I knew that one of my sorority sisters had a problem. She was rail thin, always drank too much on party nights, and never ate anything. But how could I point to her and say “something’s wrong?” Maybe she really did have a high metabolism.
Then, one night when my roomates and I were getting ready to go out, she came over. Her pants were so baggy they were falling down, so another roommate offered to lend her a belt.
“Oh, I’d never fit in your belts. You’re so much skinner than I am,” she said. She probably weighed 95 pounds. My roommate weighed about 120.
What do you do? Could we force her to eat, force her to stare in the mirror and say “do you see how small you are?” My roommate tried, but it didn’t work.
Wintergirls(pub date March 19) by Laurie Halse Anderson, shows why. It’s a novel about Lia, an anorexic high school senior, whose best friend, Cassie, dies. Cassie was bulhemic, and the two supported each other on the quest to stay thin, and as Lia tries to move forward, is haunted by Cassie.
The book, which is written for young adults, is told from Lia’s point of view, and her narrative is striking, shocking and sad. It shows how she explains herself out of eating, and how she got to the point where where 99 pounds at 5 feet 5 inches tall is far too heavy. (Don’t believe that such an attitude can exist? Google “pro anorexia.”)
I finished this book at about midnight last night, and dreamed about it. It’s that powerful, and a must read, even if it’s disturbing. Is it too much for young girls? I don’t think so. I read worse in high school on a sheer disturbing level. It’s marked “young adult” but not written in any sort of juvenile way, so adults won’t feel out of place. I don’t know if it will change someone’s mind or help them on the road to recovery out of an eating disorder, but it might be a small step — like the small steps Lia takes before she hits rock bottom.
Another recommendation: Caroline Knapp, whose books I recommended a lot, wrote a powerful book about her struggle with annorexia and women’s relatinoship with body issue — it’s called Appetites: Why Women Want. Knapp uses her story and her journalism skills to write a researched picture of peril, one I know though never close to Lia or even Knapp’s level. I had my boughts with issues in college and beyond, and when Lia talks about the power she finds in overcoming hunger, I knew what she (or Halse Anderson) meant. For a brief time in college, I lived on coffee, and a few years ago when trying to thin myself pretty for all the wrong reasons, I almost blacked out while running. And even though I see now how wrong that was, I still have pangs.
Take this morning, for example: I’m in week 7 of a 10 week training cycle for a race, and this morning called for an interval run, which I hate (seven sets of half mile sprints thrown into a 5.5 mile mix). I rocked that workout. I’m running faster and stronger than I ever had. After I wiped down the treadmill (I was covered in sweat), I went to stretch out and think about my run and the upcoming race but was sucked back into a dark hole because a rail thin teenage beauty who works out in her sports bra and booty shorts walked by. “It’s not fair,” I wanted to say. “I work so hard but will never be like you.”
Is that look of protruding bones and hollow skin prettier than my muscular frame made strong by hundreds of miles pounded out over the last three years? If you ask me now, as I sit at home and write this, no. But I saw control in her at that moment, like I’d failed. I thought of the black tie I’m going to this weekend where I’ll wear a shimmery gold dress and wonder if I’d look big compared to these stick thin girls. I pushed that thought from my head as I cooled down (if I was that thin, I wouldn’t have this rack, I told myself, which made me laugh out loud), but it was still there, even if for a brief moment.
So while I’ve never been in Lia’s spot, I can see how some girls start down that path and sink down — that’s why Wintergirls is such an important read.