Recently, a web designer made several issues of a short-lived 1970's teen magazine called Star available on the web. In the March, 1973 issue, there's an interview with Carpenter, then a 23-year-old teen idol. Ten years later she'd be dead, due to severe malnourishment. In the interview, the warning signs are right there despite the lightweight questions about fame, boys and fashion. But nobody, not the reporter, nor the teen magazine editor, nor Carpenter seem to notice. I transcribed excerpts from the interview here, but you can read the full article at Star1973.com
Star: What got you interested in a show business career?
Karen: "Well I looked quite a bit different when I was in high school cause I was heavier...about twenty pounds heavier, to tell you the truth. And I was tired of being fat so I went on a diet! In fact, just the other day I was cleaning out my bedroom closet and it was really hard just getting in there but when I got in there I found this sweater I used to wear in high school...Good Lord, I think I could get into it three times today. I mean i don't know how I ever got through a door. Oh really, I wasn't that heavy but compared to now...wow."
Star: How long were you on a diet?
Karen: "Uh, good grief, I think it was five weeks. I had lost like twenty-three pounds. It really worked. It was the water diet. That one where you drink eight glasses of water a day...and I despise water!"
Star: Twenty-three pounds? That's incredible...was it a diet that you yourself designed?
Karen: "No, I went to a doctor. I decided to go on this diet just at the point when we had our first big hit... and we were running day in and day out. I can remember that we would go to rehearsals and we'd rehearse till about 1 a.m. and then all the guys would want to go eat at Coco's and those are the people that make those fantastic onion rings...and I would site there with my hamburger Pattie and cottage cheese while the guys ordered 47 layer cheese burgers and giant sundaes! I don't know how I did it cause I couldn't do it now."
A few months after this interview, Karen decided she'd gained too much weight. At the time her 5'4 frame weighed only 118 pounds, but after looking at photos of herself in magazines, she was so disturbed by her own figure that she hired a personal trainer to help her curb her appetite and increase her workout regimen. By 1975, she weighed 90 pounds.
Today teenagers are very familiar with the term Anorexia Nervosa, in part, due to Carpenter's tragic death as well as a host of media awareness campaigns geared toward young women. But that wasn't the case in 1973, when The Carpenter's released their hit song, Close To You. The first mention of the disease in popular media, based on Nexis search of newspapers and magazines comes in 1974. In an article in The New York Times, the disease is described by reputation as "extraordinarily rare." It would be several years, even decades, before the topic of eating disorders is broached by women's magazines. In Star's interview, they do ask Carpenter one relevant question:
Star: Do you find the role of a woman changing? Do you see more opportunities for a girl to do things that she really wants to do?
Karen: "[People] think that being a chick drummer I'm a Women's Lib fanatic, and I'm not! Besides, I don't now that much about what they're fighting for. I think anybody who has enough self respect and enough brains can do what they want to do and the bit about blaming it on somebody is just garbage."
Related on Shine:
The curvy debate in women's magazines
When parents encourage eating disorders
Eating disorders on the rise with boys
Model opens up about her eating disorder