Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self

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"I wish to be the thinnest girl at school, or maybe even the thinnest eleven-year-old on the entire planet," confides Lori Gottlieb to her diary. "I mean, what are girls supposed to wish for, other than being thin?"

For a girl growing up in Beverly Hills in 1978, the motto "You can never be too rich or too thin" is writ large. Precocious Lori learns her lessons well, so when she's told that "real women don't eat dessert" and "no one could ever like a girl who has thunder thighs," she decides to become a paragon ...

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"I wish to be the thinnest girl at school, or maybe even the thinnest eleven-year-old on the entire planet," confides Lori Gottlieb to her diary. "I mean, what are girls supposed to wish for, other than being thin?"

For a girl growing up in Beverly Hills in 1978, the motto "You can never be too rich or too thin" is writ large. Precocious Lori learns her lessons well, so when she's told that "real women don't eat dessert" and "no one could ever like a girl who has thunder thighs," she decides to become a paragon of dieting. Soon Lori has become the "stick figure" she's longed to resemble. But then what? Stick Figure takes the reader on a gripping journey, as Lori struggles to reclaim both her body and her spirit.

By turns painful and wry, Lori's efforts to reconcile the conflicting messages society sends women ring as true today as when she first recorded these impressions. "One diet book says that if you drink three full glasses of water one hour before every meal to fill yourself up, you'll lose a pound a day. Another book says that once you start losing weight, everyone will ask, 'How did you do it?' but you shouldn't tell them because it's 'your little secret.' Then right above that part it says, 'New York Times bestseller.' Some secret."

With an edgy wit and keenly observant eye, Stick Figure delivers an engrossing glimpse into the mind of a girl in transition to adulthood. This raw, no-holds-barred account is a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of living up to society's expectations.

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Eleven-year-old Lori is caught in a family and a society where the belief that one can never be too rich or too thin is glorified. We see her mom constantly reminding her to leave dessert for the "guys" (her dad and brother) and to always "leave the table wanting a little something more." Still, in the dead of night, mom sneaks down to the kitchen to gobble down a chocolate chip cookie or doughnut over the kitchen sink. This non-fiction story is taken from the diaries that Lori kept over a one-year period in 1978, detailing her descent into and struggle with the disease of anorexia nervosa. But also within this book, we see the impact of the mixed messages that society and adults send to young American women. As you read this book, you will begin to feel that you know Lori. In crisp and vivid language, Lori reveals her stark feelings of loneliness and isolation, her abiding sense of humor, her profound sense of being 'different,' and her realization that the only thing she can control is "the amount of food she places in her mouth." This is a good read, particularly for young girls coming into their own. Genre: Anorexia Nervosa 2000, Simon & Schuster, 220p
Library Journal
Before she was a Hollywood executive, Gottlieb was an anorexic teenager. This account of her "former self" has been optioned by Martin Scorsese's De Fina/Cappa Productions. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
YA-A powerful memoir about growing up in Beverly Hills in the 1970s. At age 11, Gottlieb decided that she needed to lose weight because, after all, "you can never be too rich or too thin." Buying every diet book available, she became obsessed with calories. When she reached 60 pounds, she was hospitalized for anorexia even though she herself found nothing unusual about her revulsion to food. Written in diary format, Stick Figure questions society's view of female beauty and the lengths young women will go to achieve it. YAs will relate to Lori's story, which weaves in common issues of body image, being popular, peer pressure, and a less-than-harmonious relationship with parents. While the author deals with serious subjects, the overall tone of the book is upbeat, often even humorous. She survived her ordeal with an eating disorder and in telling her story, she brings hope to others.-Katherine Fitch, Rachel Carson Middle School, Fairfax, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
From the Publisher
“A smart, funny, compassionate journal of the author’s bout with anorexia at age 11.” —Entertainment Weekly

“It reads like a novel…absolutely gripping.” —Boston Globe

“Compelling…Hopefully, young Gottlieb will stand as a patron saint for girls vulnerable to eating disorders and the adults who should be caring for them.” —Booklist

“Poignant…Gottlieb is dead-on about society’s irrational attitudes towards women’s bodies.” —Washington Post Book World

“Lori Gottlieb’s approach is compassionate, and very, very funny. More than just a book about anorexia, Stick Figure is an entertaining and thoughtful coming-of-age story that deals with an almost universal theme—negotiating the minefields of early adolescence and living to tell the tale.” —Martha Manning, author of Undercurrents

“What happens when a young girl from Beverly Hills trips on the fallacies of family and friends, then gets saturated by society’s worship of the too thin? She almost dies…Gottlieb tells all this with an earnest narration that is funny at times but always tragic. And although Lori steps deeper and deeper into her illness, there is no self-pity. The mood is simply: This is what happened to me.” —Seattle Times

“Lori Gottlieb’s eleven-year-old self is a singular storyteller of unblinking candor and precocious insight. As rife with wry humor as it is lacking in self-pity, this fast-paced chronicle of late-1970s adolescent anorexia is narrated with a light touch, and yet is chilling and poignant in its straightforward simplicity.” —Sarah Saffian, author of Ithaka: A Daughter’s Memoir of Being Found

Stick Figure stands out as a fresh, edgy take—not just on anorexia but on that perilous time in a girl’s life when she’s no longer a child but not quite an adult.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Undeniably effective.” —Booklist

“[An] authentic voice.” — Francisco Chronicle

“Her descriptions of preteen vulnerability and self-consciousness ring true…her diary offers haunting evidence of what little progress we have made.” —Publishers Weekly

“By turns earnest and funny, hopeful and tragic, eleven-year-old Lori is a latter-day Alice: She takes us through the distorted looking glass that’s held up to young girls and into the harrowing land of eating disorders. There is no other word for it: You will devour this book—and hopefully, keep right on eating.” —Peggy Orenstein, author of School Girls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780613690881
  • Publisher: San Val
  • Publication date: 12/1/2003
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Lori Gottlieb is the author of the national bestseller Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self and a journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Time, People, Slate, Self, Glamour, Elle, Salon, and the Los Angeles Times. She is also a frequent commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered.

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Read an Excerpt

First of all, I should probably tell you about me and school and stuff, so you’ll get what I’m talking about when I write in you. I mean, I know you’re not a real person, but I still feel like you’ll get me. More than people maybe. That’s because people think I’m different. They usually call me “unique,” which, depending on how you say it, could mean that I’m interesting or special or something. Like I stand out in a good way. But with me it never does. The truth is, everyone who calls me unique thinks I’m a complete weirdo. Especially adults.

I have to talk to adults a lot because Mom and Dad always have their boring friends over for cocktails before they go out to dinner, which means that me and David—that’s my older brother—have to brush our hair and come downstairs and smile and act polite. David’s pretty good at talking to adults mostly because he can keep smiling the whole time he’s telling them how great school and skateboarding are. I tried, I really did, but I just can’t smile and talk at the same. Especially if I’m talking about something sad—like how the sun’s gonna burn us all to death because ladies use too much hair spray. It’s true. It said so in a magazine.

So whenever I’m trying to talk to adults, they start nodding their heads up and down like they aren’t even listening. Then right when I get to the important part—like how it’ll only take a few seconds for our entire bodies to fry—their nods switch from up and down to side to side. That’s when their eyes get really wide and they turn to my parents and say, “She’s such a unique little girl.” I always feel like saying, “Or maybe you’re just incredibly boring,” but I never do. Adults hate it when you have opinions about things.

Anyway, the whole reason you’re here in the first place is because I was reading The Diary of Anne Frank last week over Christmas vacation. It took me two days, and I cried my head off. Anne thought about a lot of the same things I think about, but no one went around calling her unique. Not once. I couldn’t stop thinking about Anne the whole week, even when I went shopping with Mom today. We were at this store in Beverly Hills where they have all kinds of expensive but tacky stuff that Mom gets a big kick out of. That’s where I saw these fancy diaries with fake gold trim that you could give as gifts. You’re one of them. No offense or anything.

Mom had the store lady put bright pink decorations on your cover, which looks kind of like lipstick. One thing you should know right away about Mom is that she’s madly in love with lipstick. Everywhere she goes, Mom carries around this big purse full of makeup, just in case she suddenly feels like putting more on. I’m not too into makeup because you always have to be careful that you don’t blink too much, or laugh too hard, or scratch your cheeks if they itch, or eat anything that might smudge your gloss. It’s a pain in the butt, if you want my opinion. But all of my friends are starting to get curious about makeup, so now even Mom thinks I’m unique because I couldn’t care less about the whole thing.

I don’t know, sometimes I wonder if maybe I am unique. I mean, I used to be pretty normal, but things are different now that I’m eleven. I know it sounds conceited to say, but when I was in first grade I was really popular. I was best friends with Leslie and Lana, and everyone called us “the three L’s” because we always played together at recess. Except then in second grade, Leslie and Lana ended up in the same homeroom class with all my other friends, and I ended up in Mrs. Collin’s class with no one I knew. Someone said that Mrs. Collin’s class had all the smart kids in it, but the school said they couldn’t “confirm or deny” that. A lot of kids’ dads are lawyers, so my school’s always afraid of getting sued. At least that’s what Uncle Bob said, and he’s a lawyer.

So that’s when all the trouble started. First of all, my long blond hair kept getting darker until it finally turned brown. I know it doesn’t sound that terrible, but one of Mom’s magazines said if you have “dishwater brown” hair, you should take that “boring” hair and make it more “exciting” by dyeing it red or platinum blond. Then next to the article there were these pictures of three different ladies with brown, red, and blond hair. The redhead and the blond lady were smiling like those people on game shows who win trips to Hawaii, but the lady with the brown hair looked like she was about to cry. So now I’m stuck with hair that makes you cry. But that’s just part of what happened to me since second grade. Believe me, it gets a hundred times worse.

—Reprinted from Stick Figure by Lori Gottlieb by permission of Berkley, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by Lori Gottlieb. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

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Table of Contents

Part 1 Winter 1978
"Who Do You Think You Are, Young Lady?" 15
Captain of Justice 22
Power Paragraph 26
Real Women Don't Eat Dessert 32
Thunder Thighs 38
Sex Education 46
Chameleon 50
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness 54
"That's My Girl" 59
The Lori Monument 64
Sorry About the Milk Shake, Mr. President 69
Day of Atonement 76
Part 2 Spring 1978
Please Help the Hungry 85
Lactose Intolerant 95
If You Can Pinch an Inch 102
Level F, Section Pink 108
Facts and Figure 114
Shrink Me 121
Absolute Delight 127
Don't Talk with Your Mouth Full 131
Chewing on Air 139
"Hello, Angels ... It's Charlie" 143
E Is for Electrolyte 151
Part 3 Summer 1978
Breck Girl 159
Fractions 164
Brownie 171
Camp Cedars 176
Nora 179
Hey, Taxi 188
Shereen's Jeans 195
Life without Andy Gibb 201
Cutting the Fat 205
Secretary School 208
North Star 212
Do Not Resuscitate 216
Stick Figure 222
Eggshells 227
You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin 231
Epilogue 235
Acknowledgments 239
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First Chapter

Shrink Me

Today was my first appointment with Dr. Gold, and of course Mom was more nervous about my appointment than me. She went through my closet before school and started picking out different outfits that looked cute, like we were deciding what I should wear to a boy-girl party. She even made me change sweaters three times, and I ended up wearing an itchy mohair one. "I can't believe you're dressing me up for the shrink!" I said, but Mom told me I wasn't dressed up. Then the second I met Julie on the corner to walk to school, she asked what I was all dressed up for. I said I wasn't all dressed up, but Julie said I normally don't wear mohair sweaters and lip gloss unless I like someone. She kept bugging me the whole way because she thought I wouldn't tell her who I liked.

I finally got rid of Julie at school, but then I was walking over to my usual trash can to throw out my lunch when Jason Meyer cornered me in the hallway. Jason always tries to hang out with the popular boys, but believe me, they hate his guts because he makes stupid jokes all the time. Anyway, since I haven't been talking to Leslie or anyone since they made a big deal about the Presidential Physical Fitness Award, I didn't even know about the school carnival this Friday. So when Jason asked me to go with him, I was pretty surprised. I mean, I wasn't planning on going in the first place, but even if I was, I'd never go with Jason, even if I'm not popular anymore.

The problem is, I wanted to be nice about it because everyone else is so mean to Jason, but I also didn't want Leslie or Lana to see me in the hall with him. So I told Jason it had nothing to do with him personally, it's just that I didn't want to go to the carnival. It was a big lie, of course, because if Chris asked me, I'd probably go with him, but I figured Jason would fall for it because he's so dense. But he's so dense that he wouldn't leave me alone about going with him, even though I only made up the lie in the first place so I wouldn't hurt his feelings. Then the bell rang and I had to run all the way to homeroom so Mr. Miller wouldn't give me a tardy. The worst part was, I never got a chance to dump my lunch. That meant I had to smell food in my desk until recess, which made me kind of hungry.

When it was finally time for my appointment after school, the mohair sweater Mom made me wear was itching like mad. Mom decided to drive me there because she said she didn't want Dr. Gold to think I was an orphan. She sure seemed to be worrying a lot about what Dr. Gold might think of her, even though I was the one who was supposed to be crazy. Dr. Gold didn't have any Redbook magazines in his waiting room, though, so Mom decided to prepare me for my appointment while we waited. "Try to remember what he says when he explains why you're doing this to us," she said. "Don't forget to tell him that we can't take much more of this, and that we just don't know what to do with you anymore."

Finally Dr. Gold came out and shook Mom's hand, and told me to go inside. Mom smiled and started to say how concerned she was about me, but right when Dr. Gold was about to close the door, she started crying. I told Dr. Gold that maybe Mom should take the appointment instead of me, but Dr. Gold just said it was my session and he didn't want to take up my time. Then he talked to Mom until she calmed down and left. I wish he'd show me how to do that sometime. I figured Dr. Katz was right about Dr. Gold being so great, but when Dr. Gold came in and sat down on his big leather chair, I knew he couldn't help me. You should see him. He's almost as fat as Dr. Katz.

"Why don't you tell me a little bit about what's been going on recently," Dr. Gold said in a really quiet voice. I figured Dr. Katz forgot to tell me that you're supposed to whisper at the shrink, so I whispered to Dr. Gold that I knew Dr. Katz already told him about me, and it was stupid for me to repeat everything. But Dr. Gold whispered that he wanted to hear in my own words what's been going on, and I have to admit, I kind of liked him for asking. No one cares what I think anymore. Then I whispered to Dr. Gold that the only thing going on is that everyone's making a big deal because I'm on a diet, and that I don't understand why I have to see a psychiatrist when everyone who's popular at school is on a diet, too.

That made Dr. Gold nod at me for a long time. I didn't know why he bothered asking me a question if he wasn't planning on talking anymore. He was really boring me, so I looked down at my thighs and tried to multiply eight sets of leg-lifts per leg, times 40 calories, times seven days, and divide that by 3500 calories, which equals a pound, all in my head. I was right in the middle of multiplying when Dr. Gold asked if I thought the girls at school who diet are overweight. It was such a stupid question that I forgot to whisper when I answered. "Of course they aren't overweight, didn't I already say they were popular?" I mean, duh. But Dr. Gold just nodded again, then he wanted to know if I thought I was overweight. I pointed at my uncrossed thighs so he could see for himself, and he nodded like crazy. Finally, someone understands.

After that, Dr. Gold got out some paper and a pencil and asked me to draw pictures of my friends and me. I told him I'm bad at art, but he just held out the pencil and smiled. I was starting to think that maybe something was wrong with Dr. Gold -- you know, nodding and smiling all the time for no reason. He kind of scared me, so I figured I should draw what he wanted. I took the pencil and drew Leslie, Lana, Tracy, and me. Except I'm the one with the thunder thighs in the picture, not Tracy. Then I gave the drawing back to Dr. Gold.

Dr. Gold looked at the drawing and nodded some more, then he gave me more paper and asked me to draw my "ideal" of what I want to look like. He was still whispering the whole time. I almost complained, but when I saw Dr. Gold smiling at me again, I decided to do what he asked. He was really giving me the creeps.

So I picked up the pencil and drew a girl I want to look like. She was tall and skinny, but she had my face and hair. When Dr. Gold took the drawing back, he didn't nod. "This is a stick figure," he said, like I didn't understand the assignment the first time. "Try to draw a realistic picture of how you'd like to look. Don't worry if you aren't very good at art." He must have thought I was terrible at art. I tried explaining how that was exactly the way I want to look, but Dr. Gold said I wouldn't be alive if I looked like that drawing. "Well if you don't like it, then stop asking me to draw pictures of what I want to look like," I said, then I told him to forget the whole thing. What an idiot.

But Dr. Gold didn't seem like he was forgetting the whole thing, because he kept looking at my drawings and nodding to himself. Finally he asked about my family. "Tell me about what's been going on during dinnertime in your house," he said. I was wondering how much time was left before I could go home and exercise, but I didn't want Dr. Gold to tell Dr. Katz that I'm crazy, so I decided to answer him. "Well, you know, we eat around 6:30. Maria and Mom make dinner, and Dad tells jokes, and David and I laugh and talk about how fun school was," I said. Except I was really talking about the family on The Brady Bunch. The truth is, I didn't feel like telling Dr. Gold anything personal anymore.

After that, Dr. Gold wanted to know what I like to do for fun. I have to admit, I was pretty surprised since that's not one of the usual questions adults keep asking me lately. So I told him that I like to play chess and read books and do math problems, but the minute I said it, I wanted to take it back. I figured Dr. Gold would definitely tell Dr. Katz I'm crazy because I didn't say that I like to go shopping and follow boys around all day.

But Dr. Gold didn't call me crazy. Instead he took a chessboard out of his desk and started setting up the pieces. He even said I could be white if I wanted, since white goes first, and we played chess until it was time to go. I was three moves away from winning when his light went on, which Dr. Gold said meant that someone else came in the entrance door and was waiting for the next appointment. Probably some other lady on a diet.

On the way out, I asked Dr. Gold if he thought I was crazy. I really wanted to know. He said that no one thinks I'm crazy, but I told him that my parents think I'm crazy, and so do my teachers and friends and Dr. Katz. Then he didn't say anything, so I asked him why I have to go to a shrink if I'm not crazy. That's when Dr. Gold said that people see psychiatrists just to have someone to talk to. I'll bet Dr. Katz told him how I have no friends left at school. I knew Dr. Gold wanted me to go because he had another person waiting, but I had one last question first.

"Why are psychiatrists called shrinks?" I asked. Dr. Gold laughed for the first time and said that the word comes from an old wives' tale about healers who had the power to shrink the heads of their patients. Then he practically pushed me out the exit door. So I walked to the elevator, then I figured I'd take the stairs for the exercise. I usually count the number of stairs to figure out how many calories I'm burning, but today I was still thinking about what Dr. Gold said. I mean, if a shrink can shrink you, maybe seeing Dr. Gold once a week won't be that bad.

When I got home from Dr. Gold's, Mom and Dad wanted to know how the appointment went. "What did Dr. Gold say?" Mom wondered. She probably wanted to know if he figured out why I'm ruining her life. I told her that we just played chess for a while, which didn't thrill Dad too much. "I paid that man eighty dollars so you could play chess?" he asked. "I guess," I said, but then I thought his vein might start popping out, and I didn't feel like getting in a fight right before we had to leave for Parents' Night at school. So before anyone could scream at me, I ran up to my room. Besides, I couldn't wait to change out of that itchy mohair sweater.

Copyright © 2000 by Lori Gottlieb

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