Skinny

Skinny

Pic Credit: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11958583-skinny

Author: Donna Cooner

Publisher: Point, an imprint of Scholastic Inc (October 1, 2012)

Setting: The story is set mostly in the main character ‘s (Ever) school and home.

Main Characters: Ever/Skinny, Rat, Jackson, Briella

Summary: The story revolves around 15-year-old Ever, who weighs over 300 pounds and struggles to come to terms with her body image because of the devil’s voice in her head (Skinny) who constantly whispers negative words to her. The pressure of every other girl looking lean and fit in school further crushes her self-esteem and she eventually opts for a gastric bypass surgery to help her lose weight. After the surgery, she learns to adapt to her “new” body and follows a strict diet and exercise regime as part of the surgery’s follow-up plan. Yet, even after the surgery, Skinny never went away. She would still whisper ear-piercing thoughts into Ever’s ears. However, as time passed, Ever gained more confidence of her body image and eventually got rid off Skinny.

Throughout the story, her close friend, Rat, stays by her side and never fails to accept her for who she is, even when she was obese. On the other hand, because she was blinded by her longing for Jackson, her first love, she failed to see that Rat had been in love with her for the longest time. Needless to say, they ended up together. She also develops a closer relationship with Briella, her stepsister, whom she hardly spoke to before the surgery because she felt inferior in comparison to Briella in terms of size and looks.

Review: As a coming-of-age book, the author adopted first-person narration and a diary-like style to portray the struggles that Ever faces because of her obesity. The devil’s voice in her head, whom she names “Skinny”, is a part of her and constantly voices unfavourable remarks to discourage her. As such, the entire story is centred on the theme of imagined self-image and this can be explained by the looking glass self theory developed by Charles Horton Cooley in 1902, which states that “people in our close environment serve as the “mirrors” that reflect images of ourselves” (Isaksen, 2013, para. 4). According to Cooley’s (1902) theory, this occurs in three progressive steps:

  1. We form an image of how we think another person thinks of us.
  2. We think of what people might say about us based on our outer appearance.
  3. We imagine how those people feel about us, based on the judgments formed earlier.

Finally, it is believed that we would often alter our behaviour based on what we think people think of us.

Based on this theory, we can deduce that Ever had undergone all three steps. The first line of the story is evidence of this: “I know what they think because she [Skinny] whispers their thoughts into my ear. I can hear them. Clearly. Constantly.” Comments like “you’re huge” shows that Skinny is telling Ever what people think of her. “The world doesn’t care if you’re kind and good. It only cares that you’re fat. Nothing else matters,” shows that she worries about people’s perceptions of her which results in her feeling depressed in school because she thinks that no one will ever be her friend.

In chapter four, she makes a life-changing decision to opt for the gastric bypass surgery after she falls from a wooden chair on stage during an awards ceremony. At that moment, she hears Skinny’s voice in her ear: “I knew that would happen one day. Did you see that fat girl? I can’t believe I just saw that. Wonder if anybody got that on video – got to post it online!” This statement alone is an amalgamation of Cooley’s three steps:

  1. The word “fat” is the image that Ever/Skinny forms of her;
  2. “I knew that would happen one day” is what people think of her; and
  3. I can’t believe I just saw that…got to post it online!” is what Ever/Skinny imagines people feel about her falling off the chair because the furniture couldn’t take her weight.

As a result, two weeks after the incident, she schedules for an appointment with her father to consult the doctor regarding her decision to opt for the gastric bypass surgery, which she eventually undergoes and follows up with a series of diet and exercise to lose weight. It is important to note that even though the doctor had informed her of the risks of the operation, which include “infection, suture leaks, and blood clots” amongst others, she decided on it anyway. Her decision to act is the final stage of Cooley’s theory, where she chooses to “change” her body entirely.

In chapter twenty, she finally confronts Skinny through her reflection in the mirror and realises that Skinny has always been her “one constant – the nagging fairy godmother whose voice led [her] down this path.” As she struggles to get rid of Skinny through a heated conversation in her head, Skinny finally says, “You made me,” before disappearing and Ever realises that “Skinny only exists in [her] own head. She is part of [her].” Therefore, according to Cooley’s theory, Skinny is the imagined self-image that Ever created because of her insecurities; a combination of what Ever believes people think of her; and assumptions that were never verified because they were all made up by her.

Finally, after all the struggle and pain Ever goes through, she manages to lose enough weight to regain her self-confidence and rebuild her self-esteem. She auditions for a school musical and performs as Cinderella, a dream she always had. Her natural talent for singing coupled with the ideal body shape she always yearned for came together on the day of the performance and she couldn’t have asked for more.

Although the author gives the story a happy ending, it is disappointing to know that the protagonist, Ever, actually concedes defeat with herself and opts for the surgery as an ‘easy way out’ to overcome her self-image problem. Her battle was never with the people around her – she was fighting her own battle. As a fifteen-year-old girl with body image issues who was flooded with insecurities of her own, she settled for a “quick fix” so that she could be in the spotlight and people would admire her because of her talent and physical beauty. She never understood that in reality, inner beauty mattered more than one’s physical appearance. In a way, this book could be sending a wrong message to teens who are struggling with obesity. They would probably think that their obesity can be solved by simply going for a gastric bypass surgery and thereafter, be free of any self-image issues. It would have been a much better story if Ever had learnt to lose weight the ‘hard way’ with pure diet and exercise rather than opting for a surgery to shorten the weight loss process just to fulfil her dream of being Cinderella in her school musical. (Rating: 1 out of 5 stars)

Reference:

Isaksen, J. V. (2013, May 27). The looking glass self: how our self-image is shaped by society. Popular Social Science. Retrieved 2014, September 19, from http://www.popularsocialscience.com/2013/05/27/the-looking-glass-self-how-our-self-image-is-shaped-by-society/

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