Understanding Anorexia: Journals, Writing, Memoirs

Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.

Writing Assignments

Journal 1: Contemplate the stories of three women who suffered from anorexia. For example, you might consider Christy Henrich, Karen Carpenter, and Elisa McCall. What did they seem to have in common? Did they have behaviors, attitudes, beliefs about themselves? Did they engage in negative self-talk? How was their relationship with their family, friends, colleagues? What were other aspects of their lives like? (school, sports, career, etc.)

On Christy Henrich: Tumbling Down: Women Athletes and Eating Disorders. http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0016,porter,14207,3.html

Christy Henrich, elite gymnast who died at age 22 of general organ failure after suffering from anorexia.

On Karen Carpenter: Karen Carpenter Biography. http://www.hotshotdigital.com/WellAlwaysRemember.2/KarenCarpenterBio.html

Elisa McCall. Information. http://www.smu.edu/eating_disorders/default.asp

Kate Moss: http://www.answers.com/topic/kate-moss

Journal 2: How does society unconsciously (or even openly and deliberately) reward the dysfunctional, destructive behaviors associated with anorexia and eating disorders? Do popular women's magazines ever falsely attribute the weight loss of a celebrity to a healthy lifestyle of diet and exercise (rather than self-starvation)? Does the attention by the media, extreme press, with photo shoots by papparazzi act in a contradictory way, "feeding" the behavior with extreme publicity? Discuss the phenomenon and find examples in the media of mixed messages with respect to extreme weight loss.

Journal 3: Consider the history of fasting, self-abnegation, self-deprivation, and mortification of the flesh for religious reasons. What was the rationale for fasting? When was the goal to purify oneself? When was the goal to suffer in order to go through a "dark night of the soul" and to achieve a mystical union with God? How do the practices of mystics, medieval religious personae, and saints contribute to the notion that anorexia is somehow saintly, even heroic? What are the values and personality characteristics attributed to them?

Journal 4: Anorexia and the Elderly. Anorexia usually takes two forms: a) body image anorexia; and b) silent suicide by self-starvation. The first, body image anorexia, is often related to a woman who is at odds with aging, and she become anorexic in the quest for elegance, and to transcend the aging process.

Examples of elderly body image anorexia include Karen Blixen (who wrote as Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa), whose weight plummeted to 80 pounds at age 74, and who subsisted on oysters, grapes, champagne, and amphetimines. (yum). http://www.salon.com/books/today/2003/02/05/feb05/

Karen Blixen (who wrote as Isak Dinesen).

Self-starvation among the elderly is much more common that is generally believed. In this case, it is often considered "silent suicide" and is accompanied by depression, and social isolation. Elder suicide: http://www.infoline.org/Crisis/eldersuicide.asp



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