Friday, September 11, 2009

Tribute to Karen Carpenter

There are hundreds of pictures online of Karen though this was the only one I could get to save and upload! I heard one of her songs yesterday on the radio and was brought to tears as her music often stops me in my tracks. Her story is incredibly tragic because she was so talented and beautiful and her life was wasted on anorexia. When I have spoken to others about Karen Carpenter they usually say "yeah she died at like 80 pounds and was severe". She was severe but she was actually in recovery per se though struggling as we all do to fully recover from this deadly disease.
I used to think I am not as bad as she was. Then I did the math one day as my therapist wanted me hospitalized at 100 pounds and I was angry at her because I knew I was "not as bad as Karen Carpenter". Boy was I wrong. While Karen got down to a dangerous 80 pounds and some stories say as low as 77 for her 5'4 frame I got down to 92 and 99/100 recently for my 5'8 frame. That's why it's not good to compare but easier said than done!
My heart just aches that she had to die. The story below says a lot and states she was 108 when she died of cardiac arrest. There were traces of ipecac found in her system which for those who don't know is given to infants usually if poison is swallowed as it makes you vomit. Trust me it's dangerous and not fun, yes I have drank a bottle before and used to take it.
Any eating disorder at any time can cost you your life. I have heard stories of people bulimic for a mere few months dying and girls as young as 16 having heart attacks on roller coaster rides due to cmplications of their eating disorder. The belief "it can't happen to me" can be tragic~
Here is her story:

Battling Anorexia: The Story of Karen Carpenterby Adena Young

She was a great musician. A teenager turned accordion player turned flutist turned drummer turned singer. Karen Anne Carpenter was one of the all time great musical sensations of the 70s. On the stage she was glamorous and loved by the crowd. Thousands of people cheered her on as she performed classic song after song. She guest starred on TV shows, was on the front cover of many national magazines, and even toured the world. But amidst all this fame and fortune, she was dying. Karen Carpenter was suffering from an eating disorder not uncommon among the American population. Though disorder was not rare, it was rarely talked about. Most people at that time had never heard of the term Anorexia Nervosa. Sad but true, the death of Karen Carpenter in 1983 opened the eyes of the world to this life threatening disease.
Karen Carpenter was well known in the 70s and 80s for her dazzling music. She was one half of the sibling music group, The Carpenters. Born in 1950, she grew up listening to the Beatles and performing with her older brother Richard, and in her lifetime captured 3 Grammy's, 8 Gold Albums, 10 Gold Singles, and 5 Platinum Albums. The music she made was so great that she held the record for the most Top 5 hits in the first year of business. You could say that she lead her life in the spotlight. Young girls looked up to her. She was a role-model and a symbol of American culture. At least, this is what she was trying to be. As it turns out, it was these social pressures that ultimately lead to her downfall.
Richard Carpenter recalls that Karen was "a chubby teenager". Genetically, she wasn't meant to be super thin. Unfortunately for this singer, the only body that she would stand to have was a thin one. The dieting began in 1967 when Karen's doctor put her on a water diet, bringing her weight down from 140 lbs to 120. When she had made it down to 115 lbs, people told her she looked good, but she could only reply that this was just the beginning of the weight loss, and that she wanted to lose still more. By the fall of 1975, Karen was down to 80 lbs. She was taking dozens of thyroid pills a day, and throwing up the little food that she ate. Karen's body was so weak that she was forced to lay down between shows, and the audience was gasping at her body as she walked on stage. It was this year in Las Vegas that Karen collapsed on stage while singing "Top of the World". It was a big scare to the audience and her family. After being rushed to the hospital, it was reported that Karen was 35 lbs underweight. It was this final collapse that made Karen Carpenter realize that she had a serious problem. She went to doctors and therapists, and eventually began to believe that she was well. However, in reality, her body was still suffering from the lack of food, the over dosages of laxatives, the lack of sleep, and the anxiety of being on the road. When she died in 1983, it was a shock to many people who believed that she had been cured.
The emergency call came at 8:51 am on February 4, 1983. Karen Carpenter's mother found her naked and unconscious on the floor of a walk-in wardrobe closet in their home in Downey, California. She was rushed to the hospital where attempts were made to save her life, but within an hour, Karen Carpenter was dead. She died of a cardiac arrest caused by the strain that the anorexia had put on her heart. At the age of 32, she was 5'4", but weighed only 108 lbs.
Karen Carpenter was vibrant and energetic, they said. As Gil Friesen, the president of A&M Records described her, she was "...the girl next door, always up even when she was down". She had the common signs of anorexia. She was sweet, but kept her emotions inside. She was the kind of person who would take care of other people, but not herself. They called her a living skull, and a tormented and unhappy woman. She was psychotic about her weight, and self-conscious about her natural pear-shaped chubbiness. Karen Carpenter was a talented, ambitious young white female from a middle class home. She was the prime example of a victim of anorexia nervosa.
Anorexia Nervosa is often referred to as the stars or starlets disease. Sometimes also called the slimmers' disease, or the rich women's disease. Anorexia is especially common among young white girls and those who need to have more control over their lives. Among anorexics, you will find female hyper-achievers, fashion models, dancers, gymnasts, and ballet troupes. It is the good girls disease.
Ever since Karen Carpenter died in 1983, doctors, scientists, and therapists, among many others, have been investigating the cause of this fatal eating disorder. One common cause, as everyone agrees, is American culture and the media. For the past few decades, there has been an American philosophy of "trim and slim". This is a nation where it is sexy to be skinny and where fitness centers and more recently, dieting supplements, are being advertised more than anything else. The film and television industries are only perpetuating the image conscious nature of people within the American society. Studies have shown that since the beginning of Playboy magazine, the centerfold models have become thinner and thinner, leading to the ideal that thin is good. Super skinny magazine models act as role models, and girls find themselves dieting so that they can look like Twiggy the Shrimp, or whoever the supermodel of the decade may be. Still, many find themselves striving for the gymnast ideal, or thinning down to look like all of the other girls in the ballet class. It is a wide spread problem that is only getting worse as time goes on.
Many sources report that there may be a correlation between a certain style of parenting and anorexia. Scientists are saying that anorexia can develop when parents set excessively high standards of achievement or exert too much control over their children. Children of authoritative parents don't rebel. Instead, they find areas in their lives where they do have control. One of them being their eating habits.
Eventually, girls begin to develop a distorted view of themselves. Psychological disturbances cause them to stop seeing themselves realistically, which in turn causes them to have a low self-image. Often, other peoples' references to chubbiness, pudginess, or baby fat sends the signal that weight must be lost. Bright and successful people see themselves as disgustingly fat. They feel that they have to measure up, but that they can't unless they change their body weight. Anorexia is about control. For some, dealing with pressure means taking control of food.
In 1983, it was predicted that one in every 300 women between the ages of 14 and 25 suffer from anorexia. All together, one in 200 women of all ages are victims of the disease. Studies have also found that one tenth of all female college students have at one time or another suffered from an eating disorder. 15 years ago, there were half a million young women with anorexia, and today, that number has risen to more than 2 million . Writers call it an "underestimated phenomenon", a great epidemic.
To some people, dieting means cutting down on the sweets, and taking an apple for a snack instead of a candy bar. But to others, dieting has an entirely different meaning. Like Karen Carpenter, many people decide to go on water diets, where they hydrate themselves to the extent that their bodies are filled up with water and nothing else. Some are bullimic and force themselves to throw up after they've eaten. Many people take laxatives, or just stop eating all together. One author wrote about a woman who would eat half a raisin at a time so that she wouldn't consume as much food, a girl who would swallow cords to get herself to throw up, and a college student who would rummage through garbage cans late at night to collect food so that she could eat and then throw up everything that she had found.
Though anorexia nervosa has a surprisingly high mortality rate, it still has serious consequences. As in the case of Karen Carpenter, it can lead to serious cardiac problems, which have proven to be fatal. Anorexia can cause a decrease in blood pressure and body temperature, hair loss, loss of menstrual cycle, and a decrease of protein in the blood. Bulimia can cause ulcers, hernias, a dependence on laxatives, and the loss of tooth enamel. When the body is deprived of food, it must look elsewhere for nutrients, and eventually begins feeding on muscle protein. The heart muscle weakens, and this leads to irregular heart rhythms and congestive heart failure. Additionally, anorexia causes an imbalance of electrolytes which causes cardiac abnormalities. In some cases, the bodies of anorexics have digested their own nervous systems. In the end, five to ten percent of the victims of anorexia die within 5 to 10 years of suicide or from depression caused by the illness, malnutrition, and heart problems.
Before Karen Carpenter died, no one spoke of any of this. Girls starved themselves, but they didn't know that there were thousands of other girls that did the same things. They surely didn't know that their eating habits would kill them. No one was aware of anorexia and it's devastating consequences. Up until 1983, eating disorders were not taken seriously. They were treated like any other bad habits that no one ever mentioned. Many thought that there was a quick fix to the problem, and that the solution to an eating disorder was simply to start eating again. Girls believed that they were cured, when in fact, they weren't.
This problem would have continued unnoticed had it not been for the death of Karen Carpenter. Immediately following Karen's death, there was a massive surge in the media regarding the great singer and her battle against anorexia. Eating disorders all of a sudden became highly publicized. Magazines and journals began publishing articles, and the news had top stories about anorexia and it's devastating effects. All of the media coverage on Karen's death encouraged other celebrities to go public with their stories. The death raised the profile of eating disorders in the entertainment community. Jane Fonda and Cherry Boon O'Neill, daughter of singer Pat Boone, admitted to their eating disorders and committed themselves to getting help. Also coming forward with their problems were Kathy Rigby, gymnast and actress, and actresses Jeannine Turner and Lynn Redgrave.
Karen Carpenter's death gave people quite a scare. In the days and months to follow the tragic incident, there were a flurry of frightened phone calls to medical centers from people who had been jolted by the singer's death and wanted help. Psychologically-oriented groups had a doubling in attendance following Karen's death. In addition, many people began to launch voluntary support groups for victims of eating disorders.
Karen Carpenter spurred public interest in anorexia. Soon their were clinics specializing in eating disorders. Richard Carpenter developed a fund dedicated to his sister for researching anorexia. This death awakened the public and lead to a focus on the problem at hand. It has been said that Karen Carpenter is responsible for making America aware of the problems of eating disorders. She brought it out of the closet and made it famous. As one person said, "...she's a name, and that's going to bring more attention."
When I walk around school, I see people who feel the need to be thinner, who look at themselves in the mirror and see fat and ugliness. People often comment on the fact that I'm thin, and say, "You're really skinny". Being a female, a dancer, an over-achiever, vibrant and energetic, many would think that I suffer from the same disease that killed Karen Carpenter. But since 1983, much has been discovered about eating disorders. If someone was to suggest to me that I had an eating disorder, I would hand them this paper and educate them on what it really means to suffer from anorexia. The fact is, eating disorders are a big problem, no matter where you go. They effect me just as they effect everyone else. You don't have to have an eating disorder feel its consequences.
Today, 8 million people suffer from eating disorders. For some reason or another, 7 million women and one million men are intentionally depriving their bodies of food. As time goes on, models are becoming thinner and thinner, as are American girls. 15 years after the death of Karen Carpenter, we are still suffering from this devastating disease, maybe more so than we were in 1983. However, the problem is no longer our ignorance to the fact that eating disorders exist and are killing thousands. Though the media perpetuates the problem, we are still better off than we were during Karen Carpenter's lifetime. We now have knowledge, which will eventually destroy the wrath of all eating disorders. Karen Carpenter can be seen as the great surge of awareness to the millions of people who suffer from this serious disease. Her struggle with anorexia has opened our eyes to the danger of eating disorders, and begun the race to finding the cure.

Incredibly sad and tragic~


  1. you just stopped me dead in my tracks... thank you

  2. Honestly, death from an ED can occur at ANY weight. I just read an article about a woman who was "medically obese" and wanted to be a "beautiful bride"- she decided to go on a crash diet (basically, EDNOS, since she didn't meet the "anorexia nervosa" criteria of being <85% of IBW), and after several months of restricting, despite still being overweight, she DIED as a result of heart arrhythmias... brought on DIRECTLY from that "little diet to be beautiful on the Big Day."

    My point is this: It sounds a lot like, in the beginning of your entry, you're focussing on weight and numbers and scales and all that crap. The thought that you have to be severely emaciated to die is an assumption that is already cliche, and touted by medical "professionals" throughout the world.

  3. actually Lily you missed this "Any eating disorder at any time can cost you your life". Any eating disorder includes obesity dear. I focused on numbers to point out my own struggles of comparing and how she was heavier than the myths of people stating they need to be extremely emaciated to die. You missed my point completely.
    Do not critique my journaling. This blog is to be candid and to the point without the negativity of someone who is fully in the disorder and refusing help. you can choose to do a tribute your way but this is the way I chose.

  4. I've read a lot on eating disorders, written a few papers, and struggled with bulimia. So I am pretty knowledgeable on the correct definition of eating disorders, and what it really entails. Having struggled with this for years (now a recovering bulimic), I appreciate having someone share their experiences. Helps me know I'm not and wasn't alone. I don't appreciate though, having someone who isn't entirely knowledgeable try to put someone who is in their place. Thanks for the Karen Carpenter tribute, Brande. I love her. She had the most amazing voice next to Celine Dion!

  5. Thanks Kathy and thanks for being honest in your own struggles as you and I connected in person because of it. This doesn't have to be a shameful secret~

  6. I read "starving/fasting girs" the history of eating disorders, and up until Karen's death no one really knew how to handle ED's. She sparked a flame.

    And i do not like when people go off about eating disorders when they don't understand them! Journaling is a great way to cope. My sister had severe anorexia, how did she cope to avoid major relapse? She started a blog. I support you!

  7. oh i falied to mention my sister didn't look emancipated, but because of the extreme exercising and insane weight loss she def. damaged her heart.

    she has since recovered. runs ultra marathons, is a fierce boxer.

  8. Thanks hun. I am sorry you and your sister have gone through so much pain and agony the disorder causes. Journaling and doing this blog has helped and is a big risk but I am in counseling and share it all with my therapist who has been so powerful on my journey along with my dietician. I feel lost without them and pray for a job soon so I can afford to be more consistent in seeing them both!
    I will continue to support you in recovery when you are ready!

  9. I was in a pretty major car accident at the beginning of the year. My left knee received a very deep cut. Torn ligaments and such. I was never instructed on any type of physical therapy so I started working out again too soon, and that caused my legs to swell. But yes I'm going to the doctor on Monday for a follow up on my anti depressants. My migraines started after I started taking them.

    I want another tattoo, and my boyfriend said that I should get it at a healthy weight normal weight. So that is my encouragement not to get super skinny again.

    I hope you can get a job soon! Money stress is one of my biggest issues right now, and also a reason why my diet is so out of control. But really, thank you for your support. I look forward to reading your progress

  10. Hi, Good luck to all of you recovering anorexics and bullemics. I don't mean to sound disrespectful in any way but I just wanted to say I have read The Carpenter's biography a couple of times and I've just started reading it again and it states that, even though "the autopsy report ascribed Karen's death to emetine cardiotoxicity" The "15-page autopsy and case report - shows no medical entry of any trace of emetine having been found in her body." No one has ever seen any report that states otherwise. I also read somewhere (I think it's in the book somewhere) that Karen did not make herself vomit at any time during her illness as she hated vomiting. Also it would have probably affected her amazing voice and that was something she treasured. Good luck to you all on beating your illness. take care xx

  11. On the contrary anonymous there have been conflicting reports. Regardless her illness took it's toll from so many years of it and purging does not always mean vomiting. People can purge through laxative abuse, which Karen did, through exercise, ipecac etc.
    Commenting here to try and be "right" or "know more" does nothing to help those struggling with this deadly disease. If you have not been there and lived it, refrain from trying to be a part and being negative.

  12. Love this post, I recently also wrote a tribute to her. Thank You and I hope people can work towards recovery knowing that the alternative is sadly similar to that of Karen Carpenter.