Today I am delighted to share with you a guest post from amazing author and great blogger friend, Luisa Plaja! We're actually really lucky to have something from Luisa, as around the time she wrote this, she was battling to meet a deadline and it looked unlikely that she would be able to find the time to get something written. But Luisa is a trooper and, being a huge supporter of BI&SP Month, squeezed in some time to write this amazing post for us. Thank you so much for being a star, Luisa!
My Thoughts for Body Image and Self-Perception Month
by Luisa Plaja, author of Split by a Kiss, Extreme Kissing and Swapped by a Kiss, editor of Chicklish
When I heard that Once Upon a Bookcase was considering a Body Image and Self-Perception themed month and was looking for book recommendations, my thoughts turned immediately to one of my all-time favourite YA novels: Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig. I first read this book after it was published in 1981, when I wasn’t yet a teenager myself. At the time, not very many people at my school had heard of anorexia, but it crept into our vocabulary and into our conscience over the next few years, as we grew - or didn't grow - and started to criticise our own, and each other's, bodies. Constantly.
Second Star to the Right stayed with me and had a profound effect on me, and I went on to volunteer for a charity called Anorexic Aid in the summer I turned 16. Thanks to Jo’s themed month, I recently looked Deborah Hautzig up online and found her own moving story on her website. She says:
"Three weeks after I finished writing Second Star to the Right, in September of 1980, at the age of 23, I collapsed on the street and cracked my head open... I am 5’6” tall and weighed 88lbs. I’d had a severe concussion and needed seven stitches. The cause of my fainting was an electrolyte imbalance, the result of excessive vomiting, laxative abuse and starvation. I was terrified. I was contrite. I vowed never to abuse my body again."
You can read the rest of this account on her website.
Deborah Hautzig's book, and many others like it, show some of the extremes of distorted body image. But when I considered possible suggestions for Jo's month, I also wondered about books that represented a side of this topic that we all encounter, often on a daily basis. There’s a popular culture emphasis on being a certain, "correct" size or shape, and I am occasionally worried by novels where characters lose weight, or gain curves, or otherwise change body shape or size in the course of a story, and these bodily changes become instrumental to their happiness at the end of the book. Whereas I'm sure readers are sophisticated enough to recognise this as pure fantasy when they read it, it still bothers me.
So I thought about novels that definitely don't push the idea that people should change to conform to a socially-accepted norm in order to be happy, and a fantastic example of this sprang to mind immediately. In Everything Beautiful by Simmone Howell, the main character is happy to be the size she is, and this aspect of her doesn’t change as the story progresses. This novel is not "about" body image, really, but it has a wonderful, subtle and original take on self-acceptance throughout, and I highly recommend it.
I also thought of a comment a teenaged reviewer once made about one of my own books, Extreme Kissing, and I hope it's OK to mention it here: "Carlota is described as a size 16, but everyone still finds her beautiful which shows it doesn't matter what size you are which automatically makes this a book where you feel good about yourself." - from Dragonfly Reviews. I was over the moon to read that a teenager had seen this in my book.
Issues of self-acceptance and body image can be vital in adolescence... and beyond. I'd like to thank Jo very much for her themed month on Once Upon a Bookcase, and I'm really looking forward to joining in with the discussions and comments as much as possible.
Thank you so much for such a great post and for sharing your thoughts on the topic, Luisa! It's very thought provoking! What do you think about what Luisa has said?