It is hard for me to blog about this book with my usual, slightly blasé disinterest. Firstly, because I know the author: she is my friend. And so I can hear her recounting her story as I read it. But more than that because reading it was like therapy. I devoured Navel Gazing (awkward metaphor, I know) in less than 24 hours.
Okay, Anne’s case was more extreme than many, as was her response. Most readers, including me, will not have suffered in the same ways as Anne, or gone through surgery in an effort to manage our weight. But we women have a surreal, awkward, challenging relationship with our bodies and food. I was a chubby kid and a pretty fat teenager. And god do I (and I am sure my poor mother) remember rejoicing when one style of Topshop jeans fitted me, and crying when no knee high boots would do up over my calves, and eating Weight Watchers chicken korma for months on end and buying jewelry when shopping with friends to avoid humiliation. To this day, I own a disproportionate number of earrings.
So hearing Anne’s story, so personally written, so beautifully shared, really resonated with me. As do the residual feelings of confusion and self-loathing. I am now a ‘normal’ size (well, maybe not – is it normal?) 10. But I still can’t quite hold something up to myself in a shop and understand that it will fit me, or eat a piece of cake without assuring myself I won’t do it again tomorrow, or stop beating myself up for not going to the gym as often as I would like. And I crave that simple relationship with food that my tall, slim, brother has – he eats when he is hungry, or particularly wants something and then stops. Just like that.
The weirdest thing is, now I am in my thirties, I have come to accept that all this craziness is normal. Literally every woman I know has an up-down relationship with the gym, has fat days or fat clothes, has months of giving up certain foods and massively over-thinks what, when and how they eat. So many of us will tell people what size we normally are or should be, in conversation, even if they don’t care. Many of my friends have had eating disorders. I am sure many of yours have too.
As Anne pretty much says (okay, I’m paraphrasing here…) the best we can do is accept our own personal brand of crazy (well, as long as it’s not life threatening) and try and limit the amount of thought we give to it. All most of us have ever wanted was to be normal. And it turns out this is what normal is.
The above goes far more into the personal than this blog normally does. But I guess what I am trying to say is read this book. Because it’ll make you laugh and think and wimper quietly from time to time. It will make you want to pick up the phone and call your mum / girlfriends / partner / other wonderful people in your life and thank them for the times they put up with your own personal brand of crazy. But more than anything, because it will make you feel normal. And it will remind you, as it did me, that behind the beautiful, intelligent, witty people you are friends with (and yes, I am talking about you Anne H. Putnam) is basically the same muddled, insecure person as you see in the mirror.
NB: Normal service will resume on the next novel.