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
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore


BAnd that's a NORMAL interaction for this family. Like no: they weren't the kind of Toxic Horrible that you'd make a good movie out of for Lifetime but this is still what this girl was surrounded by - hypercritical, perfectionist, totally lacking in validation or celebration by her family - not "never good enough" in the sense of being endlessly berated, but definitely never good enough in the sense that the driving underly of the family was "well you could do better" . . . etc etc and you could see every bit of it reflected in how her anorexia worked.

Yeah, I think there's an unfortunate pendulum swing from "let's blame everything about this kid on their parents and home environment" to "well clearly this illness was caused by GENES ~handwave and the parents get an A+ for Good Parenting and don't have to feel guilty or change their behaviour." There are good parents who do a great job and their kid effectively gets struck by lightning, there are abusive parents who basically torture their kids, there are regular parents who struggle to do a "good enough" job but for whatever reason wind up making choices that are disastrous but not that conscious -- it's not like they were hiding a vowel from the kid's building block set.

Based just on personal observation there is a huge unwillingness to accept the role that luck, good or bad, plays -- which is just human, we like to think we have control over the things that happen to us, but this is multiplied exponentially when it comes to mental illness. It must be the parents! No, it must be the kid! No, it must be the genes or the Alar in the apple juice! There's a certain kind of insanity in trying to find The Absolute Root Cause of something so that not only can we assign the proper blame to various actors, but also fantasize about ending it once and for all. Anorexia is caused by 10% shit parenting and 20% adolescent rebelliousness and 30% genes and 40% lack of this vitamin, hallelujah. I think this is caused in large part by the mechanistic thinking resulting from the so-called Decade of the Brain, but people really are terrified by the idea that you can do all the "right things" and life can still fuck you over.
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