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
recessional: bare-footed person in jeans walks on log (Default)

From: [personal profile] recessional

Oh for sure. And I mean in the case of the family I'm talking about I locate the cause of family dynamic in the father, hands down, SO THERE'S ALSO THAT. (And actually while not universal in the case of other anorexics I know where I KNOW their families contributed or at least exacerbated like crazy, it's relatively FREQUENT that the root of the crappy family dynamic was pretty clearly in the dad: HE set the family Tone, and the worst the moms did was get swept along by it.)

I just sort of suspect that part of the dynamic in this specific case is that in addition to the Blame The Woman/Victim thing that totally goes on, that's running into and combining with the part where like, okay, no, more likely than not, family dynamic has a huge contribution in these cases and I myself have a knee-jerk scepticism, because I know that the family in question (in my case) would say exactly the same thing.

(And it's not because they're bad people: they're not, they're quite the opposite, it's just . . . welp.)
kore: (Default)

From: [personal profile] kore

'But I was interested by the fact that if a hypothetical mother really didn't cause their child's mental illness, she would still get blamed for it.'

Well no mother "causes" a child's mental illness. There are lots of different factors ranging from genetic predisposition to environment to outside influences to plain bad luck. But every parent is a contributing factor to some extent just because they're the parents to a child who became mentally ill. That does not necessarily mean they are to blame. I think you and the author are kind of mixing up responsibility and blame. Parents can have the best intentions in the world and think they are "good enough" parents and be held up as models of parenting, and if it isn't what their kid needs, it doesn't mean they are actual good parents for that child, or their contributions should be dismissed if the child becomes mentally ill. I think a lot of mothers have been blamed by bad psychiatric theories and society for illnesses. That is different, and more a manifestation of sexism in society.

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