Diagnosed with bulimia at 15, Keller recalls her journey through rehab in this triumphant debut memoir.
During her sophomore year in 2007, Keller, who grew up in Philadelphia, was invited into the school nurse’s office along with her father to be told that she must attend the Redford Center for Eating Disorders. Her father burst into tears, declaring that he had failed as a parent, and Keller felt that she had “failed as a child.” Keller briefly describes her struggles with her weight in elementary school; she was 200 pounds and constantly bullied. By fifth grade, she learned “that being fat is a bad thing” and started crash dieting. By 15, she was hospitalized on account of her declining health—a direct result of her eating disorder. Soon after, she was ordered by the state to receive “mandatory inpatient treatment.” Keller’s illness is personified as “ED,” whom she envisages as “an attractive GQ business man [sic], complete with a strong jaw and expensive suit.” ED looks on disparagingly when she eats and congratulates her when she makes herself vomit. Keller’s memoir charts her stay and progress at rehab, where she was treated for bulimia nervosa, major depressive disorder, and social anxiety disorder. It also details her camaraderie with other inpatients as they devise ways to defy the strict rehabilitation regime, like wedging open the automatically locking toilet door with a pencil so that it could be used without supervision and secretly gifting one another laxatives.
In her introduction, Keller writes: “I have read approximately 1.5 fuck-tons of memoirs that discuss mental illness and/or an eating disorder. They are all so gloomy. My story isn’t sad.” This isn’t strictly true. Keller’s description of a “gray, skeletal girl,” similar to a “victim from those Holocaust movies,” whom she wheeled through the facility is deeply sad and unnerving: “I was fixated on her wrist and collar bones. They were so tiny, so frail, like those of an elderly person. They were perfect.” However, her approach is by no means gloomy; she adopts an assertive, confrontational tone from the get-go: “It’s a funny word, isn’t it? Re-hab. It’s a dirty word. One that cannot be spoken above a whisper.” Referring to a fellow inpatient as “the corpse” and a pair of anorexic twin sisters as the “Addams Twins” may be interpreted by some readers as flippant. Others will understand this dark humor as the fortifying quality that allows the author to complete the program successfully. The memoir takes an unforeseen twist in the final chapters, in which Keller describes her post-rehab life working as a fashion model in New York. She say, “it was the skinniest I had ever been,” which raises momentary concerns as to whether this will be a success story; yet her exposure and ultimate dismissal of casting directors and bookers within the industry who castigate models for being overweight proves both enlightening and empowering.
Funny, frank, and visceral; an unconventional consideration of bulimia.