Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Eating Disorder Expose

Psychiatry_Psychology2.jpgTo my utter delight, at last there is a book that lashes out at the spectra of thinness and beauty that sets off millions of our young girls, on an obsessive path of starvation and self-punishment.

Perfecting oneself has been mainly a matter of self-discipline and education for the most major part of human history. The association of perfection and thinness is a mysterious recent phenomenon, which is hard to explain. For young girls it’s a difficult cycle to get out of — media pressures, the continuous barrages of images of successful, “thin” women on screen and television, pages and volumes of slimming diets and exercises exhorting an “all out war” on fat. This in turn creates a paradigm of personal based on one’s body weight and “slim and trim” looks. It does not take time for it to develop in to a full-scale obsession, and the focal point of the lives of millions of young girls. And no wonder anorexia and bulimia have now become two of the commonest psychiatric disorders in this age group.

Writer and columnist from Colorado, Courtney Martin’s new book Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body launches a scathing attack on a new generation of over-achieving, obsessive-compulsive “perfect girls,” who have taken self-flagellation (nutritionally) to the extremes, into a danger zone of no return.

“Perfect girls feel we could always lose five more pounds. We get into good colleges, but we’re angry if we don’t get into every college we’ve applied to. We’re the captains of the basketball teams, the soccer teams, the swimming champs, the boxes full of blue ribbons. We take ourselves very very seriously. We’re on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious always. We’re living contradictions. We’re social smokers, secretly happy that cigarette smoking speeds up our metabolism. We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible, and thrive on self-deprivation. We never want to be as passive-aggressive as our mothers, we never want to marry men as uninspiring as our fathers. We are the daughters of feminist who said you can do anything. We must get A’s, we must make money, we must save the world. We are the anorexics, the bulimics, the over-exercisers, the over-eaters. We must be perfect. We must make it look effortless.” In Courtney’s words, this cultural obsession with thinness is therefore an all-pervasive way of self-perfection for many young girls, often oblivious of the immense self-harm.

But Courtney takes the meaning of “starving daughters” to another level in her book — starving for recognition, self-esteem, feelings of guilt due to our imperfections. It is this obsessive facade of perfection that soon consumes normalcy, and sets off millions of young girls on the road to acquiring a dysfunctional body image, through eating disorders.

Time to pause and think. It takes courage to write a book as this one.


Video from Courtney Martin discusses Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, offering original research from the front lines of the eating disorders battlefield.

Sudip Ghosh, MD

Sudip Ghosh, MD, is a surgeon at the University of Manchester, UK and a medical writer.
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