Wintergirls is the story of Lia, who struggles with anorexia and the death of her former best friend. The girls flirted with the brink of survival by pushing themselves as far as they could without getting caught in their disordered behavior. After Lia was discovered, she and Cassie severed ties, since Cassie didn’t want to be forced to cope with her own behavior. Though Lia has worked to circumvent the preventative measures her family has taken, her world is shattered by her best friend’s death, and the ghost of their relationship haunts her every moment. It is not only the pain of loss that grips her, but also, in some twisted way, the fact the her friend pushed herself beyond the brink--Cassie “won” at denying herself what a person needs to survive.
Unlike many other stories of disordered eating that can serve as a manual for a successful eating disorder, Wintergirls focuses on the dark sides of this behavior. Lia is never glamorized in her thinness; it is clear that her malnutrition has not made her beautiful. In a society where one can never be too thin, the grim descriptions of an anorexic body prove otherwise. Lia and Cassie are not happy with themselves or what they’ve done, but continue to search for any positives they can find on the path they have chosen. Constantly making excuses, and secreting off to exercise or throw up do nothing but damage relationships. Beautiful or not, there is no happiness in being excluded, but concealing an eating disorder makes it so hard to be a part of something. Focusing a life around hitting the elusive goal of being ever more weightless is damaging and exhausting. In the modern world of tracking apps and pro-ana websites, it is easier and easier to find those who will help you down the path of self-destruction. People are not just a number on the scale, or in an app. They are the synergy of mind and body, and failing to embrace that which makes us whole will always end with us falling to pieces.
In the end, Wintergirls reminds us that no matter how much love we share with those around us, no external motivator can ever truly force us to change. All of the encouragement in the world cannot confront a deep-seated desire for self-destruction. Though wanting to make loved ones happy can be a driver, it is not enough on its own to change a behavior. This is utterly heartbreaking for anyone who loves a person with a distorted perception. Though there are many different presentations, so many destructive disorders are interlinked. The pain of an eating disorder is not vastly different than that of depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness. When we are pursued and pushed to fight by someone else to conform to their desires, it can end up driving us further into the deeps of our minds. The fine line between being supportive and smothering can be crossed so easily. Wintergirls reminds us that giving someone space is just as important as giving them support. Your own desire cannot change what is set in the mind of another. All of the love in the world cannot counteract the pain that we can cause in our own heart. Once Lia realizes this, she finally has the epiphany she needs. For Lia, it is not her role in the lives of others that changes her mind. Instead, she realizes that she has been missing so many things that give her joy. Once her eyes are open to the little things that come together and make life worth living, she realizes that competing to see how far she can go towards crossing the veil of death is foolish, and that she should work to enjoy her time while she can. This does not instantly mean that she is cured, but it means that she is ready to fight to save herself for the very first time. None of this is to say that it is pointless to try to help others. As you cannot know someone else’s mind, you never know when when they will have a breakthrough. The most important thing is to be there for those you love when they need you, and try to reserve judgment on their pain as you hope they would with yours.
If you need to defeat yourself to become yourself, read Wintergirls.
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Wintergirls. Penguin Group US, 2009. Kindle Edition.