One Girl: Navel Gazing

I don’t know about you guys, but I think about my body a lot. I think about its size, its shape, its tweaks and twists and its general health.

If I’m honest, I probably think about it a bit too much, but the mind will do what the mind will do and after being sick a few times I’ve become a little hyper-aware.

navel gazingFor this reason, I was drawn to Anne H. Putnam’s Navel Gazing (Allen and Unwin), despite that fact that I’m not normally one for memoirs. Typically, they’re not my favourite type of writing, but I was interested in Anne’s story…

Almost every woman worries about her weight. For Anne H. Putnam, it became unavoidable – by the age of seventeen she weighed over twenty stone and had tried everything, from dieting to fat camp to wearing big t-shirts. When she decided to have weight-loss surgery, she thought her life would change. But now, nine years later and ten sizes smaller, she has discovered that changing your body doesn’t automatically change how you feel about it.

I’ve never considered weight-loss surgery (I’ve had my fill of major surgery) but I have experienced substantial weight-loss (I once lost 25 kg in 12 months) and the internal and external reactions that it brings with it. I was pretty sure I knew what Anne was talking about.

There are two things that set Anne’s story apart from other weight-loss stories. Firstly, there’s her young age – the idea of such a young person undergoing such life-changing surgical intervention is at once frightening and fascinating…

“Dad chattered excitedly about how we’d never be able to eat like this again after the surgery. I nodded, although it was hard to imagine being unable to eat more than a fist-sized portion of anything before I felt full, and actually getting sick from fat and sugar. But I didn’t care what we could and couldn’t put in into our bodies, as long as it didn’t require constant vigilance and willpower and the dark, lurking knowledge of failure to come. I was happy to live the rest of my life unable to eat fried things without getting sick; I just wanted to be thin.”

The second thing that made this book compelling was her focus on the psychological side of weight-gain, weight-loss, body image and self esteem. She struggles, sometimes quietly, other times loudly with the way in which her personal, entrenched perceptions makes her feel about herself and others.

These elements make Navel Gazing realistic and multi-dimentional. I really appreciated this reflection on weight management, and its recognition of this as an issue that goes beyond the simple ‘eat less, do more’ approach.

Anne’s writing is tidy and easily read. Only once or twice did I wonder at the choice to include a particular story or recollection. There were occasions where I did get a little impatient with Anne’s obsessions, but then I reminded myself that that was kind of the whole point of the book, and I felt for her.

I most certainly found myself wishing Anne all the best for her future.

This is an important book, with the potential to help people better understand the complexities of weight management, perhaps most particularly for those working in the medical and fitness industry… I think it’d give them a really interesting, gritty and realistic insight into the mind of a girl struggling within and against her body. This, I would think, could only be helpful.

You can find out more about Anne H. Putnam’s Navel Gazing here…

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3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jessie Cole
    Apr 05, 2013 @ 15:05:10

    I read a great article about this recently:
    This really spoke to me because I know when I’ve been skinniest I’ve often felt like something is missing. A sort of hollowness. Sometimes I worry about how small women are expected to be. Metaphorically, why are we supposed to take up so little space?
    Anyway, I do think this is something worth exploring, so thanks for sharing your thoughts on this new book!


  2. That Book You Like
    Apr 05, 2013 @ 16:04:32

    Thanks so much for sharing that article Jessie, a really interesting read! I’m not surprised that Wayne was having those types of thoughts and issues, it seems like a fairly common malady that’s revealing itself.

    It’s interesting that you wonder about expectations – I’ve often thought that myself, and in many ways, struggle with the idea of becoming smaller and thus more vulnerable. I do worry that the smaller a person is, the more a target they become and wonder why I would want to make myself easier to knock over! I don’t know whether this is a reasonable fear or not, and I’ve not really talked to others about it either.

    Most certainly though, the desire for women to be a certain way, a certain size, behave in a certain way seems incredibly hard-wired into our society and it makes me worry, on a daily basis.

    Of course, this is a very different issue to health. A person should strive to be in good health whenever they can, but does this necessarily have to equate to a certain size?


  3. Jessie Cole
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 17:59:25

    Yes, it should be about being strong and healthy, and I think most of the time women are expected to be a good few kilos less than what would be their ideal ‘healthy’ weight.

    Whenever I talk about this I’m always hit with statistics about rising obesity and such, but it seems to me that in some ways they are probably related. Obesity clearly isn’t as simple as ‘bad diet, not enough exercise’ – there is such an emotional component. The friends I’ve seen struggle the most with weight have often been those who’ve prioritised skinniness. But I’m no expert.

    As to the ‘small thing’ I notice it a lot because I’m little. I was a premmy baby, and quite tiny for much of my early years. My children tower over me and have since they were about 10 or 11. I’m really aware of how my smallness places me at a disadvantage with them. I try to stand tall while I stare up into their looming faces and ask them to clean their teeth. They just laugh. I know authority isn’t all about height/size, but I do think it helps. My kids are always teasing me about how little I am, and I’m always saying – ‘Hey! I’m big on the inside!’

    It’s also striking to me how women seem to aim to be that bit smaller/trimmer, while men are bulking themselves up at the gym, you know?

    Sometimes I just want to be big and strong!


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