About four years ago, before the days of Rhine and Wither World, before I had a social media platform and when I was just a bright-eyed dreamer with a hard drive full of unmarketable manuscripts, I received a phone call. That phone call was an offer of representation from an agent. And at the end of that phone call, my shiny new agent asked if I had a website. I didn’t. She asked me to start one. And so, this blog was born.
And from that very first day, before I had a book deal or any readers, I knew there were certain topics that I’d never blog about. Politics was one of them. Body image was another. The reason I stay away from those types of posts is because I don’t have much faith in my own finesse. There are other bloggers who introduce these topics in a way that is fabulous and thorough. Whereas I ramble a lot, give books away, and show you pictures of how ugly my bathroom was before I exorcised the pink from it.
Today I’m breaking my own restraint to blog about this topic. Maybe it’s fitting, in light of the whole SOPA censorship debacle. Maybe now is the perfect time to say the sorts of things I wouldn’t normally say.
The topic is body image. It’s snowing today, and I thought I’d curl up on the couch and indulge in a little TV before diving into my line edits for Book 3. I flipped through the DVR lineup and decided to watch the latest episode of The Biggest Loser. I was only half paying attention, clicking around on the internet as I usually do, when I heard one of the contestants say that she had dreams of being a writer. She went on to say, “How are you gonna go into these publishing houses and be like ‘Hey, you wanna publish my book’ when you’re the fat girl?”
This ripped my attention from the computer screen. I hit rewind, sure I misheard her. I played it back three times, not just astounded but horrified by what was happening on my television. Was this aspiring writer really citing her weight as the reason she felt a publishing house wouldn’t take her seriously?
We can’t have this. This is not okay.
The most devastating part of this sentiment is that, in addition to this young woman believing her weight is congruent with her success as an author, millions of viewers nationwide have just heard it. How many of those millions are writers? How many are going to feel that they cannot take a step towards their dreams until they’ve lost a few pounds?
Actually, scratch that. How many of those millions have dreams they now fear can’t be attained because of their weight?
If I’m going to go into full disclosure here, my weight is something I have been conscious of for most of my life. It’s something I struggled with in my teens and something I struggle with now. I gained a bunch of weight after selling Wither, between the pre-publication stress and having a job that required movement only from the wrists to the fingertips. I’ve since lost all of that weight, and I know that it is as emotionally taxing as it is physical. And I’m not alone; I can’t count on both hands the conversations I’ve had with friends over the years about calories in vs. calories out, and abdominal crunches and weight watchers points and diet soda. It’s a significant part of my life. And it has nothing to do with my ability to dream or my determination or my worth as a person. It took me years and years to understand this. I used to think of myself as a work in progress. I used to think that I would have a good life when I lost weight. I’m so thankful that I learned the difference between having a goal and having self worth. My wish is for everyone to learn that difference, because it’s a liberating day when you do.
For this Biggest Loser contestant, her weight is something about herself that she would like to change. I can understand that, because my weight is something I am perpetually working to change. And for someone else, it’s another issue entirely. Maybe you think you’re too timid, or too rude, or too tall, or you think you have two mismatched ears—whatever it is. There is nothing wrong with wanting to change the things we don’t like about ourselves; in fact it can boost our self-esteem to know we’re doing something healthy for ourselves. But it becomes a serious problem when we think we are substandard until that change is made. If you’re a writer, write. Write because it’s your dream and because it’s what you love. Write because you deserve to have dreams and it is your right to work for them.
There’s no scale when you step through the door of a publishing house. I can tell you firsthand that there’s just a security guard and an elevator.
You have to believe that you are good enough right now, today, because losing weight or getting an earlobe tuck or dyeing your hair isn’t going to do that. When you look in the mirror, it’s dangerous to dream of The Flawless You. What you should see is your face, your shoulders. You should acknowledge the freckles you may not like or the hair that flips the wrong way. You should know that your tools and your weapons and your mind are all staring back at you. You should be in awe of the power you possess over your own destiny. You aren’t substandard. You are amazing. The person staring back at you in the mirror is the person who is going to go out there and grab those dreams by the freaking balls.
The PB of Wither and TPB of Fever are publishing this Thursday. Buy them at all good bookshops.