Friday 16 July 2010

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Guest Post: Luisa's Thoughts

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!

Luisa PlajaMy 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

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?


  1. I have to admit that it really annoys me when girls have to change themselves to find happiness in a book. Surely it doesn't have to work like that in real life?

    Fantastic post, Luisa!

  2. I love how almost everyday I can expect you to be the first to comment, Sophie! :) Thank you!
    I'm with you. It wou be great if they could just find happiness on their own. However, I have noticed that in some books they don't change, but they find happiness through a guy's opinion of them, rather than something they do themselves. That annoys me just as much. Fine, let the girl get the guy, but let her get the guy because she's now happy with herself, and he's noticed the new conident her.
    We should be able to accept ourselves as we are and be happy, without having to change or have someone help us. I guess that's not always the case though.

  3. Luisa Second Star to the Right is one of my favourite books. I kept getting it out of the library at secondary school. I then spent several years trying to recall what the title was (and failing). It's such a powerful, small book. I had no idea Deborah suffered from anorexia herself.

    Great post :)

  4. I worry about that a lot, Jo. There's a line (well, two words) in Swapped by a Kiss that I put in and took out again about a hundred times because I just couldn't decide whether it gave the wrong impression about my character's sense of self-worth and where it was coming from. I think we do get some of our self-worth from other people, though - I think it's human. I suppose it's the difference between being told "you're wonderful as you are, and you always have been" versus "actually, I've decided you're OK after all so you can stop worrying now".
    Er... I hope that makes sense!

    Thank you so much for posting this, and really sorry I'm not participating more in the discussions. I've loved all your posts!

  5. Sorry, I missed your comment while posting that, Nayuleska. It really is a wonderful book and it had a profound effect on me. I'm glad you love it too!

  6. I know exactly what you mean, Luisa! In an ideal world, it would be great if people could come to love themselves on their own, but I'm generally not too bothered when I read about a girl learning to love herself beczuse of what she is being told by a guy. IF you end up loving yourself in the end, does it really matter how you got there?
    The only reason it does bug me is because I recognise that in myself. I can't get there on my own, and I hate that. And for reasons I can't fully articulate, the fact that I could end up liking myself because of a guy ( I don't have the best opinion of the male of the species, lol) winds me up no end. I want to be better than that, lol. But I guess that's my own self-esteem issues coming through, lol.

  7. luisa - I also really remember second star to the right - I didn't know it was autobiographical - was quite harrowing to read her website. thanks for pointing to it (and thanks for the nod too :))

  8. I agree with you Jo about how irritating it can be when a female character starts to like herself better because some guy likes her. The thing is, the end of a story is just that, the end of the story. In real life, what happens when they break up or if the relationship otherwise takes a turn for the bad? Unless she has really changed in that time so that she does really love herself, she'll be right back at square one. Or at square minus one because she now feels like she's failed somehow. Or she will end up trying to change herself just to keep the affection.

    It's similar to what Luisa says about body shape changes. I think it's just as bad to base your self esteem on what you look like, because that will change. What if you become ill and that affects the way you look, or have an accident? And everyone gets old. Self-esteem and self-worth has to come from somewhere else, somewhere deeper.

  9. I know exactly what you mean about things going bad with a guy! That worries me about myself, lol. It's horrible, lol.
    But I do think I'm almost getting there on my own. At least I hope so, lol.
    It goes back to my "What About WHO We Are?" post. I think it's those things we need to focus on.