15th Annual James H. Cassedy Lecture in the History of Medicine - “Anorexia in the Archives: Documenting the Late Twentieth Century Rise in Eating Disorders.”

Alice Weinreb

National Institute of Medicine

Thursday, February 8, 2024 2:00 pm EST

During the 1970s and 1980s, anorexia nervosa moved from being an obscure affliction to having epidemic status. The explosion in eating disorders during these years required to the creation of new hospital wings and specialized clinics around the world; it also inspired hundreds of successful movies and young-adult novels, shaped popular conceptualization of adolescence, led to new thinking about body dysmorphia and trauma, and had a major impact on theorists of both capitalism and feminism. Eating disorders were so pressing both because they were so devastating but also because they were spreading so rapidly and inexplicably. This talk will analyze a variety of voices that grapple with the cause and meaning of this new category of mental illness. These sources include materials on medical education from the NLM collections; clinical and hospital records; self-help support group documentation; patient diaries; TV and film; and feminist writings from Germany, Italy, the US, and Great Britain. Taken together, they document the multiple meanings of anorexia and bulimia in the modern world.