A thorough analysis of our weight-obsessed culture.
“Disliking one’s body and wanting to be thinner is the new normal,” writes British newspaper columnist and BBC TV presenter Woolf (An Apple a Day: A Memoir of Love and Recovery from Anorexia, 2013) in her colloquial scrutiny of contemporary society’s fixation on weight, appearance and the desire for outward perfection. She knows this slippery terrain well: Her bracing memoir chronicling a decadelong physical and psychological preoccupation with food is well-referenced here in chapters tackling the many facets of mild to major body dysmorphia. As her great niece, the author quotes Virginia Woolf casually throughout well-researched sections (“ministries”) exploring the social connotations and demonizations of food, tedious diets (“the triumph of hope over experience”), fitness, sex and the concept of aging gracefully without the trendiest plastic surgeries. Along the way, she shares her personal indulgences (baked beans and frozen yogurt) and a marked disenchantment with increasing societal (and media) pressures placed on women to look, act, eat and feel a way that is often at odds with their goal of happiness and healthfulness. Less appealing are mildly catty approaches to celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Kate Middleton, Liz Hurley and others; Woolf’s angle may prove nettlesome to readers eager for less judgment and more confidence boosting. Of particular interest is the author’s presentation of a groundbreaking 1940s food deprivation study, the findings of which offered dramatic insights as to how starvation alters the body and the mind simultaneously. Vividly rendered and creatively explored, Woolf’s text encourages nonconformity and individuality on many fronts, even as her burning query remains, “if being thin is the answer, what’s the question?”
Relevant, engrossing and sure to help liberate those in the throes of a weight battle or lifestyle crisis.