I remember the exact moment my relationship to books changed forever. I was 15 years old. I could not yet legally drive alone, nor had I lost all of my baby teeth (that's another story), but I had mastered the art of whittling my body—and inadvertently, my life—down. I had imagined that the consequence of being thin was a life of teen movie proportions. Pool parties! Boys! Happiness set to a pop song beat! Unfortunately—plot twist—that was nowhere near the case. The more I dieted, the less I remembered what else I cared about. I began to exist more than really live.
Thankfully, not too far down that road, I was diverted. As fiercely protective as I was about my diet, I would never really acknowledge it out loud. That is, until I was caringly confronted in a most official setting. Over winter break, I got the stomach flu, and my mom took me to the doctor. His expression of concern was enough to shake me up before things got worse. It was the most fortuitously timed case of the pukes I've ever had.
While I was willing to acknowledge that I needed to change, I wasn't yet ready to speak about what I was going through. My parents were, as they often have been, one step ahead of me. While I wasn't willing to talk yet, I was willing to read. So they got me books.
One of those was the New York Times Bestseller Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls by Mary Pipher. While reading one night in my green-and-yellow flower-printed bedroom, the same one where I'd snuggled up with teddy bears and played dress-up, I flipped ahead to the chapter on disordered eating. A couple passages included acute descriptions of the personality traits and course that Pipher saw as common for girls who go from dieting to more extreme restrictive eating. Oh my gosh, I thought. That describes me exactly. As simple as that sounds, it was an intense experience, and a new one for me at the time. Each sentence hit me on a cellular level. Someone was able to pierce through and put words to the most private spaces of my world, the ones I hadn't yet been able to fully understand or capture myself. I was not alone. I reconginze now that the feeling I had whlile reading Reviving Ophelia is one that marks a really good book. One you were meant to find.
In the years since that night in my bedroom, I have sought out and devoured a number of books, essays, and articles on body image. Reading, and eventually, writing on the subject has helped me better understand not only my story, but others' experiences as well, and the larger context in which they all occur. I am grateful for every page.
Eventually, I acknowledged how valuable and necessary getting face-to-face support is, whether that be through family and friends, a therapist, a nutritionist, or other professionals. If you are struggling with your body image or eating behaviors, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) has tons of helpful resources on their website, including a search tool for finding professionals in your area. But if you're looking for a book to provide connection, education, or inspiration along your journey, here are five wonderful ones.