In reality, however, the diseases were widely suffered by many ordinary young women from unremarkable backgrounds, women and girls who were simply trying to maintain an unnatural “ideal” body shape and weight. I knew from looking around me in high school and at college that eating disorders were widespread among otherwise perfectly well balanced young women, and that the simple, basic social pressure to be thin was a major factor in the development of these diseases.
The National Eating Disorders Association confirms National Institutes of Health statistics in pointing out that 1 to 2 percent of American women are anorexic—between 1.5 and 3 mil lion women—and that, of these, sufferers typically became anorexic in adolescence. NIH also notes that the death rate for anorexia, .56 percent per decade, is about 12 times higher than the annual death rate due to all causes of death among females ages 15 to 24. Anorexia is the biggest killer of American teenage girls. I knew, from personal experience and from looking at women all around me, that eating disorders were a vicious cycle: Starving or vomiting became addictive behaviors once you started.
They knew that the social expectation to be so thin as to be unlikely to menstruate was a sick ideal, and that you often had to become sick to conform to it. Disordered eating, which was undertaken to fit a dis ordered ideal, was one of the causes of the disease, and not necessarily, as popular opinion of the day held, a manifestation of an underlying neurosis.