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Exploring this phenomenon in closer detail provides a useful route to understanding anorexia as a reading disorder. Finally, I explore the implications of my method for understanding reading disorders and anorexic discourse.
Here I must state explicitly that I do not believe Wasted was written as an intentionally pro-anorexic text.
The best little girl in the world
It is not the aim of this paper to apportion blame to Hornbacher or her readers for their involvement in these rhetorical processes; the hope is to shed some light on this hitherto little-explored relationship between reading behaviors, narrative engagement and anorexia nervosa. Wasted and Hornbacher have a central role in this epiphenomenon but it is unlikely to have been a deliberate or welcome one.
Did I write it to help others? I wrote it so their mothers, husbands would put them in the hospital. What may be self-conscious attempts to locate herself at some remove from her more graphic accounts of illness emerge as mechanisms inviting readers to take on an anorexic subject position.
It is defined and has a beginning and an end. The problem will be solved by shrinking the body.
Ordinarily, being forced to assume such an identity is alienating, foreign, uncanny; it coaxes from readers a dysphoria between mind and body, a corporeal sense of wrongness. Yet since Hornbacher consistently, almost conspiratorially, invites her readers to identify with her, passages such as these have no room for alienation.
Hornbacher is a self-made expert on eating disorders.
Her academic mode of writing is unusual for a layperson, but especially so in a memoir, where footnotes, citations, and bibliographies are practically unheard of. Her application of these markers of authority reinforce the impression that she really is the best at what she does—starving. By this phrase I do not aim to haphazardly diagnose, much less disparage, literary or stylistic innovation per se.
When you wake up, when you get home from school, after you binge, after you purge, when you eat dinner, after you throw up dinner.
By the time she reaches her lowest weight of fifty-two pounds, her writing moves away from implied directions to overt instructions. You take the edge of your spoon and run it over the top of the yogurt, being careful to get only the melted part. Lick it—wait, be careful, you have to only lick a teeny bit at a time, the sheen should last at least four or five licks, and you have to lick the back of the spoon first, then turn the spoon over and lick the front, with the tip of your tongue.
Then set the yogurt aside again. Read a full page. Moreover, her understanding of anorexia as superior to bulimia, as a choice she made—after reading a book she felt encouraged her—and her general approach to reading and textual consumption from childhood on arrestingly illustrate the idea of a genuine and meaningful relationship between dysfunctional reading and dysfunctional eating.
Hornbacher was bulimic for six years before developing anorexia, and alternated between the two for some years. She presents the disorders as startlingly different: to Hornbacher, anorexia and bulimia exist, it appears, in different people.
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It attacks the body, but it does not deny. These function as an obsession and emotional crutch just as much as her eating disorder does, a fact which betrays her reading as a disorder. What was the use? Why bother dragging the weight of my small body down to dinner? Why move? Why breathe? Indeed, as she attends college locally at the age of seventeen, Marya fuels her body and her disorder with books and seemingly little else.
They brought me books.
I sat at the table, behind my battalion of books, peering over the top, half-reading, half-talking to them, telling them about my books. This treatment, aimed primarily at women, not only required total bed rest and the imposition of a rich, heavy, and large diet indeed reminiscent of many anorexia refeeding programs , but also prohibited forms of mental exertion like reading and writing.
And never touch a pen, brush or pencil as long as you live. Anorexic Discourse: Pro-Anorexia and the Cycle of Disordered Reading This final section seeks to examine how disordered reading and writing practices relate to the advent and growth of pro-anorexia culture and to illuminate the processes of anorexic discourse through looking at some of the rhetoric of pro-eating disorder websites.
That is to say, not only are there disordered readers, those readers may also become disordered writers—like Hornbacher, and like the authors of pro-anorexia websites.
It is my hypothesis that these websites are, in general, authored by those who read maladaptively in the fashion described above and who, consequently, showcase their personally disordered interpretations of text—from Wasted to images of the Holocaust—and, in so doing reinforce the validity of reading in this way. Being thin and not eating are signs of true will power and success.
The Thin Commandments were not written as an instructive basis for the pro-ana cult. Rather, they were conceived of by eating disorder therapist Carolyn Costin as a tool to use in the treatment of anorexia.
The act of appropriating and reproducing texts across sites perpetuates an anorexic discourse by effacing the therapeutic intent and cementing the disordered reading as the dominant narrative. These websites also commonly feature themes of rebirth, transformation or resurrection, adopting images like dragonflies or butterflies Blue Dragonfly ; Cerulean Butterfly as emblematic of the anorexic endeavor—to transcend. Casey is noticed by her ballet teacher, Madame Seuart, who tells her that she could be very good if she loses a few pounds.
It doesn't take long before Casey becomes anorexic and bulimic. Casey's parents ignore her dream of becoming a professional dancer and instead want her to graduate high school, get a good job, and then become a wife and mother. Over the next two months, Casey's illness progresses as she throws herself into dieting and ballet dancing which causes Gail to worry that something is wrong with her.
Her grades in school begin to deteriorate, which finally draws her parents' attention; however, Gail's attempts to support Casey cause more fights with their parents and distracts them from Casey. When Gail sees how thin Casey has become, she is horrified and warns her parents.
Casey is sent to a doctor who orders her to start eating normally again, threatening to send her to a hospital if she doesn't.
Despite the pressure, Casey continues her eating disorder in secret. Frank finds her diet pills and tries to force her to eat, but she refuses.
Beyond “Mirror, mirror”: Rereading Anorexia Nervosa
After feeling ignored at a party, Casey lies to her parents about having eaten at the party. Frank doesn't believe her and tries to force feed her a peanut butter sandwich, but Casey bites his hand.
Plot[ edit ] Seventeen-year-old Casey Powell is a shy teenaged cheerleader who gets good grades and dreams of being a professional ballet dancer. Her parents, Frank and Joanne, give all their attention to her year-old sister Gail, who has just found out she is pregnant by someone she has no interest in marrying.
Frank is infuriated and Joanne is worried, so they forget to spend time with Casey; not a new thing, as problem-child Gail has always drawn attention away from good-girl Casey.
Feeling ignored by her parents and embarrassed by harassment at her cheerleading audition, Casey starts wanting to look like the girls on the covers of magazines and begins to diet and exercise.
Casey is noticed by her ballet teacher, Madame Seuart, who tells her that she could be very good if she loses a few pounds. It doesn't take long before Casey becomes anorexic and bulimic.
Casey's parents ignore her dream of becoming a professional dancer and instead want her to graduate high school, get a good job, and then become a wife and mother.
Over the next two months, Casey's illness progresses as she throws herself into dieting and ballet dancing which causes Gail to worry that something is wrong with her. Her grades in school begin to deteriorate, which finally draws her parents' attention; however, Gail's attempts to support Casey cause more fights with their parents and distracts them from Casey.
When Gail sees how thin Casey has become, she is horrified and warns her parents. Casey is sent to a doctor who orders her to start eating normally again, threatening to send her to a hospital if she doesn't.These function as an obsession and emotional crutch just as much as her eating disorder does, a fact which betrays her reading as a disorder.
We wanted to be that genius, that idiot mad with the world of his mind. Posted 04 February - Because her parents took away her diet pills and laxatives, Casey attempts to steal more from the pharmacy the next day; however, she is caught and arrested. Her parents, Frank and Joanne, give all their attention to her year-old sister Gail, who has just found out she is pregnant by someone she has no interest in marrying.