Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill (eating disorders and body image, here)
I reviewed Asking For It by Louise O’Neill a couple of weeks ago, and I think I commented on how I was looking forward to reading this? I’m not sure. Forgive me if I’m wrong.
But holy hell. She really does ‘write with a scalpel’, to quote the quote on the cover. But firstly, some background.
This is her first novel, and it’s basically about body image, eating disorders and how horrible girls can be to one another. Except it’s in a dystopian world which takes everything to the absolute obscene limit – and then beyond that.
The two main characters are isabel and frieda, without the capital letters. I think English Literature A-Level is finally getting to me, because as soon as I noticed that, my mind spun off in a million different directions. Indicating they are objects (objects don’t use capital letters)? Showing how they aren’t human?
That brings me to the next nugget of information. These girls, a whole school of them, are bred to be genetically ‘perfect’, and to either give people children (The Handmaid’s Tale much?), be prostitutes or to teach the genetically engineered ‘perfect’ girls how to stay ‘perfect’.
Note inverted commas.
Any girl that doesn’t turn out ‘perfect’, or doesn’t fit to become a teacher, is sent to a place called the Underground. Which, if I remember correctly, we never learn anything about.
Basically, something happened, and women can’t conceive women. They can only have boys. The world is split into different ‘zones’, and the leader of each zone is a ‘father’. We don’t learn much more than that, throughout the entire story, which makes everything that bit more… Believable, in an odd way.
I will be honest, this book made my skin crawl. It includes girls actually giving other girls death threats because they got ‘fat’, the teacher figures encouraging the girls to tell each other what makes them ‘imperfect’, there’s a block of toilets specifically designed for girls to vomit back up what they’ve just eaten.
Did I mention how all the healthy food is on a ‘Fatgirl’ buffet, and they are constantly told that ‘nobody likes a Fatgirl’? It’s not a nice place to be.
The basic premise of the story is that isabel starts ‘letting herself go’, eg. eating, not taking all the pills she’s supposed to, letting herself gain weight. freida just wants her best friend to stop ignoring her, and to make sure that she doesn’t lose out on her chance at a life with children and a family.
There’s so much more to the story, and a truly tear-jerking ending, but you should really just read the story, if you haven’t already. If you have read it… I hope you think it’s as important as I do.
In taking everything to extremes, we’re shown just how fucked up our world is. We’re told we have to maintain what we’re trained to consider ‘perfection’, to fit in and be liked. And trust me, that isn’t important.
You’re not fat, or ugly, or spotty. You’re beautiful, no matter your height or weight or gender.
That’s the one thing I didn’t like in this story – it’s very specialised to the female gender. Guys do have these problems too, and it’s important for people to realise that, just as much as it as for us to stop girls thinking that they have to be slim and blonde to be beautiful.
I’ll stop preaching, now. But remember that you’re beautiful. You are. And read this book.