Cinderella’s Stepsisters

A Feminist Perspective on Anorexia Nervosa Bulimia
  • Marlene Boskind-Lodahl


During my early months of internship in 1974 in the mental health section of a university clinic, I encountered Anne, a lively, attractive, and slim young woman of 18. For three years she had been on a cycle of gorging and starving which had continued without relief. She felt desperate and out of control.


Anorexia Nervosa Eating Disorder Adolescent Girl Feminine Role Parental Disapproval 
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    Four men who reported the binge-ing-starving behavior were also treated. I saw three of these men in individual therapy. Since the writing of this paper I have been engaged in therapeutic interventions and research designed to test some of these theoretical arguments. Taking advantage of a new philosophical and innovative movement within our mental health clinic, I attempted an outreach program designed to break through the isolation and shame experienced by women who are food bingers. In September 1974, an ad was placed in our university newspaper describing the symptom and offering a group experience with a feminist orientation that would utilize Gestalt and behaviorist techniques. Sixty women responded; 15 were admitted to the group. Some of the before, after, and follow-up measurements administered were: questionnaires specifically dealing with the binge-fast behavior and early childhood training; a body cathexis test (P. Secord and S. Jourard, “The Appraisal of Body-Cathexis: Body-Cathexis and the Self,” Journal of Consulting Psychology 17[1953]: 343–47); and the Sixteen Personality Factor questionnaire (R. B. Cattell. The 16 P-F [Champaign, Ill.: Institute for Personality and Ability Testing, 1972]). Based on the success of this initial group, two subsequent groups have been run and data collected. Our outreach program, designed as a preventive intervention, revealed a much larger population manifesting this behavior than had been suspected. After seeing 138 women and four men in two years at our clinic and systematically studying 80 of these with a variety of tests and other measurements, we are now working on developing an operational definition of the bulimarexic syndrome, analyzing our data for publication, and outlining a new therapeutic approach to this problem.Google Scholar
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    The extent to which such attitudes prevail in our culture is indicated by the account of a “cured” anorexic. “I fell in love. By no means do I want to suggest that love is the answer to everything. For me, loving someone shifted my attention away from the compulsive, convoluted world of self I had created inside me, toward another person. Finally, I felt some self-esteem because I had been found worthy by someone else” (Kathryn Lynch, “Danger! You Can Overdo Dieting,” Seventeen 24 [March 1974]: 107).Google Scholar
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    With a few exceptions, most of the literature on these behaviors has not acknowledged this upward trend. One exception is the British study by May Duddle, “An Increase of Anorexia Nervosa in a University Population,” British Journal of Psychiatry 123 (December 1973): 711–12. Most of the food bingers I have encountered know of other women who binge. I suspect that most cases are seen in a high school guidance office or college mental health service. Many more women probably suffer secretly from this compulsion and do not seek help because of inordinate shame about their behaviors.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© University of Chicago 1976

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marlene Boskind-Lodahl

There are no affiliations available

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