Like a dark-haired Shirley Temple, 7-tear-old Aimee Lue would strut through diplomatic receptions and embassy balls, chatting freely with ambassadors and presidents until sleepiness prompted her to find a darkened bedroom where she could doze between mountains of coats and furs.
The daughter of a United Nations official, Liu's childhood in affluent Glenridge, Conn., groomed her for success. "My mother left me trials of newspaper clippings about lady economists, diplomats and ambassadors," she recalls. "They never questioned that I was going to be a sucess, may be even the first lady president."
Pretty, poised and an excellent student, Liu pleased her presidents in every way. Until she stopped eating.
Liu fit the classic mold of the adolescent who falls prey to the obsessive syndrome called anorexia nervosa. Dubbed "starvation sickness" since victims often stave themselves to an emaciated condition and sometimes to death, anorexia most often occurs among white females between the ages of 13 and 30 who come from middle- or upper-income families, are high achievers, physically hyperactive and extremely well-behaved.
Now 25, a Yale graduate and an exairline stewardess, Liu has chronicled her adolescent obsession and eventual triumph over anorexia nervosa in her book "Solitaire" (Harper & Row).
It all stated innocently enough in the middle of a Christmas party in 1966. Smarting from a remark that she was "chubby" and disgusted at the soft curves rounding out her 13-yeor-old body, Liu stepped onto a bathroom scale.
"I watch the needle prance upward of 130 pounds," she writes. "I can't believe my eyes. I'm ashamed." Liu returned to the party, ignored the egg-nog, cavir, turkey and fruitcake and taught herself to drink black coffee.
For Christmas she asked for and received diet books and a personal bathroom scale. She began a rigid starvation regimen that eventually dropped 40 pounds from her 5-foot-6-inch frame. A skeletal 90 pounds, she became too thin to pursue her part-time modeling career, but still considered herself fat.
With compelling frankness and often shocking detail, Liu describes the torturous fasting broken by occasional bringes. "Taking hot dogs," she writes, "from the package and eating them raw, pouring chocolate syrup into my hand and licking it off.
"Collapsing in glutted agony . . . I presented myself for penitence. I began by vomiting, but unable to purge myself completely this way, I worked out a backup maneuver. My magic cure was Ex-Lax, taken at three times the recommended dosage. It was like swallowing Drano.
"But the effect was not instantaneous. My last resort was recent was exercise. I bent over my swollen stomch to touch my toes, gasped through hundreds of jumping jacks and struggled through feverish sit-ups. I was haunted by the thought that a single carbohydrate flesh."
For adolescent Liu, who remembers envying the struggles of starving Biafrans, dieting was "like a contest between good (abstinence) and evil (indulgence). If I followed through with the game, I'd purify myself."
It also was a way to deal with her terror of sexuality that stemmed from a rape by older teen-age boys when she was 7. Obsessive dieting allowed her to crawl back into a child's body since it stopped her menstrual periods and flattened her chest.
During her freshman year at Yale Liu finally confronted her problem and began to eat normally. "I can remember almost forcing myself to drink beer and eat potato chips at a party," she recalls. "It was almost in defiance against myselg that I could eat and be normal."
A healthy 125 pounds, Liu still is concerned about food, but no longer obsessed by it. A vegetarian who has never tasted a fast-food, hambuger, she eats "when she's hungry" and says she likes herself too much to go through starvation torture again.
"I have no time for that kind of pain," she adds, noting that her writing career is on the upswing. "Solitaire," which she wrote in hotel rooms while still an airline stewardess, has given her the confidence to work on a novel. She has just returned from China and will be writing articles about her trip.
She advises parents and victims of anorexia to get professional help. "I think I wanted someone to admit that there was a problem," she recalled. "I did'nt know where to turn for help."
The American Anorexia Nervosa Association in Teaneck, N.J. (201-839-1800) provides referrals, counseling and information to parents, patients and professionals. If a person has lost 20 to 25 percent of body weight, has stopped menstruating and has a distorted body image, still believing she is fat, there is cause for cancern, says Estalle Miller, a psychotherapist who founded the organization in 1978.
Bizarre eating patterns, such as having 22 raisins for breakfast and four peas, cut in quaters, for lunch, may also signal a problem, said society president Dr. Atchley, who recommends that the patient seek treatment by a physician and a psychiatrist. CAPTION: Picture, Aimee Liu, by Margaret Thomas -- The Wasgington Post