[Monday Reading] Portrayal Of Eating Disorders in Graphic Novel Memoirs

IMWAYR

It's Monday! What Are You Reading

Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (new host of Monday reading: Kathryn T at Book Date). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

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When I was researching for books that would fit our current reading theme, I was amazed by so many comic books that tackle this very difficult experience. Here are two graphic novel memoirs that fearlessly depict what it’s life to suffer from an eating disorder


Inside Out: Portrait Of An Eating Disorder

Written and Illustrated by: Nadia Shivack
Published by: Ginee Seo Books, Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2007. ISBN: 0689852169 (ISBN13: 9780689852169)
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me. 

The first page of the book shows a beautiful black-and-white photograph of the author-illustrator, Nadia Shivack, who wrote this:

Day by day, meal by meal, millions of girls and women in the United States struggle with eating disorders. 

I am one of them.

I first became aware of food when I was six years old. I would hoard candy in my sock drawer. I only showed special people my hidden treasure.

I never touched any of it. It was sacred.

Nadia did not come from a happy household. They were pretty much terrorized by their father who was very regimented in his ways, while Nadia’s mother was a Holocaust survivor who repressed all those horrific memories, and also had very “strong ideas” about food, not allowing any morsel to go to waste, after suffering from such massive deprivation when she was young.

Nadia shared that her eating disorder began when she started competing for swimming – that is when she became hyperaware of her body, how it looked, and her obsessive need to become very thin. Not only did she diet excessively, this was accompanied too by binges which was aided by her taking medication such as ipecac that would allow her to throw up everything that she consumed.

Much of Nadia’s narrative reminded me of the nature of addiction, the compulsion also parallels that of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) – and the inability to take control of one’s urges and emotions. Throughout Nadia’s sharing of her own struggles with her eating disorder, the pages are also peppered with facts about bulimia or anorexia or women’s dietary habits, side effects from purging, etc.

While I could not connect that deeply with the art, as well as the often confusing handwritten text, I feel that this is an important story – as it gives voice to an illness that has heretofore been regarded largely as a taboo topic.

Lighter Than My Shadow

Written and Illustrated by: Katie Green
Published by: Jonathan Cape, 2013. ISBN: 0224090984 (ISBN13: 9780224090988)
Bought a copy of the book. Book photos taken by me. 

In contrast to the first book, I fell in love with Katie Green’s art here. It evoked such feelings of despair and ravenous hunger that can not seem to be satiated in any form.

It is also a sobering account of just how unpredictable mental illness can be. Unlike Nadia in the first book, Katie had, by and large, a happy childhood. She is surrounded by a loving and supportive family. She excelled academically and took pleasure in her art.

However, she was driven by this obsessive desire for perfection – that she had to be the best in everything that she does, and that she had to look thin to look good. Initially, it seemed harmless enough, until she found herself just “wasting away” and crying during meal times because she could not bring herself to take a bite.

She also had strong social support with friends who were very concerned about her well-being, a college roommate who just let her be, until the time that she was ready to seek help for what was clearly a horrible relapse of her anorexia.

I suppose what really complicated matters for Katie was when she went to this alternative healer who removed “negative” blockages in her energies, allowing her to feel light and happy. It really disturbed me to no end, seeing how people in a position of power and influence could simply manipulate vulnerable beings such as Katie. I won’t say any more since the last thing I want is to ruin this reading experience for you.

Ultimately, though, I feel that this is a story of forgiveness – forgiving not just others but one’s self, a gradual and painful journeying inwards to find value and meaning, and the need to truly do something that one can take joy and pride in, with the knowledge that you are more than your body.

10 Comments on [Monday Reading] Portrayal Of Eating Disorders in Graphic Novel Memoirs

  1. Pussreboots // April 24, 2017 at 12:29 pm // Reply

    I’m going to add Lighter than my Shadow to my wishlist.

    It was a busy week of reading, Girl Scouts, the Mandarin Showcase, and boxing up books. Come see what I’m reading.

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  2. The first book, Inside Out… I’m not convinced of the art. Doesn’t connect with me at all. The second book looks far more interesting.

    My It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? post.

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  3. It sounds like both books have important stories to tell. I agree with the art. The illustrations in Lighter Than My Shadow appeal to me more.

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  4. It’s such an important part of growing up to be aware of in children. There has been a new ‘eating disorder’ clinic open in my part of the city, which means to me how needed it must be. Thanks for highlighting these two books, Myra. My brother had one friend who died from anorexia, a terrible loss.

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  5. both of these books look good, although I agree that the latter looks more inviting.
    Eating disorders are much more prevalent than most people can imagine.
    I remember attending a session on them a number of years ago. The woman spoke to how the messages we give our daughters in our everyday lives can have a profound influence in how they see themselves. She spoke of our own attitudes towards our own weight, and even that wearing makeup tells our daughters that we don’t think that we are ok just as we are. It was a chilling reminder that the invisible curriculum exists in families as well as schools.

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  6. These are both so beautiful, and so sensitive. Unfortunately I was one of those teenage girls, and I had friends who were, too. It’s sadly so common, but I’d never even heard the word anorexia before a doctor told me I had it, it simply wasn’t something I’d ever heard of or read about. Glad that there’s more conversation happening around the subject now than there was when I was a confused sixteen-year-old.

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  7. Both look excellent. I think I could probably spend good amounts of time with the illustrations in both, though they’re very different.

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  8. So many people suffer from eating disorders – Thank you for sharing these books with us.

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  9. These seem like very different books- I also think I would enjoy the second book more than the first after your quick synopsis- such a hard topic and so important for all women to examine how we address value and beauty with young girls.

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  10. You know, I really love that you share pictures of the artwork. I remember I found a book i really enjoyed through one of your posts and I checked it out specifically because I found the pictures of the book inviting. So. Thank you for that.

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