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by Maria Stavrou
Jessica Kingsley, 2008
Review by Mirko Daniel Garasic on Jun 23rd 2009

Bulimics on Bulimia

Bulimics on Bulimia is a collection of witness's stories directly written by women experiencing Bulimia in different stages of their lives. Stavrou acknowledges the fact that eating disorders increasingly affect males as well, but no volunteers from the "strong gender" were ready to give a direct testimony of their illness. This secondary aspect, underscored in the Introduction, should perhaps help the reader realize the level of difficulty that individuals experiencing Bulimia have to face when forced to confront their illness. As stated by the editor herself, this volume was inspired by the book Anorexics on Anorexia edited by Rosemary Shelly in 1997. It re-proposes the same structure with the intention of thus underlining the equal consideration that Bulimia should have in comparison to Anorexia and that it currently, according to the editor, does not get. The main problem related to the secondary role given to Bulimia within the range of eating disorders derives from a stigmatization of the "lesser" of the two evils, but, the editor argues, this is deceiving and has produced in society a particular insensitivity towards the suffering of Bulimics, which is perceived as not immediately as life-threatening as Anorexia.

In order to contrast this approach based on pseudo-medical prejudices, the editor chooses to offer to the reader a much broader picture of what it means to be Bulimic, and even more interestingly, who are the people affected by it. The non-expert reader as much as the person used to dealing with eating disorders will soon discover that the classic stereotype - shared with Anorexia - is far from representative of the current situation in Western countries. Eating disorders affect a wide range of people: from full grown-ups such as married women to adolescents as young as 11 years old. More generally, the age coverage of the illness is broader than that of other eating disorders such as Anorexia. What adds value to this book, however, is not its focus on a larger group of women in terms of age, but instead its success in bringing to the surface stories that would otherwise go unnoticed. In fact, while people affected by Anorexia are bound to be discovered sooner or later, Bulimics can potentially reach very dangerous stages of their illness without ever worrying people around them. As a result, testimonies of Bulimics have been more limited, and in this respect, I think that the achievement by the editor to let these voices talk is worthy of praise. We can thus discover more directly the drama of the two parallel lives lived by people affected by this illness: if on the one side Bulimics can be seen by the outside world as successful and inspiring individuals, on the other side, in their internal world, they remain enslaved by their self-imposed weakness that makes them perceive themselves as constant underachievers. I have found the passage below a particularly strong testimony of this sad reality:

I am 27, with a happy marriage, a good career, an education. I am respected and admired for my intelligence and intensity at work. "Superwoman" my boss calls me. I am bilingual. I have hobbies. I have talent. I have everything. But I still cry, every day, about food. Every time I sit down to eat, I wonder if it will be a binge.  (79, my emphases)

There are many aspects of Bulimia related to its potential health risks that are not sufficiently considered in the literature on eating disorders. This book shows the multiple dimensions of what it means to live a life affected by this mental disorder. This work is a useful tool to enter the field of eating disorders, or to broaden one's knowledge of it, for those involved in the study of the illnesses for professional or personal reasons. However, even if the book is directed to a wider group of readers, researchers on eating disorders like myself, would have probably found it useful if some professional analysis of the testimonies was integrated into the book, in order to make it more valuable for academic investigation.

 

© 2009 Mirko Daniel Garasic

 

Mirko Daniel Garasic, PhD Student, Centre for Ethics and Global Politics, LUISS "Guido Carli" University, Rome