Realistic Anorexic Characteristics Noelle T. Casagrain Laurie

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Halse Anderson perfectly captures the isolation and motivations of anorexia in her novel Wintergirls, making it a valuable resource for your classroom. Both students and caregivers can gain insights from its content. Anderson conducted thorough research on what it was like to be anorexic and also shared her personal battle with the disorder. The main character, Lia, provides a realistic portrayal of someone battling anorexia. Empathy, an important value to instill in students, ensures that everyone feels welcomed and accepted. Readers can relate to characters like Lia and comprehend the struggle they face before seeking help.

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In the novel, her friend’s death compels Lia to stop her destructive habits of cutting and self-starvation. However, she is still haunted by feelings of suffering, isolation, and brokenness. These haunting feelings continue to govern her actions and thoughts, amplifying her sense of hopelessness.

Lia survives on the thrill of not eating. While there is some progress towards regular eating habits, this progress disappears when her best friend, Cassie, dies alone in a hotel room. The trauma of Cassie’s death, combined with Lia’s fraught family relationships, shifts her focus to maintaining control over her eating, as it’s the only aspect of her life she can govern. Anderson artfully constructs a protagonist with multifaceted layers that shape the narrative and define her struggles. Lia is depicted as broken – her world in ruins, her best friend gone, her parents divorced, and she is losing her battle against anorexia. Nevertheless, she persists by concealing her struggles behind a façade. Yet, there is another side to Lia. A ‘real Lia’ who deeply loves her sister and yearns for a normal life.

Lia is engaged in an internal conflict and shows that she hasn’t fully become a Wintergirl. Anderson cleverly begins the novel with a cliffhanger to captivate the audience: “…my walls go up and my doors lock. I nod like I’m listening, like we’re communicating, and she never knows the difference.”(1) From the start, Lia, battered and bruised, is not ready to accept help. She strives to maintain her ‘strength’ in her anorexic state. Her perception of herself is distorted, and her future seems bleak due to malnourishment. This narrative device prompts readers to question what will happen next and why Lia is so detached. Winter serves as a symbolic element within the novel. Lia labels herself a ‘wintergirl’ as a way to connect with others suffering from eating disorders.

Throughout the book, we see Lia being cold, frozen, and out deep in the snow. Another example that plays into the bigger picture of why Lia calls herself a ‘winter girl’ is the lack of nutrition, leaving her neither dead nor alive, just frozen in time as if it didn’t matter whether she was there with anyone. The snow represents how serious, as well as how deep, the disorder has taken over. Lia has been completely taken over by the haunting of Cassie after she dies alone. The constant haunting and Cassie’s voice urging her to join the ‘winter girls’ drive Lia to self-harm and suffer. Anderson uses personification to emphasize the suffering Lia is going through as Cassie haunts her until she is pushed to self-harm: ‘I stick Band-Aids on my weeping cuts, put on pink pajamas so we match, and snuggle with her under her rainbow comforter’ (75).

By giving the cut humanistic traits of weeping allows the reader to get a better picture of what the cut looks like. You can imagine someone physically weeping, therefore it allows you to imagine the pain of the cut. A group psychologist took the time to do research at an Idaho University on recovering anorexic people and discovered that a lot of victims also feel like Lia in the novel. For example, there is one victim who feels haunted as she states, “At work, I keep thinking that, at any minute, I’m going to be found out. Everyone thinks I’m doing a good job but I feel like I’m getting away with something and at the next step, the next task or promotion, I’ll blow it. I live in terror that they’ll see through me, see I really cannot do the job. It’s ludicrous; I do, do the job–why am I haunted by these fears?” (Siegel).

Both the diagnosed victim of anorexia and Lia feel haunted, therefore Lia is a realistic character that suffers from anorexia. Cassie continues to haunt to the point where Lia feels the need to join her and self-harm to become a ‘winter girl’. Anderson switches the tense to put emphasis on how Lia deals with her internal conflict: ‘I win. I won. I’m lost.’ (223). Lia reaches the rock bottom of her desperation and feels the need to give up and join Cassie as a ‘winter girl’. Her sister finds her on the bathroom floor, bleeding out. Lia feels as if she is still competing with Cassie to become the skinniest in the school. Lauren Grunebaum L.C.S.W., the author of the Psychology Today Journal, researched characteristics of anorexia, and elements of what she found in her research described Lia perfectly. For example, Grunebaum states, “Individuals with eating disorders are often perfectionists and there is an element of competition among them.”

Anorexia sufferers often strive to be the ‘best’ anorexic—the one who can eat the least and achieve the lowest weight. In essence, they strive to be the best at starving themselves” (Grunebaum). This sense of competition ultimately led Lia to hit rock bottom before she recognized the tools she needed to start rebuilding her life. Anderson uses irony to emphasize all things that Lia has failed at. Lia believes she is stable and okay after telling herself, ‘I failed eating, failed drinking, failed not cutting myself into shreds. Failed friendship. Failed sisterhood and daughterhood. Failed mirrors and scales and phone calls. Good thing I’m stable.’ (227). The first step toward getting help is admitting to yourself that you have a problem, which Lia does as she mocks the doctors who said she is fine. By listing everything she has failed at, she acknowledges to herself the root cause of her anorexia. It’s ironic that the doctors think she is okay even as she mocks them for suggesting self-talk to cope with her depression. WebMD, a journal created to provide information on diagnosed disorders and diseases, shows that this feeling of failure is common among people with anorexia, who often feel a need for perfection (Jaret).

Later in the book, we see Lia finally starting to get help. She decides she wants to improve and to be alive again. She begins to recognize her actual strengths, such as her resilience rather than her thinness or ability to because ignore hunger pains. Anderson’s word choice and syntax create a strong, realistic character, empowering Lia’s words to herself: ‘I am beginning to measure myself in strength, not pounds. Sometimes in smiles’ (275). Anderson illustrates Lia’s transformation from a desire to die to a desire to live. Lia has discovered her inner strength and is striving to correct her distorted definition of it. This is one of the first times that Lia allows herself to ignore the number on the scale and instead use it to confirm her strength to overcome anorexia. Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC, the author of the book Eating Disorder Hope, argues that “…one of the most crucial skills necessary to recover from an eating disorder is to develop a relentlessly nurturing, comforting, supportive, and loving inner dialogue with yourself.”

This dialogue needs to replace the often constant barrage of eating disorder thoughts that are critical, self-deprecating, and dishonoring of your individuality, beauty, and substance” (Ekern). Once Lia started to use positive self-talk like Ekern suggests, she began to thaw and start to return to the normal life she once lived. But it will be a long journey, and Lia will continue to go to therapy to receive individual care. To conclude, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls uses character development throughout the novel in an accurate and realistic way to highlight how important it is to get proper help for individuals who are suffering day-to-day with symptoms and signs of anorexia. Therefore, using Anderson’s novel in the classroom for students and caregivers as a resource is important. By highlighting what it is like to be anorexic, it allows students and caregivers to gain empathy and take the right steps to help their loved ones battle anorexia, just like Laurie Halse Anderson did for millions of people who suffer every day from anorexia.

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Realistic Anorexic Characteristics Noelle T. Casagrain Laurie. (2022, Aug 26). Retrieved from