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Reading Eating Disorders

Writings on Bulimia and Anorexia as Confessions of American Culture


Greta Olson

Reading Eating Disorders uses literary texts as a key to open the door of American culture. Novels and poems on disordered eating reveal America’s bulimic relationship to food and the tendency to punish individuals – particularly women and the poor – for not being slender. These texts partake of the confessional ethos in American public culture – the need to testify to and hear about intimate physical details. Tracing the history of eating disorders and Western culture’s idealization of thinness with reference to canonical literary works such as Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market (1859) and Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa (1747–8), the author illustrates anorexia, bulimia, and the binge-eating disorder using contemporary accounts of these disorders. A cultural studies approach to literature is taken to describe how writings on eating disorders reveal the political and economic world out of which they are written.
Contents: Eating Disorders and their Causes – Perspectives on Literary Accounts of Eating Disorders – Jenefer Shute’s Life Size: A Socially Critical and Confessional Account of an Anorectic’s Hospitalization – Stephanie Grant’s The Passion of Alice: An Ironic Take on the Atmosphere of Coerced Confession at an Eating Disorder Clinic – Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia: The Apotheosis of Confession.