I found this book immediately after listening to author Elna Baker on a podcast (episode #589) from This American Life called “Tell Me I’m Fat.” (Link here.) I have many, many conflicting thoughts about this podcast episode, and I’m currently working on a blog post about it.
The second segment was Elna’s story. She grew up overweight, became clinically obese as a young adult, lost 100 lbs. with a weight-loss program similar to fen-phen, became addicted to the speed-like drug, underwent cosmetic surgery to remove loose skin from her body, and still wrestles with the mental gymnastics of living with body dysmorphia. She is/was/still sorta Mormon, a comedian, and a writer.
Her story on the podcast struck me at the core. I could relate so closely to her experience (hence the forthcoming blog post – perhaps with pictures of myself 60 pounds heavier) that I wanted to know more about her. So I grabbed her book. It is a series of essays and sketches that cover her experiences from age 18 to 27.
First, Elna is fantastically clever. This book was a delightful read.
Second, her journey as a young Mormon in New York City (modern-day Babylon?) was no cake walk. Each year she attended the Mormon Singles Halloween Dance hosted by the singles ward in hopes that her Prince Charming (the man she’d marry for all time and eternity) would be there. And yet, through a series of unique jobs (FAO Schwartz, The David Letterman Show), learning how to kiss with a mixed-bag of boys (were they ALL heterosexual? hmm…), and falling in love with an Athiest, Elna goes beyond the search for a husband to discover that there is so much more to learn about herself.
Third, and more randomly, I have a strange and vibrant interest in Mormonism and the people who choose it as their faith. I don’t know why this is exactly, but if there is Mormonism in a book, I’ll at least pick it up and read the synopsis. (Interestingly, the other book I’m reading is also connected to Mormonism – Cage of Stars.)
Between kissing and praying for a sign from God, there is the weight loss and Elna’s desperate desire to be desired. Oh, how I understand her. When you do not feel at peace in your own skin, there is so much internal conflict to overcome on a daily, hourly basis. My hope is that she’ll write a second book to tackle these issues with even more honesty, particularly now that she is married. (That’s not a spoiler. She talks about her husband in the podcast.)
So yeah. I enjoyed this book tremendously, but I acknowledge that my affinity is not just for her writing. Reading Elna’s story left me with the same feeling I had after reading about Dolores in She’s Come Undone, one of my favorites books of all time. It feels like I know her, like we’ve been cut from the same miserable piece of torn cloth that never gets mended. And yet, we live with the hope that one day our brains and bodies will sync with one another and the anxiety of body image and self-loathing will melt away forever.