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by Lori Gottlieb
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on May 23rd 2002
In the Epilogue to Stick Figure, Lori Gottlieb
explains that she was 29 years old when she discovered her old childhood
diaries, and the book is based on her entries from when she was eleven. She chronicles her growing concern about her
food intake and imagined fatness, her struggles with her parents, her worries
about her popularity, and her eventual understanding that she needs to eat in
order to be healthy. The book is
written in simple language and Lori is often very sharp in her observations of
the people around her; she is smart and funny, and these qualities make the
book a quick and enjoyable read, even though it is about a very unhappy year of
Gottliebs account of her family is accurate, then her anorexia nervosa
seems to be largely caused by her mother and the mothers of her friends. Her mother is constantly watching her
weight, taking only a few bites of her meal, and putting the remaining food on
the plates of her husband or son. She
does not give Lori the food, because she wants to make sure Lori does not get
too fat. Her friend Julie has a mother
who has a shelf full of dieting books, and Julie is not allowed to eat much
food at home. The mothers are already
making comments about wanting to make sure their daughters are pretty so that
they can find good husbands, when these girls are still preteens and are just
starting to play Spin the Bottle.
Figure does a good job of conveying the distorted body image that Lori
comes to have, and how her control of calorie intake and refusal of food is
also a way for her to achieve some power and get attention in her family. Its also striking that her parents are
extremely unsupportive of Lori early on in the story, and her refusal to eat is
a successful strategy in changing their attitudes towards her. Her pediatrician and then her psychiatrist
try to get the family to communicate better with each other, but it is not
until Lori ends up in hospital that any real change occurs.
experience in 1978-9 might be quite different from that of girls with eating
disorders today. The most obvious
difference between then and now is that she would quite likely be put on
medication at some point in her treatment, certainly before she was admitted to
hospital. Its also striking that she
was not in group therapy or family therapy, both of which might be useful
approaches. So it is important to
remember that this is just an account of one persons experience of an eating
disorder, and might not be representative of other peoples experience.
question the book leaves unanswered is to what extent Gottlieb and her editors
rewrote her childhood diaries. A note
on the copyright page says that, Some liberties have been taken with
chronology. Its likely, though, that
those were not the only liberties taken, unless Gottliebs diaries were extremely
detailed. The diary part of the book is
233 pages long, and it would be very surprising if she had noted all the
details of her life to fill that many pages when she was eleven. So its probable that Gottlieb filled in
some of the gaps to make the story more readable, and thus some elements of
fiction have probably entered into the book.
But the larger question is whether Lori at eleven was an objective
observer, and whether her family was really as dysfunctional and unable to deal
with emotions as she describes. It would
have been interesting to get their side of the story as well.
© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.
Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College,
Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research
is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in
exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is
keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health
professionals, and the general public.