In the mid- to late-1800s, a phenomenon known as “fasting girls” were documented in the Americas and Europe. These young girls, usually preteens, claimed that they could survive for long periods of time without eating.
During the Middle Ages, some saints were said to have been able to survive without nourishment. Because of this precedence, many of the Victorian-age faithful regarded these fasting girls as miraculous and saw this self-starvation as a sign of sanctity. As a result, these young girls became spectacles, put on display, often for a price and always at a cost.
Thankfully, the fascination with fasting girls faded. Doctors eventually determined that these girls had suffered from anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder where food intake is restricted as a way to cope with negative emotions.