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Submitted Literature

Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

By Marya Hornbacher

Review

Mayra Hornbacher’s autobiographical text Wasted is a searingly honest, at times painfully so, account of her anorexia and bulimia, from its early childhood roots through adolescence and into adulthood. Hornbacher’s entire existence is contained within calories, exercise, food, weight and self-hatred.  She also reveals the tricks that she used to evade hospitalisation, as well as the negligence of inexperienced clinical staff that allow her illness to continue unabated while she appears ‘well’. One of the elements that make this text both readable and useful from a clinical perspective is her comment on the cultural aetiology of eating disorders – society’s obsessive focus on the body, beauty, thinness, health.  This fixation – most commonly around women’s bodies but increasingly around the male figure – perpetuates and maintains the stereotypes within which no one can win – too thin, too fat, never a happy medium.

Key Themes:

  • Autobiography
  • Eating Disorders
  • Revealing Reads
  • Suicidality

Significant Quotes / Pages

6 - “An eating disorder is not usually a phase, and it is not necessarily indicative of madness. It is quite maddening, granted, not only for the loved ones of eating disordered person but also for the person herself.  It is, at the most basic level, a bundle of deadly contradictions: a desire for power that strips you of all power.  A gesture of strength that divests you of all strength.   A wish to prove that you need nothing, that you have no human hungers, which turns on itself and becomes a searing need for the hunger itself.  It is an attempt to find an identity, but ultimately it strips you of any sense of yourself, save the sorry identity of ‘sick.’  It is a grotesque mockery of cultural standards of beauty that winds up mocking no one more than you.  It is a protest against cultural stereotypes of women that in the end makes you seem the weakest, the most needy and neurotic of all women.”

205 – “I didn’t want it to be me underneath.  I wanted to kill the me underneath.  That fact haunted my days and nights.  When you realise you hate yourself so much, when you realise that you cannot stand who you are, and this deep spite has been the motivation behind your behavior for many years, your brain can’t quite deal with it.  It will try very hard to avoid that realization; it will try, in a last-ditch effort to keep your remaining parts of life, to remake the rest of you.  This is, I believe, different from the suicidal wish of those who are in so much pain that death feels like relief, different from the suicide I would later attempt, trying to escape that pain.  This is a wish to murder yourself; the connotation of kill is too mild.  This is a belief that you deserve slow torture, violent death.  Without being entirely aware of it, I had settled on starvation as my torture of choice.  When people think about killing themselves, they usually think about killing themselves with the least amount of pain, the briefest period of suffering.  This is different.”

Reference: Marya, Hornbacher. 1999. Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. New York: HarperCollins, 1999

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009