Beth, Elizabeth, Liz...all one person, seen through her teen years and into her late 20's as she is an overweight teen struggling to find self worth and love by letting men use her for comfort (while loathing her size), to being so self-conscious that she can't send a full length photo to men she meets online for fear of them seeing how she looks. Finally, Elizabeth meets a man online who loves her for who she is, but this is jeopardized at she begins to lose weight and becomes trapped in a cycle of hunger, exercise, and constant comparisons of herself to other women. Being surrounded by women of all sizes, who all have a self-consciousness about food and appearance, and not only are judged by men, but judge each other. The episodes where Elizabeth tries on dresses in stores hit close to home. The bad lighting, the attendant constantly knocking on the door to see if everything's okay...the clothing never fitting and the only size available is one that will never fit. That feeling of just wanting to give up and wear t-shirts and sweatpants because nothing looks right or fits at all. We've all been there.
It doesn't matter if you have been heavy all your life, or if you've been on the vicious diet cycle of thin, heavy, thin, heavy. For me, I was always thin for most of my life (my legs were referred to as chicken legs) and I never appreciated what I looked like--there was always someone thinner. I was always the sister with the boobs, and I was always the "healthy looking" one. I look at pictures, and I can't believe I didn't see myself in a positive light; that I always felt less than, somehow. I didn't ever try crazy diets or watch what I ate--I was lucky. But that isn't the case any longer; years of stress, grief over losing loved ones, and being unhappy with parts of my life have combined with growing older and packing on the pounds. I think my younger self would be shocked at the change in me. Self-loathing is an easy trap to fall into; and it can rule your life, as it does Elizabeth's.
I saw snippets about this book that said it was humorous, so that's what I expected--a bit of self-deprecating humor and a lovable character I could laugh and commiserate with on the subject of weight. I was wrong. Elizabeth was a painful character, and I didn't find any humor in her struggle. I guess it depends on the reader, and life experience, on how this will effect your view of Elizabeth's story. If anything, it did point out some painful realizations: comparing myself to everyone else, treating food as an enemy, and my underlying unhappiness at how I look and feel are detrimental to my self-confidence and peace. I can't look back, but can only look forward.
I think this novel would be an excellent book club discussion book, and certainly something I would recommend for late teens and early twenties young ladies. It is brutal, honest, painful, and gut wrenching.
Thank you to Penguin Random House for a review copy.
Rating: 8/10 for a powerful look at one woman's struggle to love herself in a world that has a harsh opinion on how we look.
Available in paperback and e-book.