Joan Jacobs Brumberg, professor of history, human development and women's studies at Cornell University, recently published "Fasting Girls," a book that examines the evolution of anorexia nervosa. Mrs. Brumberg discussed her findings with Sonya Chawla of The Washington Times.
Q: What has been the history of female fasting in the Western world?
A: Anorexia nervosa was named and identified in the 1870s, more than a century before the American public really discovered it. Physicians have known about it for a long time, but rarely saw it in clinical practice until after World War II. People blame anorexia on today's popular media, and my book is meant to correct that assumption.
There have been other forms of fasting behavior. With medieval saints like Catherine of Siena, it's not correct to call them anorexic in the modern way. They did stop eating, and some eventually died of self-starvation. Their bodies became emaciated. But diseases are more than physical symptoms. We have to ask about the pathway into the symptoms. With the …