Wintergirls is both heartbreaking and frustrating. It’s been a while since I read this one, but I really thought I’d written a review on this before. Anderson taps into the destructive world of eating disorders without pulling any punches or coming across like an after school special. We meet Lia after her ‘best friend’ has unexpectedly died. Instead of the stereotypical teen reaction of sadness, Lia feels guilt. She and Cassie had started to drift apart before Cassie’s death, and Lia was angry with her. So, when Cassie called her – 35 times, Lia didn’t answer. Not even once. This might seem heartless, and it is, but it points to a more deeply rooted problem. Even deeper than Lia’s incessant calorie counting. Eating disorders are all about control. This is a mental disorder that drives a person to take a death grip on one certain aspect of their lives.
For Lia and Cassie (and thousands of other young people), their control is over what they eat and how much they weigh. There’s no concern for health, only image. It’s always existed, but in a society where we’re doused with what is an acceptable body shape, it feels like it’s getting worse. Without turning this into a diatribe on photoshop – we all know that magazine covers are altered to make people look thinner, but they are also altered to make dangerously skinny people look healthy.
How is someone just learning who they are supposed to be able to pick out all the places where they are being deceived? We’re teaching people –girls and boys – to shame their bodies, and that has got to change. Whether you’re thin, fat, muscular, or whatever, we have to learn to love ourselves without making ourselves sick. In this book, the obsession is about being thin. The skinniest girl in school. The girl with the big thigh gap. A hanger for clothes (as all these model shows tend to refer to the perfect runway models). Women risk becoming little more than a delivery system for fashion. This trend is beginning to shift from skinny to ‘healthy’ but it’s just a different kind of pressure. Now, instead of a thigh gap, you need a six-pack. The pressure is everywhere, and social media just makes it more intense and confusing.
When this social pressure encounters someone with an addictive/controlling personality, it can easily develop into something all encompassing. It is more than just a desire to be thin; it’s a need to be the thinnest. So, when you have two like-minded people come together, they begin to push each other further than they would have gone on their own. Cassie and Lia’s relationship is toxic. There is nothing positive that comes from their friendship. They simply drive each other further and further until one of them breaks – whether it’s hospitalization or death.
Anderson uses a rhythmic, lyrical style to allow the reader to get lost in such a depressing story. Lia is almost entirely unlikable. She allows her need for control to expand once Cassie dies – she won’t speak to Cassie’s parents both because she feels guilty but also because it’s something she can control. She attempts to control this because she lost control of Cassie. How responsible is she for her friend’s death? Cassie pushed Lia further and further into her anorexia, so should she feel guilty that she couldn’t save Cassie when she can’t even save herself? Is that her responsibility? She’s sewing coins into her bathrobe to make it weigh more. This is not the action of a well-balance, sensible young girl. This is a sick, sick girl. Lia seems to lack any type of motivation. She doesn’t seem to care much about anything else in her life. She has no passion. Until, with Cassie, she finds something she’s fanatical about. Something awful and destructive.
Is this a realistic representation of someone with an eating disorder? Yes. Is it the only representation? No. Every person suffering from this disorder is suffering in their own way. Some without even realizing they are suffering. That being said, I’m glad I listened to this as an audiobook. I understand the formatting of the book is pretty stylized, and I don’t necessarily love reading books like that. The audiobook was well read and helped me get into the head of a girl going through something I’ve never experienced. From the title to the setting to the reading style, the book creates a sense of cold detachment. I understand what it feels like to feel so overwhelmed by something that you begin to lose track of the rest of the things in your life. Books like this are a good (metaphorical) gut check for the reader.