Good Girls: A Story and Study of Anorexia by Hadley Freeman - review by Sarah A Smith

Sarah A Smith

Why Can’t I Eat?

Good Girls: A Story and Study of Anorexia

By

Fourth Estate 288pp £16.99
 

One of the statements that puzzled me most when I began to work in a community eating disorders clinic was: ‘If I get better, it will be like being ill never happened, like it didn’t have any meaning.’ A common idea, it is both an example of the intransigence of anorexic thinking and an indication of the clinical challenge of breaking anorexia’s grip. Hadley Freeman’s Good Girls is an account of her thirty years of entrapment and escape from this most cruel of psychological illnesses. What the ‘meaning’ of anorexia might be is to the forefront.

Freeman describes her ‘fall’ into anorexia just after her fourteenth birthday as ‘instantaneous and vertiginous’. She loses more than a third of her body weight over the course of the summer and spends the next three years caught in the revolving door of first private and then NHS inpatient eating disorders units. Finally, her therapist notices that Freeman is ‘too comfortable’ on the ward and discharges her into ‘the Real World’. Here, a ‘functioning anorexic’, she replaces self-starvation with obsessive study, binge eating, bad boyfriends and cocaine. A hilarious encounter with a New York nutritionist, who misunderstands the purpose of Freeman’s visit and suggests she might go on a ‘light reduction plan’, nudges the writer towards the realisation that she is going to have to be responsible for her own recovery. A happy relationship and motherhood complete her story.

Freeman’s narrative is wry but compassionate, charting her obsessive exercise (not just star jumps but also leg-jiggling), her acute horror of being asked to eat an Oreo biscuit to avoid hospitalisation (she can’t do it) and the absurdity of her compulsive thinking about food (can she ‘catch’ calories by

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