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Victorian Era Eating Disorders

When today’s mom is worried about the eating disorders of their daughters, never would have they imagined that the mothers of the Victorian era also dealt with the same situation. Health and Nutrition are the buzz words since man was born and consumption of food is the necessity for our survival. But what always remained as a matter of concern was the eating disorder of human beings.

Poor Victorians life
Poor Victorians lived a treacherous life

The early manifestations of various eating disorders which people experience today were also present during the Victorian era. In fact, the era narrates the story of disordered eating and the diseases formed due to eating disorders.


The young pre-adolescent girls of the Victorian era considered the ability to survive without nourishment as a symbol of sanctity. Some of them possessed the capacity to last for an indefinite period without eating any food. Such girls were referred to as the Fasting girls in the Victorian era. Such fasting girls refused to intake food and fast for long periods.

The fasting of these girls was regarded as a miracle by the society and girls who possessed this special gift of indefinite fast were highly respected and honored. Hence these kinds of eating disorders prevailed in the Victorian era as it received recognition.

Some of the fasting girls of the Victorian era made a claim that they are in possession of religious and magical powers. This paved the way for an open conflict between religion and science. The girls were accused of hysteria, superstition and deceit and controversies came in as it is impossible to completely abstain from food. Imagine eating disorders divided the society into two; the first one was that of those who believed in the duality of mind and body and the other part that relied on science and material facts.

The critics of the Victorian era who stated that the eating disorders were a result of depression, anxiety and hysteria recognized a disease for the nervous absence of appetite. In 1837, Queen Victoria’s personal physician termed it as Anorexia Nervosa. Various papers were written by scientists and physicians in the following years on Anorexia nervosa and hysteria.

We know Eliana Ramos the model who died in 2007 due to her eating disorders. The other celebrities who left the world due to their disordered eating are Karen Carpenter, the vocalist and the drummer, the artistic gymnast Christy Henrich, actress Susan Peters Lena Zavaroni, the vocalist and models like Anna Carolina Reston and Luisel Ramos.

In the Victorian era, though, various deaths were reported due to eating disorders fasting girls were considered as saints. Catherine of Siena and Lidwina of Schiedam are the famous fasting girls of the late nineteenth century. The efforts of these girls to survive without food was seen as an exceptional quality and observed only among the saints or people of virtue.