Friday, July 19, 2013

Body Image

In her debut novel, 45 Pounds (More or Less), K.A. Barson helps teens see that they may not always realize how much they internalize the comments made by the adults around them, especially parents and other family members. 

K.A. Barson
Here's an example at the opening of the novel when narrator Ann hears a comment her mother makes about herself, and the teen takes it as a comment on her own body. When her mother holds up an orange polka dot bikini, Ann tells her mother to "go for it." Her mother responds that she would "if it weren't for this paunch. And these stretch marks.... Hideous." Ann immediately makes the connection back to herself: "I know that I'm bigger than she is. If she believes she's hideously fat, what could she possibly think about me? I don't say any of that, though." Ann's next thought is that she's hungry. Ann's mother never comments on Ann's weight in the book; she supports her daughter's efforts to lose weight and exercise, but Ann's sense of her mother's judgment comes solely through Ann's misguided perceptions of how her mother sees her.

When Ann overhears her four-year-old sister at a pretend tea party, she realizes how far these comments about body image and weight have penetrated into the family. Four-year-old Libby says, "Teddy, are you paying attention to me? This is very, very important... Eating too much food makes you cry. You only eat when nobody is watching. Then nobody will see you get fat. That's what Annie does. Or you run and run and run the fat away. That's what Mommy does. And you yell a lot. That makes fat go away, too." At that moment, Ann knows she must stop the cycle.

Ann is never bullied by her peers--which is refreshing; she simply exists on the fringes. Her struggles are internal. When I got to interview K.A. Barson recently for School Library Journal, she addressed Ann's need to take responsibility for her situation. "The cliques aren’t necessarily mean to Ann, but they’re not including her either," she said. "Some of it is Ann, too. Had she stepped up a little bit, out of her comfort zone, they’d have included her." Barson reveals through Ann's evolving attitudes that there are no quick fixes. Changing one's habits to healthy ones, and adjusting one's image of oneself require practice, discipline and consistency. This is not a heavy-handed book; readers close it thinking, if Ann can do it, I can, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment