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Forced Dieting and Bullying: The Tragic Tale of Judy Garland

Seventy-five years have passed since the iconic movie, The Wizard of Oz, graced the screens, yet the haunting story of how its young star, Judy Garland, was pressured into a life of starvation and substance abuse still resonates today.

The mere taste of a lemon drop takes me back to a time when Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz made all troubles disappear.

As the film approaches its 75th anniversary, special 3-D screenings are set to commemorate its enduring charm – from the enchanting Wicked Witch to the endearing Scarecrow and Dorothy’s delightful journey down the yellow-brick road.

However, the true magic lies in Judy Garland’s captivating presence, as her voice, described by Susie Boyt as a direct hit on our nerves, continues to captivate audiences.

Watching Garland pour her soul into songs while clad in blue-and-white gingham remains a cinematic delight.

Yet, beneath the surface, there lingers a poignant sorrow knowing the hardships she endured to fit into that very dress, a victim of the merciless demands of Hollywood standards.

At just 13 years old, a young vaudeville singer named Frances Gumm, with a cherubic face, caught the eye of Louis B Mayer of MGM during an audition.

Entranced by her resplendent voice, Mayer wasted no time in signing her without the need for a screen test.

However, his concern for her appearance soon manifested in controlling every morsel she consumed.

Garland’s debut in a feature film came at the age of 14 in 1936, starring in a musical comedy centered around college football coaches titled Pigskin Parade.

MGM wasted no time in conveying their displeasure, likening her on-screen presence to a “chubby little pig with pigtails,” thus initiating a series of stringent diets.

Constantly deprived of adequate nutrition – even having plates of food snatched away before she could eat – she found herself in a perpetual state of hunger, daydreaming about indulgent treats like chocolate sundaes with pecans and whipped cream.

Falling prey to disordered eating patterns, she oscillated between starvation and bingeing despite her tender age.

By 1938, a year preceding The Wizard of Oz, internal memos circulated among studio executives detailing Garland’s daily food intake, with reports like “Judy snuck out for a malted milk” or “Garland packed on 10 pounds, requiring costume adjustments.”

Her standout performance in Broadway Melody of 1938, particularly the heartrending rendition of You Made Me Love You dedicated to Clark Gable, showcased her talent.

Yet, amidst her blossoming career, a callous remark from one of Mayer’s associates likening her to a grotesque monster stands out as one of the cruelest acts witnessed on a child star.

Engaged at 18 to David Rose, her first of five husbands, Garland’s restricted diet shocked her partner.

Mayer mandated a meager diet comprising black coffee, chicken soup, 80 cigarettes daily, and pills every four hours to suppress her appetite.

Maintaining a weight of seven stone at a diminutive height of 4 feet 11 inches, she struggled to sustain it once off the strict regimen, leading to escalating weight fluctuations.

This harrowing experience left Garland grappling with lifelong eating disorders and potentially paved the way for her later battles with drug addiction, seeking solace from insatiable hunger through substance abuse.

The revelation of Garland’s tumultuous past adds a layer of poignancy to her portrayal of Dorothy, making her unwavering dedication to her craft all the more remarkable.

Despite enduring unimagin