Originally published: 13 April 2023
Author: Hadley Freeman
Published by: 4th Estate
Genre: Non-Fiction; Mental Health
Page count: 288
Reading dates: 15-18 March 2023
From the ages of fourteen to seventeen, Freeman lived in psychiatric wards after developing anorexia nervosa. For the next twenty years, she grappled with various forms of self-destructive behaviour as the anorexia mutated and persisted.
Anorexia is one of the most widely discussed but least understood mental illnesses. In a brilliant narrative that combines personal experience with deep reporting on the issues around the illness, Freeman details her experiences with anorexia, and how she overcame it.
Good Girls is an honest and hopeful story that will be profoundly helpful for those who suffer from an eating disorder, and those who desperately want to understand them.
Good Girls is Hadley Freeman’s memoir of how she came to suffer from anorexia at the age of 14, her stays in and out of hospitals, the treatments she received in the early 1990s, her recovery and how she lives now. She also includes chapters on some of the girls she met while in hospital and what happened to them after they left and she later returns to one of the hospitals she stayed in to discuss how treatments have changed now.
Hadley was in the grip of anorexia from the ages of 14-17 were a seemingly innocuous comment made her question her weight and the way she looked which made her spiral into anorexia. She stopped eating, obsessing over every calorie. She exercised obsessively, not being able to keep still, wanting to be burning calories constantly. Her stays in hospital meant she often compared herself to the other girls, obsessed how much food/exercise they were doing compared to her. Badges of honour were awarded to the girls with the most hospital admissions and for those who had been tube fed. She talks about one doctor who frankly did more harm than good and another doctor who put her on the road to recovery. For many years she lived as a functioning anorexic, eating just enough to avoid being readmitted to hospital.
This was an absolutely fascinating read. Freeman is an excellent and engaging writer and Good Girls was a blend of facts, research and personal experience which was hugely accessible and very, very sad. Twins in my family have suffered with eating disorders (B who developed anorexia and E who developed bulimia at the same time, around the age of 14). B ended up in psychiatric care in London which meant a daily 120 mile trip by her parents to see her – sometimes she refused to see them which was heart-breaking.
The book looks at research into why anorexia takes hold of some – more often girls than boys, more often white, middle class girls and how it almost always takes hold during puberty. Many blame social media but it is often more complex than that. Good Girls was a informative read that really brought it home to me how anorexia is a complex mental illness and that the right treatment is vitally important.
Many thanks to 4th Estate Books for a copy of the proof which I picked up at 4th Estate Live back in January.
About the author:
Hadley Freeman is a staff writer at the Sunday Times. She worked for more than 20 years at the Guardian and her writing has appeared in many publications. Her previous book, House of Glass, was a Sunday Times bestseller and has been published around the world.
Twitter – https://twitter.com/HadleyFreeman