ANA and MIA and ED want to kill you – an overdue post


In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a lot of interaction, via social media and email, with people who are struggling with eating disorders.

The time has come for us all to get righteously angry.

Myself, I have moved past anger to that steel-eyed, axe-sharpening, calm place of volcanic rage.

I am NOT angry at the girls and boys and women and men who are waging daily battle against the eating disorders which are trying to destroy them. I love those folks. I want to help strengthen them and offer whatever support I can, both to them and to their families.




(Why photos of babies? See the bottom of the post.)





No, my fury is leveled at the industries that make money off of vulnerable people by promoting unhealthy, unrealistic, Photoshopped body images. And I am hereby calling out everyone who thinks that promoting pro-ana (pro-anorexic), pro-mia (pro-bulimic), and thinspiration sites and behaviors is a good thing.

Borrowing a quote from Mamavision’s wonderful site, “Anorexia is a disease, not a fricking lifestyle.” (Learn who ANA and MIA and ED are, if you haven’t heard about them before.)

It is time to speak some hard truth. Are you listening?

ANA wants to kill you.

MIA wants to kill you.

ED wants you to die.

I am not exaggerating. Not even a little bit. More people die from eating disorders than from any psychiatric illness. (Sullivan, P.(1995). American Journal of Psychiatry, 152 (7), 1073-1074.) Want to learn more? NEDA has a great collection of statistics.

People struggling with eating disorders (ED) spend a lot of energy convincing themselves and others that ANA and MIA are enchanted phantoms or fairy godsisters who will help them lose weight and then – magically – everything will be better. They will feel beautiful. Accepted. Loved. Worthy. Accomplished. Important. Cherished. Happy. They starve themselves because they are starving for the powerful sense of security and belonging that every human being deserves.

How does this happen?

It often starts when kids stumble into the howling desert wasteland we call adolescence. Her (his) body changes. Hormones start to drive the brain train. Insecurities fester. Pressure and stress boil. Kids look around for guidance. Advertising hammers home the bullshit message that if they just lose some weight, all of their problems will disappear.

It’s a lie. An evil, obscene lie. Advertisers want to make you feel worse, not better, because if you are feeling kind of crappy, it’s easier for them to con you into buying stuff. They hire genetically thin models, pressure them to drug and starve themselves to emaciation, and THEN they Photoshop the images of these models until they resemble aliens.

Starting to understand my wrath?

People suffering from eating disorders are often malnourished. The chemicals in their bodies are all messed up from starvation and/or purging. Their brains don’t have enough fuel to run on, which makes thinking clearly and making smart decisions even harder. This is why they need our loving support, not our criticism or disdain.



I reserve a nuclear fireball of hatred for the tabloid asshats who fetishize the supposed weight losses and gains of celebrities, and thus, help fuel the eating disorders of millions. Burn, you toxic scum. Burn slowly. Burn and then heal a little bit, and then remember all the lives you screwed up and the pain you caused and rip your scabs open so you can burn anew. Until the end of time.

Yeah, I’m pissed.

Getting angry is a good start. Being proactive is the next step. What can you do?

* Share this blog post.

* Check out proud2Bme.

* When you hear people talking about their love for ANA or MIA, don’t judge. Just quietly say (or write) “ANA is lying. MIA is lying. Don’t let them hurt you.”

* Consider the Body Beautiful app.

* Get more information at the National Eating Disorders Association’s website. They are doing the work of the angels there and can provide you with all kinds of resources. Their PARENT TOOLKIT is especially helpful.)

* Read and share “I Am Not My Eating Disorder,” on the To Write Love On Her Arms website.

Please keep speaking up about real beauty and strength, and our responsibility to be caring and compassionate with each other, so that we can help all the wintergirls and winterboys thaw and start truly living again.



Why the photos of cute babies in this post? Because that’s how we started out. That’s how you started out. No one would judge, belittle, or criticize a newborn about her appearance. We all deserve to be loved for who we are, not how we measure up to some imaginary standard. Love yourself and love the people around you.


** All images in this post were purchased and licensed from the photographers via Do not use them for commercial purposes, please.


The UK Responds to WINTERGIRLS

I was talking to some friends last weekend about how much pain reviews can cause. Even the good ones can hurt because writers are mostly neurotic and we will find the phrase or the one word that is less than complimentary and then we obsess about that word until we’ve driven ourselves into a right, old funk.

And then I received word about my latest review from England.

I will never whine about a review again. Ever. Because after this one? I’m never going to read another review. I’m just going to reread these incredible words that Melvin Burgess, one the most significant YA authors in UK, wrote about my book. I might set them to music. Or turn them into an epic saga-length, ego-soothing poem.

It does not get any better than this. (Review originally published in the The Observer, Sunday 30 January 2011. )

“There is a great deal of dross written in teenage fiction, nearly all of which seems to end up on my desk. But from time to time, you come across a book that reminds you just why this is such an exciting – and exacting – field.

Wintergirls has many of the obsessions of current teen fiction, including the use of repetition and formatting to convey the state of mind of Lia, the protagonist, and the incredibly intense interior dialogue – so private, so shut off from the outside world, and which makes this particular novel so startling and memorable.

The plot is familiar enough. Our heroine, Lia, already ill, is sent on a vicious downward spiral into anorexia and self-harm by the news that her ex-best friend, Cassie, has died alone in a motel room. The desperation and self-hatred this triggers are set against Lia’s cleverness at hiding it from her separated parents, busy mum (Dr Marrigan), selfish father (Professor Overbrook) and well-meaning but unimaginative stepmother, Jennifer.

Meanwhile, the vengeful ghost of Cassie comes to haunt Lia and does her utmost to convince Lia to follow her all the way to self-destruction.

Lia’s fragile efforts to find a way out of her nightmare seem doomed to failure, but there is hope. There is love – complicated, but genuine, from both parents and stepmother, while her relationship with her little stepsister, Emma, is simple and guileless.

The novel sets a terrific dramatic pace. As soon as we realise that Cassie phoned Lia 33 times the night she died, and that Lia failed to pick up, the danger Lia faces is plain. But it is the raw stylistic power that makes this so memorable. Those clever word games are used to powerful effect, from the endless repetitions of Lia’s self-hating mantras to the crossed-out words that give the lie to her own thoughts.

The true nature of anorexia is made painfully clear. Lia starves herself because it is the only control she has over her disintegrating personality; anyway, why feed something so hateful? She cuts herself not to cause pain, but to let the pain – and the dirt – out. The dirt in this case is, of course, herself. As with the plotting, this fractured and utterly convincing interior monologue is intercut with the rather bored face she presents to the world around her.

And yet, throughout, there is the feeling that if somehow you could only reach in and talk to this girl, you could save her life. It’s an exhausting novel to read: brilliant, intoxicating, full of drama, love and, like all the best books of this kind, hope. It would be rare to find a novel in mainstream adult fiction prepared to pull out the dramatic stops this far, and difficult to imagine one in recent years that was prepared to be so bold stylistically. It’s a book that will be around for many years. It may not be an original piece, as these tricks have been pulled before in teen fiction. Yet it pulls them off with more skill and effect than anything I have ever read.”

Thank you, Mr. Burgess. Thank you very much indeed.







UK cover                                                                                       US cover

The Community That Speaks and Listens

I baked on Monday night. It was a shocking event. When my kids were little, I used to bake a lot, but as life got busy, it slipped off the priority list. But the writer’s group was coming to my house on Tuesday, and I wanted to do something nice.

Why did I make banana bread and apple brown betty (and potato salad, which does not fit in the baking example, but also takes a lot of time)? Because they are my friends. They are are my community. Because sharing food is a ritual bonding that ties one person closer to another.

I wish I could bake for all of you. Because you are my community of people who love reading and writing. Because you are defending the First Amendment and making America a better place. Banana bread for everyone! Thank you!!

As we are at the half-way point in Banned Books Week, I hope you’ll indulge me in a few more links.

Check out the Google map of Banned Books.

The New York Times Papercuts blog looked at the role that Twitter has played in responding to the Republic, MO man’s  attempt to ban Speak. News ran an editorial about the banning. And Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic mentioned it briefly a few days ago.

Risha Mullins (who endured a horrific banning episode last year in Kentucky) has posted an interview with me about my book TWISTED.

The LA Times weighs in on Banned Books Week. is fast becoming the go-to place for discussion about censorship issues. Take a peek!

Remember how I was running around like a crazy person last week? Here are a few pics from that trip.


This is Marion Lloyd of Marion Lloyd Books, a division of Scholastic UK. She is my new British publisher. What’s that she’s holding? The UK edition of Wintergirls. I believe it goes on sale in January, 2011.




Here is the only picture ever taken of me and my agent, Amy Berkower of Writer’s House. We call her Saint Amy at our house.

(note: I published my first 7 books without an agent, including Speak and Fever 1793!)



In other exciting news, we have a new dog in our life. He appeared most serendipitously and has succeeded in charming all of us, including The Creature With Fangs. More details and pictures tomorrow, I promise.

WFMAD Day 26 – Wild Spirits Soaring

Two quick reviews for you: Reading Rants weighs in on FORGE and WINTERGIRLS reviewed in Colorado.

How did your writing go yesterday? Mine floooowed. Like creekwater after a thunderstorm. Sugar pouring from a blue china bowl. Like round hips swaying under a loose skirt to a hot salsa trumpet.

Seriously. It was that good. It was hard to come back to the real world and do things like eat. Run. Brush teeth.

As the sun started to set, the Muse returned. Much to the dismay of my chickens, she arrived in the shape…

….of a large, hungry-looking








She watched the very well-protected henhouse for a while




then took to the air






and flowed





back into the Forest.



It was breathtaking. Especially for the chickens, who, I am happy to report, escaped disaster. For the moment.

Ready… “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,” Henry V, William Shakespeare

Set… make sure any rodents or poultry you care about is under roof. Then turn off the damn phone.

Today’s prompt: Make a list of ten animals that could be your Muse. Circle the one that evokes the strongest reaction in you; positive or negative.

Write a scene in which you or a character has an interaction with this animal. At some point in the scene, the animal does something to change your emotional reaction to it. Either you first find it cute, and then disgusting. Or at first frightening, and then enchanting.

After the emotional switch, you get to ask the animal three questions. What will you ask? And what are the answers?

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble!!!