It’s an unfortunate fact that we live in a culture that objectifies women and holds them up to ridiculous beauty standards. A glance at the magazine stands in the check-out aisle of any grocery store in the U.S. substantiates this. The notion of a positive body image is, for countless girls of all shapes and sizes, a very real struggle.
Back in 2010, Canadian screenwriter, animator, and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman addressed this subject matter—that is, what it is like to come to a happy, healthy, secure self-image in our glossy-magazine world of women—in the Emmy-nominated film Flawed (which you can see here). In her debut as an author, she has adapted the film to a graphic novel memoir of the same name, on shelves this month from Firefly Books. Flawed is marketed at adult readers, but it’s a fitting cross-over title for teens. The starred Kirkus review calls it as a charming debut, describing it as “bold, funny, and brimming with emotional intelligence.”
“His name is Dave and he’s a plastic surgeon,” the book opens. Andrea’s friends tell her Dave is “the nicest guy in the world,” but she determines that she can’t like him, since plastic surgery makes people feel inadequate and flawed. Well, spoiler alert: Dave is a nice guy, and he and Andrea learn to build a healthy, strong relationship. They are, in fact, still living in Halifax together, as a closing author’s note states. But it’s Andrea’s journey to the decision to be with Dave that makes up the heart of this compelling story, one that will resonate with many teens.
When she first meets Dave and strikes up a friendship, Andrea sees him as a “conundrum,” given that his very job is to “operate on perfectly healthy people in an attempt to make them ‘beautiful.’” But then they spend time together, and Andrea falls for him. Hard. A summer romance ensues. But how, she wonders, can an artist and a surgeon have a successful relationship? (In this illustration, we see Andrea holding up a paintbrush; Dave holds a scalpel.) They are just too different, she decides, not to mention the practical barrier in their way: their homes are 1,760 kilometers apart from each other.
To prove her point that there’s no way they can be compatible, she suggests they send handmade postcards to one another. It is via these expressive, quirky creations that they come to know one another intimately. Andrea learns that Dave’s job is not just all about exacting beauty standards for women. (He helps patients with skin cancer, not to mention a day at the job for Dave can mean removing the nail from the hand of a man who had nailed multiple fingers together with a nail gun. This spread is not for the insta-queasy!) But she’s disturbed when she finds out Dave has operated on a young boy whose ears stick out and whose mother is worried he will be mocked. “My stomach flipped,” Andrea writes.
It is here, for the next sixteens spreads in the book, that Andrea takes a trip down memory lane, telling readers about her adolescence—her large nose, being mocked for her appearance, bonding with a friend who also had a large nose, and then feeling betrayed when she learns that the very same friend got plastic surgery to change her appearance. Her own mother even asked Andrea if she’d like to do the same. Teen-Andrea decided, she writes, “that no matter how big my nose got, I couldn’t change it because my nose was me. I was my nose.”
The other thing she decided at this age was that she must be flawed. This would be a surprise if it weren’t a reality for many girls and women, then and now. And for years, Andrea explains, she carried with her a resentment toward her friend for getting a nose job; toward cosmetic surgery for “making me feel like there was a right kind of nose”; toward advertising for its unattainable beauty standards; and toward the world “for making women feel like they should be a certain way.” In thinking through all of these memories and in evaluating her relationship with her boyfriend who is, of all the things, a plastic surgeon, Andrew comes to an epiphany, which I will leave for you to discover.
The palette for this book is one of vivid (nearly glowing in spots) oranges, reds, yellows, and teals. With emotionally expressive characters that leap off the page and creative perspectives (the young version of Andrea shrinks beneath a bully in one spread), she tells the candid and vulnerable story of her struggles with self-acceptance, forgoing panels and only occasionally relying on speech bubbles. As you can see on the cover, she occasionally draws her own nose as if it’s a ruler, given her years-long fixation with its size. The book closes with images of some of the actual postcards she and Dave sent one another; some photos of the two of them; as well as some stills from Flawed, the 2010 film.
Powerful, self-affirming, and a must-read for teen girls and boys, this belongs on the shelves of every high school library out there.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
FLAWED. Text and illustrations © 2018 by Andrea Dorfman. Adapted from the film Flawed © National Film Board of Canada, 2010. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Firefly Books, Buffalo, New York.