A memoir by the mother of a teenage girl with anorexia, written with her daughter's consent. (Her daughter is given the pseudonym "Kitty.")

There are a number of memoirs by people with anorexia (by far the best-written is Wasted by Marya Hornbacher, which is worth reading for the prose quality alone), but fewer by their loved ones. But a child with an eating disorder affects and is affected by the whole family.

This book attracted some really angry negative reviews, many of which took very vehement exception to Brown's refusal to take the blame for her daughter's illness, and for her saying that her family became temporarily dysfunctional due to the stress of it, but was doing basically okay before and after. I have no idea whether that's true or not, since all I can go by is the book itself. But I was struck by how pissed off a subsection of readers were at a mother saying, "This wasn't my fault" and "I think my family has good relationships," and how sure they were that this couldn't possibly be the case--that if a child has a mental illness, the mother and her family must be to blame.

Brown thinks the culprit is a combination of genetic predisposition and social pressure. She leans more heavily on the former as a factor in anorexia in general than I personally would, and if her account is correct, it does sound like that played more of a part in her daughter's case than it usually does. From her perspective, anorexia descended on her daughter like the demon in The Exorcist; while Brown herself had some mild issues with eating and weight that could have also affected her daughter, they're the sort of issues that probably 90% of white American moms have, and 90% of all daughters aren't anorexic. She might be in total denial about terrible problems within the family... but she might not be. Being a "good enough" family isn't a magic shield against mental illness.

As a memoir, it's gripping and well-written, and makes a convincing case for the family-based (Maudsley) approach to treating anorexia. (That approach also has very convincing evidence behind it.) But it's the response to it that fascinates me. Like I said, maybe the reviewers are right that she's lying or in denial. Brown does sound a little defensive. But who wouldn't sound defensive if she's constantly getting blamed for the illness that nearly killed her daughter? Could any mother have told her story without being blamed?

Americans are very apt to blame the victim. In every respect. And that goes one million if they're female. Were you raped? It's your fault for going on a date/wearing that dress/trusting your uncle/not buying a state of the art home security system. Do you have anorexia? You're vain/weak-willed/selfish/not really sick. Does your child have anorexia? You're a bad mother.

Brown's unknowable truthfulness or accuracy aside, there is nothing more infuriating to a big section of America than a woman who says, "It wasn't my fault."

Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia
asakiyume: (miroku)

From: [personal profile] asakiyume

I don't know, it seems like people are always saying how their parents screwed them up. But I guess that's different from saying that parents caused a particular psychological condition. I guess when it comes to strict diagnoses of things like biopolar or whatever, people don't blame parents--because they have better understanding of what does cause the thing. ... So maybe parents are a fallback in cases when there's not good understanding of the actual physiological cause of something.

(Not sure if my comment makes much sense as a reply. I started off thinking that maybe I disagreed with you because I hear people blaming their parents all the times for their hangups, but then decided that's different from actual diagnosable conditions--so I've ended up pretty much agreeing with you, I think.)
sholio: sun on winter trees (Default)

From: [personal profile] sholio

What you're saying does make sense, though! And you're right that people do say things like that a lot.

... I guess maybe one difference, besides the clinical diagnosis thing you pointed out, is that it's talking about your own family vs. talking about other people's families? I mean, LOADS of people talk about how their parents screwed them up, but it's a lot less common for people to do that to other people -- "I have this problem because of my parents" is not that uncommon (and it might be based on actual reality, childhood resentment, or some combination of the two), but "YOU have this problem so your parents must have done [x/y/x thing wrong]" is a lot less common for most disorders. In the past, yes, but not so much these days, especially if you're talking about strangers whose parents you know nothing about.

But eating disorders tend to be an exception to that. And I can't help thinking it's got something to do with how heavily gendered they are, in general public perception if not in actual reality.
oursin: Photograph of James Miranda Barry, c. 1850 (James Miranda Barry)

From: [personal profile] oursin

In the days not so very long ago when homosexuality was considered a psychiatric category, there was a pervasive 'blame the mother' theme in a lot of the literature, and even after it was removed from DSM.*
*(hence the graffito: 'My mother made me a homosexual./If I paid for the wool, would she make me one too?')

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