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Review of Thin Girls by

Thin Girls

by Diana Clarke

2 out of 5 stars ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Reviewed .

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Bodies by themselves are weird, but what really takes the cake is how we police our bodies based on societal norms. It’s no secret that many societies, including Canadian society, are fatphobic and love to police women’s bodies. This is a difficult subject to write about and get right—and I’m probably not very qualified to talk about whether or not Diana Clarke gets it right in Thin Girls. All I know is that it got me thinking. Also, I have no memory of where/how I acquired this book—if you were the person who gave it to me, please remind me!

Rose Winters, like so many girls, developed an eating disorder as a teenager. Now in her twenties, she is an inpatient in a clinic where the hope is that shes will “get better.” Rose’s twin, Lily, visits her weekly—or she did, until she met a new boyfriend whom Rose believes is abusive and trying to isolate Lily. This motivates Rose to pretend to make enough progress to be released so that she can save her sister. Easier said than done when Rose can’t save herself.

As the present-day story progresses, there are flashbacks to Rose and Lily’s childhood. Each flashback lists their age and each sister’s weight before describing an episode in their lives that shaped the twins and started them on their divergent paths.

Huge trigger warning, obviously, for depictions of eating disorders/disordered eating, discussion of weights and methods for tricking a scale or hiding foot, etc. This book triggered me, even though I don’t have an eating disorder, in some ways, so if you have or had an eating disorder, please tread very carefully.

At the core of this book is the relationship between these two twins. Rose tells the book in the first person and is a textbook unreliable narrator: there is really no way to know how much of what’s happening is true and how much has been filtered or fabricated by Rose. At times, Lily is her saviour; at other times, Rose wants to save Lily. The narrative is one of remarkable codependency punctuated by jealousy.

The flashbacks are brutally accurate, in my opinion, in their depiction of how teenage girls internalize unhealthy and unrealistic body image standards and then pressure each other into striving to fit those standards. Rose’s accession into Jem’s mean girls squad only for her to develop an eating disorder after discovering the intoxicating sense of control she feels over denying her body food feels very real. Every step in Rose’s descent is predictable, perhaps even familiar to most readers, yet it is no less tragic as a result.

The present-day chapters were harder for me to wrap my head around. Clarke is not a very descriptive writer. Her prose has a detached and clinical quality to it. Her plotting has a similar kind of craft quality—beyond Lily and Rose, I would argue, all of the other characters exist only to fulfill certain needs of plot. I appreciate the diversity of female characters, especially how one in particular starts off being portrayed as evil/nefarious only for Clarke to fill her in with nuance and a bit of redemption. The idea that people can change, or that we can be mistaken about someone, is very powerful. And I think Clarke’s thesis, at the end of the day, is that patriarchy can cause women to harm one another but we still need to come together and ignore or take down the men, and I am here for it.

I mentioned above that I found this book triggering even though I don’t have an eating disorder. What I meant was that the book triggered my own body image feelings. As a trans woman, I experience gender dysphoria in ways that overlap with a sense of body dysmorphia. I am fortunate enough that my transition has allowed me to experience quite a bit more gender euphoria than dysphoria, especially nowdays (I will often exclaim to friends how much more I enjoy living in my body, how happy I am with how I see myself in a mirror). But I can’t lie: I think a lot more about my weight now that I am living as a woman than prior to my transition. I think a lot more about how people look at me, my appearance, etc.—and it is hard to parse out what proportion of that is womanhood versus being trans specifically versus general issues with aging, etc. It’s all wrapped up in a little ball of emotions that lives in my stomach.

All of this is to say that even though my personal experiences have been quite different from Rose and Lily’s and most white cis women, there is still a lot of emotional content in this book that resonates with me. In that sense, Clarke is very successful in her portrayal of a book about eating disorders.

I just with the writing and storytelling had felt more intimate in a more interesting way. Similarly, the ending feels a little bit contrived (or maybe unearned). I think in particular what I object to is how the book raises the spectre of the overall wellness industry but then kind of drops it before there is any satisfactory resolution? And just blames it on the man in the picture?

Feels like it could be a Louise O’Neill novel yet lacks the narrative and stylistic flair that makes Louise O’Neill novels shine most.


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