07 February 2011

Book of the Week (88): "Tyranny - I Keep You Thin" by Lesley Fairfield

The Canadian author Lesley Fairfield has battled with eating disorders for nearly thirty years. To share with others the tools she has gained in the process, and to describe the mindset and danger signs of those suffering from eating disorders, she has created this powerful graphic novel.

We follow Anna from the early resistance to her body changing at puberty, through her everyday struggles to hold on to her boyfriend, get through high school in one piece, to her first job working as a waitress in the Sad CafĂ©. It is on her way home that Tyranny, her other, darker self, strikes and claims her. Tyranny literally consumes her. Drawn in large, loping, snakelike lines, this representation of Anna’s inner self allows us instantly to identify what she is thinking and feeling. Anna’s struggles against Tyranny are nerve-wracking, moving and inspiring. The gap between how she sees herself and how others see her widens painfully, as Tyranny “swallows her whole”. Food becomes all Anna thinks about, until she loses everything that matters to her, and faces the ultimate choice between life and death. Watching her health decline on the page, the danger signs are clear.

Sociologist Anthony Giddens argues that identity is a narrative created in response to loss. The way that Tyranny’s form keeps changing suggests what might occur if we leave the narrative to write itself. Anna seeks help, and acquires the tools that may help her confront Tyranny once and for all. Can she do it? Can she redraw her own script, and write Tyranny out of her system? You will be rooting for her all the way. The visual diary appearance of the book creates a powerful sense of realism. Fairfield suggests that creativity and inner strength, the aspects of ourselves we most identify with, can become Tyranny’s tools, engaged to find more and more elaborate and creative means not to eat, and to try to hide this from those who care for us. The power to imagine things differently, to find a gap outside of Tyranny’s hold, is enacted by the book itself, which both movingly presents Anna’s dilemma and allows the reader a critical distance, as Fairfield emphasises the need to love ourselves as we are, even as she presents the many obstacles and challenges to doing so.

For anyone who worries about their weight, or knows someone who just wants to be thin. For all of us who want to understand how hard it can be to escape tyranny’s clutches.

Recommended by Ariel Kahn

No comments: