Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Anorexic Empress of Austria

        Elisabeth was born in 1837 of the eccentric Bavarian Wittelsbach royal line, and married the young Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary when she was sixteen. After the relative freedom of her Bavarian childhood, she found herself thrust into Europe's most ossified court. Her sense of personal dignity and independence as well as her very real democratic and humanitarian instincts continuously offended against the role into which she was cast.


The Empress' mania for sport and violent exercise, her preoccupation with her physique, her peculiar diet, her attitude to dress - all had one common denominator: the preservation of a figure which was naturally very slender, small-boned and muscular. She was tall , five feet seven 1/2 inches, and never weighed over 111 pounds all her adult life. Her legendary beauty and charm brought her oppressive adulation wherever she went in Europe. She preserved her youthful appearance in the face of what press and medical opinion viewed as bizarre, not to say improper, excesses in sport, diet and slimming.
       She hated to have to sit down to eat. She abominated banquets. For long periods she lived on a daily diet of raw steak and a glass of milk or orange-juice. She struck people as hyperactive, and astonishingly hardy. Her illnesses were all evidently psychosomatic, and her neurotic crises always cleared up when she was away from court, and was free to travel and ride, free of the gaze of courtiers and public, which she experienced as physically painful.
       Elisabeth followed a strict and draconian diet and exercise regimen to maintain her 18-inch waistline, wasting away to near emaciation at times. This was years before such symptoms would be diagnosed as a classic case of Anorexia nervosa.
One of Elisabeth's dresses

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