perhaps most) books about eating disorders. It's a bit outdated - the copy I eventually read is from the 80s, though I think the library copies were updated in 2000 - but nonetheles Fascinating. To be perfectly honest, I checked this out of the library three times without reading it - I'd get a few chapters in and then wander off to some other book. I'm glad I finally read it, though. Brumberg is a historian, not a psychologist or patient, which gives this book a unique tone in comparison to many (perhaps most) books about eating disorders. It's a bit outdated - the copy I eventually read is from the 80s, though I think the library copies were updated in 2000 - but nonetheless provides a compelling background to eating disorders. One thing that I particularly appreciated was that Brumberg made a point to examine both the similarities and the differences between present-day anorexia and Victorian fasting girls.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah

    I found it fascinating to learn about how gender constructs and culture affect symptoms of physiological disease or conditions. This book helped me understand why food and eating have been such powerful symptoms and methods of expression for women and girls throughout the years. The book also offers an illuminating glimpse into the culture and practices of medical treatments in Anglo countries. It is frustrating as well as inspiring to see how much has changed, and how little has changed. I grea I found it fascinating to learn about how gender constructs and culture affect symptoms of physiological disease or conditions. This book helped me understand why food and eating have been such powerful symptoms and methods of expression for women and girls throughout the years. The book also offers an illuminating glimpse into the culture and practices of medical treatments in Anglo countries. It is frustrating as well as inspiring to see how much has changed, and how little has changed. I greatly enjoyed this book.. Some reviewers have mentioned that the book only covers up to the 80s. I was fine with that because I am quite familiar with current issues surrounding anorexia. I wanted the historical perspective and that's what I got. I highly recommend this book.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Isabel

    When you hear Anorexia Nervosa you think about people who need help. In this book it talks about the history of Anorexia and how long it has been going on for. In the beginning of the book It states one of the fist documented case took place in the 1800's. Some facts that really surprised me was when it said that because you are to unhealthy you don't get you menstrual cycle. That means that you cant have a baby until you have your weight at a descent weight. That really surprised me because I w When you hear Anorexia Nervosa you think about people who need help. In this book it talks about the history of Anorexia and how long it has been going on for. In the beginning of the book It states one of the fist documented case took place in the 1800's. Some facts that really surprised me was when it said that because you are to unhealthy you don't get you menstrual cycle. That means that you cant have a baby until you have your weight at a descent weight. That really surprised me because I would have thought that you wouldn't be able to have a child at all after having anorexia.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Carlee

    An interesting look into the history of anorexia (duh). From medieval times where pious young women would claim that they didn't need to eat to more contemporary times where advertising and tv influence women in society. This book is a bit dry, takes a while to read, but if you're truly interested in stuff like this (as I am), I was willing to read the whole thing. Actually, I think I read the first version, published in 1994?. This book was an updated version, although there was only 1 chapter a An interesting look into the history of anorexia (duh). From medieval times where pious young women would claim that they didn't need to eat to more contemporary times where advertising and tv influence women in society. This book is a bit dry, takes a while to read, but if you're truly interested in stuff like this (as I am), I was willing to read the whole thing. Actually, I think I read the first version, published in 1994?. This book was an updated version, although there was only 1 chapter added on.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deirdre

    This is a historian's look at Anorexia and it's rise since victorian times. Interesting in how it looks at body image and how it's changed over the years combined with how the attitude of many of the people involved has changed. Disturbing in many ways it's an indictment in how divorced from reality our perception of fat and body image has become. This is a historian's look at Anorexia and it's rise since victorian times. Interesting in how it looks at body image and how it's changed over the years combined with how the attitude of many of the people involved has changed. Disturbing in many ways it's an indictment in how divorced from reality our perception of fat and body image has become.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Heiden

    Boring- and this is coming from someone with a Masters in psych. It is also very dated when it comes to contemporary times. The book basically ends in the mid-eighties. Historically, it gives great insight as to where eating disorders may have begun, but I'm betting there are much better books out there. I really enjoyed the author's Body Project, so this was a disappointment. Boring- and this is coming from someone with a Masters in psych. It is also very dated when it comes to contemporary times. The book basically ends in the mid-eighties. Historically, it gives great insight as to where eating disorders may have begun, but I'm betting there are much better books out there. I really enjoyed the author's Body Project, so this was a disappointment.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cassidy

    A bit outdated, and certainly not the go-to choice for someone seeking to understand the individual experience or psychology of the modern anorexia nervosa sufferer. That being said, as a historical and political text, Brumberg's work is rigorous, fascinating, and illuminating. I particularly took interest in the chapters pertaining to women and food in the Victorian Era. A bit outdated, and certainly not the go-to choice for someone seeking to understand the individual experience or psychology of the modern anorexia nervosa sufferer. That being said, as a historical and political text, Brumberg's work is rigorous, fascinating, and illuminating. I particularly took interest in the chapters pertaining to women and food in the Victorian Era.

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