Are Teen Girls Really That Fragile?

Illustration for article titled Are Teen Girls Really That Fragile?

Today the New York Times asks: does this YA novel about eating disorders serve as an E.D. primer?

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Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls is the first-person account of a young girl suffering from anorexia. It's well-researched and true-to-life, and the author names pro-ana websites and other resources that the characters uses as "thinspiration" by name. It's realistic and powerful and disturbing. And, as such, the Times asks, "In writing about eating disorders, are authors, unwittingly, creating an alluring guidebook to the disease?"

The concern, of course, is that the novel's audience is the very group most at risk for eating disorders, and as such, might take suggestion from the book. But, as one doctor quoted says, "Yes, the book is going to trigger people. Turning on the television triggers people - looking at billboards, going to the computer, walking past a magazine rack." In short, people who are ill are going to feed their illness, and the sad truth is that there are far more direct and compelling resources available for those looking for hints or encouragement. An intelligent book that shows one of the most jarring portraits we've seen of the physical and psychological consequences of ED is unlikely to make a healthy young woman sick, and may well prove salutary and sobering to quite a few.

While obviously educators or librarians have a responsibility to acquaint themselves with the materials kids are accessing on their watch, it seems ironic that we should be troubled by the appearance of a smart, uncondescending book for young women. It is not good books, however realistic their subject matter, that are causing problems of image and self-esteem. It is not intelligenced, nuanced discussions that are provoking distortion. I'm guessing Go Ask Alice didn't turn a generation into drug addicts, but did provide a lot of people with comfort and even more with information and cautionary wisdom. E.D. is a very real issue for teens, thankfully one being discussed, and would we prefer that YA authors, in a position to speak to young people, didn't address it? Kids are impressionable, but they also don't need to be patronized, and no one needs to be protected from intelligent, sensitive work. Whatever our concerns, to target a smart book by a proven YA author seems to me disingenuous, and as any of those conscientiously-compiled banned books lists will shows, censorship of any kind is a very slippery slope.

The Troubling Allure of Eating Disorder Books [NY Times]
Wintergirls

DISCUSSION

bythesea-old
BytheSea

Someone please explain this "triggering" phenomenon to me. I've experienced a lot of issues in my life too, and I had to work through them to get healthy. But I wouldn't have ever said that books or tv shows or images on the internet would have "triggered" the kind of feelings I was trying to control.

I don't want to say that everyone who reacts to a thin image is doin it wrong, but I do think the term "triggering" is overapplied. I didn't get healthy until I took control of my own issues, and letting some image or book upset you sounds like the opposite of that. Further, if you encounter something that makes you feel bad, it should be an opportunity to explore why you are having that feeling in reaction to that stimulus, so you can deal with it and depower the reaction. A lot of times, I hear people call a book or an image "triggering" and it sounds like they're shifting the responsibility of their emotional reaction from themselves to the triggering object.