HOLY ANOREXIA by Rudolph M. Bell

This book looks at how holy women (i.e. saints and nuns) in medieval Italy used self-starvation as a form of autonomy. Holy anorexia was all about controlling the body, imitating the corporeal suffering Jesus went through, and rejecting the patriarchy by turning inward.

Much like the ways contemporary eating disorders are misconstrued one way or the other, the interpretation of these holy women’s eating habits depends heavily on historical context. In the 12-1300’s, holy anorexia was seen as a genuine way for these women to prove their devotion to godliness. But by the 14-1500’s, holy anorexia was deemed as devilish and sick. It was around that time that there was also a turn from the sickbed (where 61% of these women spent most of their holy lives) to the streets–spreading faith themselves instead of leaving it to their vitae.

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