Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott (@escottwrites)

This book was both exceptionally easy and exceptionally hard to read. Easy from the perspective that it’s short, the font is large, and the chapters are a few pages at most. Hard from the perspective that this minimalist style of writing gives you nowhere to hide. And hide is what you want to do in this book. Hide from the nightmare this girl has been living in for so long that it’s just normal for her now. So normal that when given the chance to escape, she doesn’t take it.

Alice has been living with Ray for about five years, starting when she was almost ten. She knows he’s not her father, no matter what he says. Even though she thinks the story of her life before is a lie. He’s the man that tricked the old her. The girl that used to be. He’s the man that made Alice. She’s now fifteen, and she no longer fulfills his ideals. She’s too tall. Too heavy. Too old. Too everything. She no longer fits in the tiny white dresses with the ruffled trim. Keeping her weight under 100lbs has become a constant struggle. He’s turning her into an anorexic – which she has no desire to be. When she gets the chance to eat, she does. As long as she can brush her teeth before she sees Ray again. She knows it’s not worth the pain she will feel if he catches her with food. Continue reading

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Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson (@halseanderson)

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi

To be successful, you just have to try really hard. Even if you goal is extreme weight loss and your tools are speaking your self-loathing out loud because it burns more calories than just thinking them.

I have really mixed feelings about this book. I liked that it was gritty and unexpected. It was exceptionally direct about the lengths de Rossi went to in order to achieve her weight goals. I read another review where the reader was having problems getting through the book because it is so depressing and dark and it wasn’t looked at the situation in a humorous or self-deprecating way. Really? I don’t want to read about this kind of struggle from a humorous perspective. There are a few things that I think shouldn’t be joked about and this is one of them.

The darkness was one of the things that made this book good. She’s so deep in her eating disorder that even when Portia is seeing a nutritionist, and honestly fools herself into thinking that she is doing something good for her body and her career, she’s still so unhappy. She can’t find any joy in her health. Even when she’s lording her weight loss over others, she’s still crippled by the way people look at her and judge everything about her. The fact that she was only ever really able to get out of the cycle of the disorder by collapsing is also telling. She didn’t stop because she wanted to, but because she was forced to by other people.

Aside from the anorexia, I found her stories, few as they were, from the set of Ally McBeal compelling. You always read these memoirs where people are talking about how amazing the cast is and how they become a second family, but on this set, no one seems to be friends. Their conversations are perfunctory polite and they never connect as more than coworkers. While I know the show was popular, I’ll admit that I didn’t really like it. Maybe this was why.

My big, huge, giant complaint with the book is the missing portion between parts 2 and 3. We go from collapsing from starvation to married and happy with a flip of a page. I needed to hear about the recovery. From someone who doesn’t really want to be doing it, this must have been incredibly difficult. I wanted to hear how through recovery, she was finally able to come to terms with her sexuality. Throughout the book, she constantly referred to being a lesbian as this giant weight, but suddenly she’s happily settled down with her wife. It feels like she still hasn’t recovered enough to talk about that part of the story. She’s healed enough to share how she hit bottom, but not how she got better. So many people suffer from eating disorders or body image issues and are able to relate to her story. The recovery portion of needs to be present; otherwise the book ends up coming off as a “how-to” guide for achieving anorexia instead of a survival guide.