FASTING GIRLS: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease by Joan Brumberg

FASTING GIRLS: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A fascinating and meticulously researched history of a puzzling disease. According to Brumberg, the increasing incidence of young women who are addicted to starvation has several causes: societal pressure to be slim and accomplished, or what she calls ""a secular form of perfectionism""; individual psychology and biology; and family tensions. Contrary to popular opinion, however, anorexia nervosa is not a new disease. II first appeared in the Victorian era, when thinness was not a feminine ideal and family and societal values were very different from those of today. Still, the newspapers were filled with accounts of ""fasting girls"" who refused food for long periods of time to the great fascination of the public. As vividly described by Brumberg, these adolescent females, many of whom claimed never to eat, tragically illustrate what happens when food becomes a perverted symbol of a woman's deepest longings and frustrations. Cultural influences and expectations may shift from one century to another, but, as Brumberg amply demonstrates, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa will continue lo flourish as long as young women seek their identity in the body and not the mind. In lesser hands, this might have been a ponderous tome on an esoteric subject, but Brumberg's precise style, coupled with her perceptive insights about the historical roots of the disease, make her book an impressive piece of medical detective work--and an absorbing read.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press