Author of 'Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia', possibly the best book on eating disorders, and certainly an extremely intelligent, affecting and informative work of art.
Marya Justine Hornbacher, aka Marya Hornbacher-Beard, was born in 1974 in California to Jay Hornbacher and Judy Williams. The family moved to Edina, Minnesota, where she attended Concord Elementary School and became bulimic at the age of nine. In 1989, at the age of fifteen, she became anorexic. She attended Interlochen Arts Academy in 1990, majoring in English (creative writing). After this, she was hospitalised for the first time (of five), and her eating disorder got worse. Following being kicked out of her third hospitalisation as untreatable, she was institutionalised in Lowe House Children's Residential Treatment Center as a last resort before Willmar, the Minnesota state asylum "for the legally insane. Where you are left to die in the kind, soft-spoken care of nice men in white coats" ('Wasted', page 184). In Lowe House, she seemed to recover, but eventually claimed to have been sexually abused as a way of avoiding dealing with her real problems and fully giving up her eating disorder. On leaving Lowe House, she attended American University in Washington D.C., and her anorexia resurfaced, with her weight plummeting to below four stone. She was finally hospitalised again in February 1993, when the doctors gave her a life expectancy of one week. She says that giving up her anorexia is the hardest thing she has ever done, and considers herself much stronger for it. Her description of her current state is heartrending:
"And when, after fifteen years of bingeing, barfing, needles and tubes and terror and rage, and medical crises and personal failure and loss after loss - when, after all this, you are in your early twenties and staring down a vastly abbreviated life expectancy, and the eating disorder still takes up half your body, half your brain, with its invisible eroding force, when you have spent the majority of your life sick, and when you do not yet know what it means to be "well" or "normal," when you doubt that those words even have meaning any more, there are still no answers. You will die young, and you have no way to make sense of that fact.
You have this: You are thin.
Hornbacher is still not healthy. She makes this clear. She has a heart murmur, and her immune and reproductive systems do not work. She is still diagnosed as ED-NOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) and bipolar, cyclothymic, hypomanic. She began cutting herself once she gave up anorexia, and attempted suicide by slitting her left wrist in November 1994. She lives with her husband, Julian Beard, and her cat, in Minneapolis. (Update: the lovely alarm has informed me that Hornbacher and her husband are now divorced.)
Hornbacher wrote Wasted, her autobiography, in 1996, when she was 23. When reading Wasted, her clarity, intelligence and quality of writing make it extremely difficult to believe that she was that young, and that Wasted is her first book. It is one of the most distressing and beautiful things I have ever read, and Hornbacher is, without doubt, one of my heroines.