How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia

How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia

by Kelsey Osgood


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How to Disappear Completely: On Modern Anorexia by Kelsey Osgood

At fourteen, Kelsey Osgood became fascinated by the stories of women who starved themselves. She devoured their memoirs and magazine articles, committing the most salacious details of their cautionary tales to memory--how little they ate, their lowest weights, and their merciless exercise regimes--to learn what it would take to be the very best anorectic. When she was hospitalized for anorexia at fifteen, she found herself in an existential wormhole: how can one suffer from something one has actively sought out? Through her own decade-long battle with anorexia, which included three lengthy hospitalizations, Osgood harrowingly describes the haunting and competitive world of inpatient facilities populated with other adolescents, some as young as ten years old.

With attuned storytelling and unflinching introspection, Kelsey Osgood unpacks the modern myths of anorexia, examining the cult-like underbelly of eating disorders in the young, as she chronicles her own rehabilitation. How to Disappear Completely is a brave, candid and emotionally wrenching memoir that explores the physical, internal, and social ramifications of eating disorders and subverts many of the popularly held notions of the illness and, most hopefully, the path to recovery.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781468306682
Publisher: The Overlook Press
Publication date: 11/14/2013
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 650,433
Product dimensions: 5.84(w) x 8.24(h) x 0.99(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Kelsey Osgood received an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Her essays have appeared in the, New York Magazine, Self, and Tablet, among others. How to Disappear Completely is her first book. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Table of Contents

Prologue 13

Chapter 1 The Beginning 17

Chapter 2 A Communicable Disease 25

Chapter 3 The Protagonist 39

Chapter 4 Idol Worship 53

Chapter 5 The Anorexia Spectrum 77

Chapter 6 Blurry Lines 105

Chapter 7 Titillation 131

Chapter 8 Plateau/Climax 147

Chapter 9 Hospitals 173

Chapter 10 Distances from Death 199

Chapter 11 Attempting Narrative 211

Chapter 12 The End 231

Acknowledgments 259

Selected Bibliography 263

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Why do countless young women (and not so young women, and some men, too) starve themselves to the brink of death? Do not read Kelsey Osgood's uncompromising memoir of her own anorexia unless you really want to know the truth—unvarnished by moral, therapeutic, or redemptive pieties—about this epidemic. How to Disappear Completely gives new meaning to gutsiness."—Judith Thurman, Staff Writer at The New Yorker, and prize-winning author of Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller and Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette


A Conversation with Kelsey Osgood, Author of How to Disappear Completely

What made you decide to write How to Disappear Completely?

When I was in my early teen years, I became fascinated with anorexia. It seemed like something that afflicted special people, and it had glamorous consequences: the sufferer became thin (something every teenage girl wants) and took on a tragic, mysterious aura. It seemed like the perfect solution to what I thought were problems in my life (that I was boring, not special and untalented.) Over the next twelve years, during which I struggled with the disorder, I came to realize that there was something strange—even counterproductive—about all of the anorexia-related TV shows, magazine articles, and memoirs I encountered. All of this stuff was supposed to increase awareness, to deter young women from developing eating disorders, but for my compatriots and me, even the direst medical consequences—the most terrifying images—didn't look like the unwanted effects of our unhealthy habits. They looked like "success." Later in life, when I started to write, I found myself wanting to explore this phenomenon—how could something so shocking be so seductive? And I also asked myself if it was possible to tell one's story—my story—without unintentionally glamorizing an issue that I felt must not be glamorized, no matter what.

What distinguishes How to Disappear Completely from other anorexia memoirs?

For one thing, I tried to avoid anything overtly prescriptive. In the past, a majority of books on the subject would outline the protagonist's diet and exercise routine—not to mention his or her (though mostly her) lowest weight. I know from personal experience—and from research—that for people who are already ill, or who would like to be, this information is a motivational tool. It serves as the direct inspiration for their own weight loss regimens. So the simplest thing I could do was to refuse to disclose those facts about myself. I suppose that I was also trying to unpack some of our most cherished beliefs—the idea, for example, that suffering makes a person stronger, or that mental illness and genius are inextricably intertwined, or that coming close to death brings with it a sense of spiritual enlightenment. And by virtue of timing, I was also able to write at length about the way that eating disorders manifest themselves online, in communities known as pro-ana and pro-mia.

You have said that you consider yourself to be a "recovered" anorexic. Some schools of thought might say that recovery from an eating disorder is not possible. What are you feelings on recovery versus management?

This idea of "always recovering" is, like many tropes in psychology, a theory, rather than an evidence-based idea that society has adopted as fact. It's a cornerstone of the 12-step tradition, and seems to work well in that context, but I worry that because eating disorders are so tightly wrapped up with identity, forever labeling someone as an anorexic or bulimic will either a) contribute to the allure of the problem, and make the person tempted to return to it or b) forever cast the person as a victim. A person who thinks that her eating disorder is always there, lying dormant, is a person who lacks agency, and who may very well remain passive in the face of a recurrence. Many people who work in addiction recovery would argue that "relapse is part of recovery"—another 12-step idea—is a destructive belief. I don't think we really know if "complete" recovery is possible, and if that's case, then the decision is ultimately up to us. So why not decide that it is doable? I find that much more empowering.

What do you hope is the takeaway from your book?

This is definitely the most daunting question on the list! I'm expected to say that I hope young people who are flirting with disordered eating will see the error of their ways, and of course I do hope that, but frankly, I don't know what it feels like to be a young person today, so I don't have a great sense of what they're up against. When I was young(er), the Internet was still in its infancy, so there was still some premium placed on private life. There wasn't this underlying idea that getting attention—in whatever form that may come—was unequivocally good in and of itself. I imagine that in 2013, it must be harder to internalize the idea that you are both very special and normal. In another vein, I want people to know that whatever the origin of their problems, they deserve to recover. At various points in my life, I felt very strongly that because I had actively nurtured my eating disorder, the only poetically just outcome would be my own death. I know now that I was not to blame for my illnesses, and I want readers of my book to feel that way, too.

Who have you discovered lately?

I recently finished a piece about Maeve Brennan, a writer for The New Yorker who had her heyday in the mid-twentieth century. She came from a family very active in the Irish Rebellion, and she moved to New York to be a fashion copywriter for Bazaar before she was hired by William Shawn. She was famously witty and stylish, and she wrote some charming, incredibly detailed Talk of the Town pieces. But her most impressive work is her short fiction, most of which takes place in her homeland. "The Springs of Affection," a short story about a bitter Wexford County denizen surveying the objects she inherited after her brother died, was so layered and controlledthat it left me feeling suspended in time. I also read Bambi, by Felix Salten, which is far more devastating than the Disney version. (Don't say I didn't warn you.) Also Clifford Chase's Winkie, which was thrillingly bizarre, and the work of George W. S. Trow, which I didn't really discover "lately," but which I like to mention anytime I'm given the opportunity.

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