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Critical Book Review
Joan Brumbergs Fast Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa
Brumberg, Joan. Fast Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa. New York: First Vintage Books, 2000.
2. I selected this book because it was one of the recommended readings from our textbook After The Fact: The Art of Historical Detection in chapter 17 “The Body in Question”. Anorexia Nervosa seems to be associated with the importance of a super lean female figure and I wanted to get a better understanding on the history of the disease. I had selected two other books Unbearable Weight Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body and Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s but I chose the one I did because anorexia is such a problem in pop culture right now I thought it would be interesting to find out more about it.
3. The main topic of this book is the birth of the term “anorexia nervosa” during the 19th century which is defined as the “absence of appetite”. Brumberg gives historical evidence that as early as the 13th century, women in medieval Europe refused food and engaged in prolonged fasting. To support the title “Fasting Girls” she cites examples, actual cases, where females abstained from food or were thought to have consumed only a few morsels daily. However, during the 19th century, the females who “fasted” fasted for reasons not associated with wanting to have a lean physique. The refusal to eat was sometimes associated with nervous indigestion or was often thought to be primarily a supernatural event. The “fasting girls” of the 19th century actually received lots of attention from the educated, uneducated, the elite, and the ordinary and actually became local celebrities. Some of the fasting girls, however, lived for years but it was thought that they may have been night eaters. What was most interesting, however, is Brumbergs statement “There is a final point to the story: there were, in fact, no “fasting boys.”(pg 99) Since our culture today reveres thin bodies, Brunberg believes that the disease will continue to flourish. To the advantage of those who acquire anorexic behaviors, the educational systems are very aware that eating disorders frequently occur in young adolescent females and have been trained how to cope and help.
4. Joan Jacob Brumberg is a historian. She also taught undergraduate courses in the history of American women and the family at Cornell University in 1985. She began her extensive research on anorexia nervosa when she was appointed as resident historian at Cornells Department of Human Development and Family Studies. I believe that she is a trustworthy source of information on anorexia nervosa because of the following awards she received for Fasting Girls: Berkshire Book Prize for the best book by a woman historian (1988), the John Hope Franklin Prize for the best book in American Studies (1989), the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize for the best book in the area of gender and mental health (1989), the Watson Davis Prize for the best book in translating ideas for the public