Monday, February 02, 2009

The Skinny; Rayni Joan

The Skinny, written by Rayni Joan was published by Keyhole Publications in 2008. It is a fictionalized memoir- a new and, dare I say, unique subgenre only recently come into being. Ms. Joan’s book discusses in depth a young woman’s journey into the depth and pain and seeming endless circle of eating disorders facilitated by family dysfunction, inept psychiatric advice and habit. I have read quite a bit in the areas of nutrition, food culture, weight problems and related psychiatric disorders. The entwined working of the human mind and the body fascinate me. So when the email landed in my box talking about Ms. Joan’s book I agreed to review it. Apologies up front for my tardiness in posting this review. I received an ARC for the purposes of this review.

The Skinny details the childhood and early adulthood of one Rowena Wine in the so called golden era after the second world war. The Wine family lives on the brink: financially, emotionally and for Rowena, physically. The Wine household is explosive. From the beginning Rowena’s father singles her out for harsh punishment and presents her with ever changing unattainable goals. Very often Rowena’s days end with spankings or beatings with a belt- or worse. Rowie has only two solaces: her grandparents, who live upstairs, and her ability to compartmentalize the endless warfare and torment that surrounds her.

Her environment is out of control, Rowie, like many people who live in untenable situations, desperately needs to control something. In her ‘tween years Rowie learns that she feels safe and in control if she purges (induces vomiting) after eating meals. Victoria, her little sister, admonishes her & worries about her. Karen, the eldest, tries to show Rowie how to fake asthma attacks and how to appear compliant so Rowie won’t be punished so much. No dice. Rowie doesn’t have that type of survival skill. Once Rowie asks her mother if throwing up is ok and her mother tells her that if it controls Rowie’s weight it’s fine. So begins the awful cycle of never being _______ enough: thin, smart, beautiful, accomplished, etc. etc.

Unfortunately, the very compartmentalization that helps her survive her childhood hinders her ability to flourish as an adult. Rowena has performed a mental trick so that it’s almost as though her mind and her body are separate entities. She treats her body as though it’s a commodity to be traded in place of authentic emotions. Sadly, her several attempts to find help and stop purging aren’t successful. Her problems continue to spiral.

The Skinny is gut wrenching and hard to read. And yet, it’s clear from the start- Rowie’s a survivor, a fighter, a winner. It may take her awhile. The price will be pretty high. She’s determined to win it all her way. I found myself identifying with some of Rowie’s feelings and motivations- I was sad that she treated herself this way or believed this particular thing about herself. I rooted for her all the way, though. No matter what happened I wanted her to win.

Sidenote: I am not a physician or a psychiatrist or mental health worker of any type. None of these recommendations is intended to replace trained medical or mental health assistance. If you struggle with eating disorders, please consider getting help.

1. Click here for a list of DSM IV diagnosis criteria for eating disorders.

2. This site has quite a bit of information about all types of eating disorders as well as recovery information.

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