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.”
Based on the author’s childhood journals, Stick Figure is “a smart, funny, compassionate” (Entertainment Weekly) tale that delivers an engrossing glimpse into the mind of a girl in transition to adulthood and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of living up to society’s expectations.
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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.
Excerpted from "Stick Figure"
Copyright © 2001 Lori Gottlieb.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Winter 1978
Part Two: Spring 1978
Part Three: Summer 1978
What People are Saying About This
“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