Navel Gazing Review – Anne H. Putnam

Navel Gazing, certainly a ‘no-holds-barred’ memoir, tells the story of one woman’s quest to self-acceptance. It is ‘passionate’ in a self-loathing kind of way but I have failed to see the ‘funny’ side.

Anne H. Putnam lived her childhood conscious of the fact that she was overweight (while her mum and 2 older siblings were not) and spent her early teen years wishing she was normal.  Her later teen years and the start of adulthood were spent going through recoveries of weight-loss related surgeries.  And her twenties have been one long road of recovery from the mental scars her past left behind.

Throughout the first third of the book, I found myself nodding my head and agreeing with Anne’s words and feelings.  I saw many of my own childhood issues in her.  However, I feel that she spends too much time playing the blame game and too little time addressing the real reason she pigged out.  She justifies the secret sweet eating with hints that her mother didn’t allow sweets other than for special occasions.  As a young teen, I remember looking at my friends and wishing I was ‘normal’, and that I could shop in ‘normal’ shops.  I wasn’t, and I don’t dwell on that now.  I also can’t help but feel sorry for her parents if they have read the book, I would be devastated if my child passively blamed me for their own lack of self-control with food.

At seventeen, Anne had Gastric Bypass surgery.  It was a radical step for a teenager.  I completely understand the feelings of disgust she had when looking at her body, I did (and sometimes still do) feel that way when looking in a mirror.  However, post-op she gets more self-pitying.  I feel sorry for her but not because of everything she has been through.  I feel sorry for her because she honestly believed surgery would magically transform her life and because there is obviously something far deeper affecting her than her self-image.

By the time I crossed the halfway point I was counting down the number of pages I had left to read.  I normally dread finishing a book because I’m so wrapped up in the story, this time I was willing the number of pages to shrink as if by magic.  I was fed-up with her self-deprecating whining.  Admittedly, I did find it heart-warming when she met her significant other and began to accept the way she looked.  This didn’t last though and I almost gave up somewhere around page 238.

The way Anne writes her story is confusing and, at times, a little distasteful. The confusion arises a few times when the story jumped forward in time at the end of a chapter, and then back to another time at the beginning of the next.  The descriptions of recovery from the cosmetic surgery were distasteful and I was extremely relieved I hadn’t eaten recently.

My criticisms aside, it is an honest tale of her, personal weight-loss journey (even though GB surgery is something I would never consider) and I am relieved that she (even if only slightly) is coming to terms with her image.  I am wondering about the exact reasons behind Anne writing the book. I couldn’t see motivation or inspiration in it; only battles with her own demon and the ‘bitch inside her head’ (which I’m sure even the skinnies among us go through).  I’m sorry to sound so critical, but surely everyone realises that, often, moaning about something over 300 pages can lead to a level of angry despondency rather than sympathy or empathy.  To quote Eleanor Roosevelt “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” All I see is consent for everyone to validate her feelings of inferiority! It’s a vicious circle.

I can only hope that anyone who reads it who has never battled with weight issues doesn’t think everyone who is overweight is as unhappy and self-hating as Anne, because we are not!

Navel Gazing (if you still want to read it) is published by Faber and Faber and available to purchase for £12.99.

Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of Navel Gazing review.  Thoughts and feelings are (quite obviously) my own.  I received no other form of compensation.