Body Politics

Body Politics

The Anti-Anorexia League Turns Patients into Activists

By Stephen Madigan

November/December 1994

I WAS EMBARRASSED BY HOW MANY times I had to ask the caller to repeat herself. In a barely audible voice, Rose, a 28-year-old woman who had suffered with anorexia for 12 years, was calling for help. She lived in a remote area 600 miles north of our clinic where there were no therapeutic services for "eating disorders." Not sure of what else to do, I asked her to write me a letter outlining the effects of anorexia on her life and her attempts to combat it.

1 ended our conversation by asking Rose not to correct any spelling errors and to include cross outs and improper grammar in the letter. The year before, in a similar situation, another woman struggling with anorexia had stayed up for 36 hours, far past the point when blood was trickling from her hand, trying desperately to write me a perfectly sculpted letter.

I was bothered by how little I had to offer Rose and by the lack of therapeutic services available to her. Later that day, I decided to pose my dilemma to members of an inpatient anti-anorexia/ anti-bulimia group I was running. To my delight, the women in the group came up with the idea of a letter-writing campaign. What followed was a monthly exchange of letters with Rose in which group members described their experiences with anorexia and bulimia and offered strategies on how to resist everything from anorexic guilt and women's magazines to the debilitating effects of medication what the group calls "spychiatric" drugs.

This exchange of…

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