This is Rosemary Pope. She died last month at the age of 49 because her anorexia caused her heart to shrink "to the size of a child's." Pope is not alone: as has been previously and recently reported, anorexia in women over 40 is on the rise. There are a number of theories as to why the number of grown up anorexics is going up. First off, many of these women suffered from anorexia as teens and twenty-somethings and never really recovered. Another possible reason is a growing awareness of the disease which causes more women to self-diagnose their eating disorder. Yet another reason, posits the Guardian, is "the increased pressure on older women to stay young. Surrounded by images of women such as Madonna, Teri Hatcher and Jane Fonda (who has admitted to suffering an eating disorder herself), women are exposed to increasingly unrealistic images of how they should look as they age and are working harder than ever to counter the effects of getting old."
The biggest problem with adult anorexics is that they are much harder to cure. In Pope's case, she lived alone, and while most of her colleagues noticed that she was very thin and frail, she was so competent they never expected that she wasn't eating. According to Susan Ringwood, the CEO of Beat, an eating disorders charity, "Adults with anorexia can, like Rosemary Pope, be emaciated for years, but still function, and other people get used to them being like tha. Add to this their heightened energy, a very driven personality and the fact that the general public still associates anorexia with adolescents and you can see how it can get missed by others. Even if people do suspect it, they often fear saying the wrong thing, or think that it might actually be cancer."
But back to the young women with eating disorders. On Nerve yesterday, Rachel Shukert posted an essay called "The Anorexic's Cookbook" which deals with the author's former eating disorder in a way that's darkly humorous. Shukert's not the first to meld anorexia and comedy — Jennifer Traig wrote amusingly about her anorexia (alongside a host of other psychological maladies including OCD) in the book The Devil In The Details.
Though these essays and books do make you laugh, the reality of anorexia, as Rosemary Pope shows, is terrifyingly grim. Eating disorder expert Dr. Ira Sacker told CBS, "The fatality rate of anorexia alone is upwards of 20 percent — that's one-in-five who) die. We're talking about the highest mortality rate of any emotional disease known."