Day Eight: Why Briscoe Has an Eating Disorder

TW: Talk of A Character’s Eating Disorder, Discussion of Virginia Woolf’s Possible Anorexia

Thank you for visiting my blog on Day Eight of my book launch! I’m delighted to have you here.

First of all, let me say that though I have the utmost sympathy for those struggling with eating disorders, I haven’t ever had to fight that battle and am not an expert on the topic.

One of the reasons I included an eating disorder in my book is because Virginia Woolf’s great-niece Emma thinks it could well be that her aunt suffered from anorexia, as, sadly, does Emma. From some of the journal entries by Woolf that I have read, I suspect the same. She speaks of being forced to eat, of not wanting to swallow anything. I even think that her infamous wrangling with her servant Nellie might have had to do with Nellie trying to make Woolf eat.

I think it’s important to consider what might be coloring an author’s writing. There are such subtle strokes of Woolf’s anorexic tendencies in my book that I’m not even sure I could find them myself, but I know they’re faintly visible in the domesticity and the ”angel in the house,” the ideal Victorian woman who cared for her spouse, children, and the kitchen exclusively. Was Woolf desperate enough to kill her by any means so that she, Woolf, would be free to write? Did she try to starve the angel? (I could say more, but this would get long, and time does not permit. Suffice it to say, my Briscoe is not only Lily trying to “see” the Ramsays, she’s also Woolf, in a limited sense.)

I knew from early on in the writing process that my Briscoe is obsessed with her weight (that I can unfortunately relate to), but her eating disorder only gradually emerged. In fact, I was kinda surprised by it until I thought about it. She is tolerating some major crud in her personal life, and while you might be able to rationalize it, in my opinion, your body can’t lie.

Add to that the pressures of being in the public eye, a celebrity’s wife. That means being scrutinized. She shares that people have even told her that Michael could “do better” than her. And since her rival is teeny tiny, she casts about for anything to blame but her husband. She settles on the size of her own ass.

I can relate to thinking you’re overweight when you’re not. Here’s a photo of me just a few years ago when though I knew I had lost weight, I thought I was still way too big. I was shy to have a full-length photo taken of myself. (Now I’d love to be that size or even just be able to work out like that again! I miss those active days. But it kinda pains me to even see this pic.)

(The photo’s a little blurry. This is at an art exhibit in Chicago that my mentor said I needed to visit to research my first book – she even lent us her pied-à-terre to stay at during our visit.)

No one has commented yet on what I see as Briscoe’s outrageous assertion that she’s “fat.” Most women aren’t considered plus sized until size 12, if labels mean anything, and I don’t think they should. I want it to be clear that Briscoe cannot see herself properly, and I think this does a good job of exemplifying that. (Sight or shortsightedness is certainly a theme in the book, an important one.)  We know by seeing how she views her body, that she probably isn’t seeing those around her quite as she should. (First person can be limiting; I had to use my authorly wiles to tease out whatever I could.) She worships her husband’s admittedly legendary musical gifts blindly, excusing him repeatedly until she can’t anymore.

Let me say as an aside that I am not half as cynical as Briscoe appears to be, but I believe that her cynicism is only superficial. She keeps hoping against hope that she’s wrong about Michael. I’m pretty sure we all want to yell at her that she’s not. As an author, it’s difficult to follow your character on self-destructive journeys and not want to stop them, no matter how much you know that this is the trajectory that they have chosen. The bullet is out of the gun now and there are only so many places that it can go at that angle, you know?

It’s hinted that Briscoe’s eating disorder first emerged when her mother left the family, and that she has battled it off and on for years, between bulimia and anorexia. From what I have read, eating disorders are often on a continuum, and I think this is what is happening for her. The more she goes against her beliefs, the worse off she is. She switches from too much cake (I did give her my personal vice there; any time I hear the word cake, I’m in) to not being able to eat anything.

That ultimate sacrifice that she makes for art…no, no spoilers here, but she shocked me with that! Obviously that triggered the worst of her eating issues, and why wouldn’t it?

In the end, it’s this very illness, however, her eating disorder, coupled with love and loyalty from an unexpected source that I believe saves her. But you have to read the book to figure out what that means.

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