The Power of a Diary

This Week’s Book: Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self (L. Gottlieb)

So I’m currently trying to make my way through all of the many, many, many books on my shelf.  This is a big endeavour for sure.  I used to work at a bookstore, so books are abundant in my home and many of them have so far gone unread.  Thus, the book that I chose for this week’s blog came off the shelf…and I honestly have no idea when or where I bought it.  It’s been on that shelf for a long time…

Stick Figure is the compilation of a young girl’s diary entries.  The diary was written when Gottlieb was 11 years old – a year that took her from being an intelligent, spunky and sometimes awkward girl with no concerns about weight to an intelligent, spunky, and more popular girl with an eating disorder.  Like one of the comments on the front cover states, this book really does read like a novel.  The readers are privy to the author’s thought processes and are part of the dramatic shift from not fussing about food and weight to completely restricting everything that she ate.  Gottlieb’s descent into an eating disorder began out of spite her parents and was quickly reinforced by the reactions that she got from others (attention and anger from parents, awe and attention from classmates).

This book was actually really interesting.  When I first grabbed it off the shelf, I wondered not only when I’d bought it originally, but why.  I mean I don’t necessarily focus my work on people struggling with eating disorders, so it seemed like a bit of anomaly on the shelf.  However, I quickly realized that this was not just a book about disordered thinking and eating, it was about perception, relationships, and communication.

One of the biggest things that stood out to me was the ridiculous double standards conveyed by the adults in Gottlieb’s life and the messages that she received on a regular basis.  While her mom would barely eat her own meals, she berated her young daughter for doing the same thing.  I can only imagine how confusing that would be for an eleven year old girl.  Additionally, Gottlieb grew up in a time when gender roles were still very prominent and she had the self-awareness to know that she did not necessarily fit those roles.  So from very early on, she and others in her life labelled her as an outsider – something that spurred her later choices about food.  When Gottlieb meets a particular nurse who takes an interest in her (idiosyncrasies and all) and cares deeply about her, you can see her resolve about the eating restrictions start to falter.  As a counsellor, my heart broke for Gottlieb because it was clear how much she wanted to be listened to, understood, and loved in those moments.  After all, every kid just wants to fit in, be accepted and feel normal.

I would suggest that all parents read this book.  When you do, you’ll discover how the misguided focus of a parent, the lack of listening, and eventual desperation can have disastrous effects.  The way that we speak to our children and interact with them on a daily basis can shape their reactions, thought processes, and coping strategies.  This book is also an interesting read from a feminist perspective, as it questions our ability to deviate from the norms and be different.  It documents how we struggle with these concepts from a very young age.

Interested in this book?  Click here.

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