So today I was supposed to review “The List” by Siobhan Vivian. However, after going out to dinner last night and having THE MOST AWKWARD TIME EVER, I decided that a) enough people have read this book and don’t need me to review it and b) it would be a good time to have this discussion.
For those of you who don’t know, I’m less than 6 months away from turning 30. And I’m kind of excited about it. Lemme just say, my 20s have sort of sucked. And by sort of, I mean they were pretty horrendous. It’s only been in the last couple years that I’ve finally gotten rid of a lot of my self esteem issues and realized that this is who I am, this is what I look like, and hey, I think I’m pretty damn great.
“The List” tells the story of 8 teenage girls who have been put on this list that says who is the prettiest and the ugliest for each grade. We get to see how this list affects each girl’s life over the course of a week. With the exception of sophomores Candice and Lauren – I’ll get to them later – I really loved seeing how each of the girls was affected.
However, the two stories that stuck out the most to me, and that have sparked this discussion, were Danielle’s and Bridget’s.
First off, Bridget’s. Bridget was always cute, pretty, but when she realizes she’s put on a few pounds – thanks to trying on a new two-piece swimsuit – she decides to lose some weight over the summer. By giving up eating (what is wrong with her? Doesn’t she know food is DELICIOUS???). She develops an eating disorder, skipping meals, barely picking at her food, and essentially becoming unhealthy. When Bridget returns to school for her junior year, she’s lost weight. And she knows that’s why she’s on the list, which makes her want to continue her weight loss.
Danielle, a freshman, is a swimmer and over the summer started dating a sophomore football player. She’s so cute and in love, but when she’s called Dan the Man on the list, she becomes instantly aware of her swimmer’s body, the fact that she’s athletic, and that she’s not very girly. Her boyfriend’s friends begin to tease him about dating her and she worries he’ll break up with her because of the list and how athletic she is.
So, as I said earlier, I think over the years I’ve developed a pretty good body image of myself. Yes, I could stand to lose weight. Yes, I should try harder on my hair some days. Yes, I should exercise more. But I like who I am. That being said, it was hard for me to really get these girls’ body image problems. I wanted to share my enlightened views and say “Who cares about these things? You’re awesome just the way you are!”
Insert THE MOST AWKWARD DINNER EVER. I went out with my cousin, who is tall, thin, and blonde. Exact opposites of what I am. All of her friends were pretty, tall, stylish, put together… I felt like dowdy old frumpy pants. And about halfway through dinner, not one but TWO large groups of girls who were dressed impeccably, had amazing hair, were pretty, etc. came in and sat at the tables around us. Yeah… I felt like Ron Weasley at the Yule Ball. I finally ended up skipping out on drinks after dinner and fled home to pajamas and warm brownies.
My point is, I finally got Bridget’s and Danielle’s body issues. Last night made me remember just how horrible it feels when you don’t feel confident, when you’re self conscious, and when you feel completely uglier than everyone else.
Around the blogs, we talk about powerful, strong female characters – Katniss, Tris, Katsa – and how girls need these kind of characters. And I agree they do. We all do, no matter what age we are.
But do books really help to affect girls who have body image issues? Do girls take the correct message away from books that deal with issues of body image, the way we look and act? As an adult, I sometimes feel like these messages are lost on me. Been there, already learned that. But what about younger adults (25<) or teens? What do you take away from these messages?
After my dinner last night and really beating myself up when I got home, I looked to The List, mainly to Danielle’s story. Not to get all spoilery here, but she’s really the only one who had a happy ending. She found a group that accepted her, that she felt comfortable and started to feel confident with. I’m sure she’ll still have body image issues, as we all do, but I loved that she found this group of girls who loved her, regardless of anything. (And I vowed that I would not be going out again with the people I went out with last night!)
Bridget didn’t really have any kind of ending. She had an eating disorder and she was able to finally fit into a too small homecoming dress, but was majorly unhappy because of how she lost the weight. Erm… yay?
Okay, now on to my issues with Candace and Lauren from The List. First off, why does the ugliest girl in the sophomore class have to be named Candace? And why is she such a bitch in the book? I take major offense to this, Siobhan. Furthermore, my cousin – you know, the perfect one I went out with last night and have had major jealousy/inferior complex issues with my entire life – is named Lauren. Lauren is named the prettiest girl in the sophomore class. That right there, my friends, basically sums up my entire childhood with my cousin. So yeah, I kind of hated this. Like a lot.
Anyway…. My question is this: do books, and characters, affect the way we see ourselves? Do they have any kind of impact on our self image and do we take lessons from them? Are they effective in pointing out our own problems?
Would love to hear your thoughts!