‘Wasted’ by Marya Hornbacher: An Eating Disorder Memoir
Eating disorders have been a perennial and troubling favourite story in the media in recent decades. Every so often the subject pops back into the popular consciousness as a hot topic, often the result of a particularly harrowing personal account of this clutch of psychological and physical conditions.
One of the most popular and successful memoirs regarding eating disorders might be regarded as being Marya Horbacher’s ‘Wasted’, published by Random House in 1998. This account ranges from the first deviations and abnormalities in her eating patterns in early childhood, up into early adulthood via a failed attempt at graduation and various types of employment including journalism.
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Photos and interviews with Hornbacher, especially at and around the time of this memoir’s release, might conceivably be regarded as more contributing to the problem of glamorising and exacerbating eating disorders rather than assisting with it. Pictures certainly show her as a pretty and poised presence at the time of the release, though those taken at the nadir of her anorexic and bulimic experiences tell a different and harrowing story.
But there is a certain level of rather brutal honesty in her account of the progression of her illness. She doesn’t try to sugar-coat the experience, including her own culpability in the development of the condition, and her many incidences of regrettable behaviour while in the grip of it. Some aspects of the book are so truthful that they are hard to read. I found her description of her low spot while trying to get through college especially troublesome in this respect, wincing at the depiction of a social butterfly gradually retreating into an increasingly physically ill recluse and oddity. The descriptions of her worst binges are also painful: one wants to reach out and stop their progression halfway through, but it's impossible.
Is 'Wasted' a useful book for sufferers of eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa to read? I'm not sure what it can contribute to recovery, but as a cautionary tale it might prove to be the nudge for some that they need to shock them out of taking those first few steps down a slippery slope. For the rest of us, it's a well-written memoir that provides both shocks and sorrow along the way, along with a hopeful ending.
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