Sacha's Reviews > Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

Wasted by Marya Hornbacher
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May 31, 12

Read in December, 2008

Never one to starve myself to bend the needle on the scale, I've always been curious about the mentality of women who do feel the need for food deprivation in order to achieve the body they think they should have. I even knew a potential bulimic in high school and never understood how she could make herself throw up in order to stay skinny, not to mention feeling appalled by the concept. I'm able to say now after reading this memoir that the notion of eating disorders has been extensively elucidated for me while increasing my dismayed response to such behavior.

Nominated in 1998 for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction, "Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia" is at times shocking, difficult to digest (in more ways than one, pardon the pun) and yet strangely edifying, allowing the reader a peek inside the driving forces behind women with eating disorders. Author Marya Hornbacher cracks the door wide open on a madness few understand, a neurosis that rationalizes time and again the abnormal act of starvation.

"Wasted" follows Hornbacher's early childhood in California all the way to her college years in Minnesota and Washington D.C., chronicling in painstaking detail her burgeoning eating disorder. A bulimic at only nine years old, Marya perpetuated the vicious cycle of bingeing and purging for seven years, escalating to anorexia at 15 when she began attending Interlochen, a prestigious boarding school. Her poor self-image and intense scrutiny of her body and how others perceived it eventually led to drug addiction (uppers, downers, cocaine), alcohol abuse and promiscuity beginning at 13. Hospitalized a whopping five times in her youth, Marya's weight bottomed out at a precarious 52 lbs by the time she was 19, her doctors giving her parents the morbid time frame of one week in which to settle her affairs. She would eventually be classified as EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) due to her disordered eating patterns that couldn't be definitively categorized and even today still struggles with food/weight issues.

Hornbacher's scrupulous narrative allows her reader to peer deep into the psychological dysfunction of anoretics and bulimics, illustrating that eating disorders are a means of managing the self when all else is unmanageable, of feeling some sort of power over one's destiny and of conquering what is perceived to be an opposing force (such as hunger). Often citing quality of life, familial relationships and chemical imbalances as root causes, Hornbacher also explains that society's fixation on the perfect body and the normal angst of pre-pubescence as well as adolescence is a contributing factor to the feeling of one's life spiraling out of control, the impulse to adopt anorexic or bulimic behavior seen as a veritable steering wheel on the treacherous highway of life. Particularly haunting is the following passage that unerringly explains the aberrance of eating disorders:

"I had a clear haunting knowledge that my eating disorder was cruelty. We forget this. We think of bulimia and anorexia as either a bizarre psychosis, or as a quirky little habit, a phase, or as a thing that women just do. We forget that it is a violent act, that is bespeaks a profound level of anger toward and fear of the self." (pg. 123)

Time and I again I muttered aloud in disbelief and shock at Marya's candid confessions of excessive exercising, the relentless cycle of bingeing and purging and/or fasting, downing whole bottles of syrup of ipecac as well as laxative abuse and later on adopting self-mutilation as a coping mechanism. Hornbacher is so brutally truthful about her drug and alcohol use and numerous sexual encounters that her memoir was banned from several public school systems across the country as a result. Vacillating between clinical and personal, the book contains numerous annotations from medical professionals and/or medical texts in between horror stories of vomiting in alleys or suitcases, peculiar eating habits (carrot sticks and mustard) and the sometimes strange but mostly painful physical side effects of her disorder (growing lanugo, migraines, severe muscle aches, insomnia, amenorrhea, esophagitis, fainting/black outs, constantly feeling cold, craving salt, etc.).

Bottom line: If you're curious about someone who wages a constant war with their own body, if you yourself have trouble reconciling your own weight (though deemed normal) or your physically healthy daughter(s) tells you she just NEEDS to go on a diet, crack open "Wasted" and take it from someone who knows firsthand how hard it is - as well as how important it is - to feel comfortable in your own skin.
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