Natalie struggles with self confidence and views her body negatively, often swamping her body in floaty layers and frantically smoothing down skin when she sits and covering cleavage when she walks. Men’s eyes scan her, their gaze hurting her, slicing her stomach rolls and coating her with a film of shame. In Bali, at the beginning of the novel Natalie is exposed to the sex-tourist trade where local men are paid to compliment Western women and to date them and romance them, ultimately ending in an evening of sex. Her realisation that this sleazy trade exists in such a sweaty setting sends her spiralling into a frenzy of binge eating. This was a truly uncomfortable read, watching the flies settle on the cream of the cake as she fists the food into her mouth, until stomach swollen, she is sated. This trend continues throughout the Bali episode of the novel, with Natalie ordering several courses for dinner, feeling the giggles of locals and the shame of her actions weighing on her. Her journey of self discovery in Bali uncovers a toxic relationship with her own self.
As the novel progresses, Natalie’s relationship with her body develops and we see a compulsive desire to weigh herself developing. She imagines her shape to be large, misshapen and swollen; repulsive. Yet men show interest in her and she can’t understand why. From family events to new jobs, this awareness of her stomach and her shape follows her, creating a shame around eating. A dangerous envy is felt by Natalie for others who walk confidently in bikinis, that envy clouding her judgement and shadowing her relationship with those people. Author E.M Reapy has shone a light on something that nobody says out loud. Our society has rock-bottom confidence, we wear floaty clothes and straighten ourselves when we stand up because we imagine how we look to be unattractive, choosing instead to compare ourselves to others in an attempt to identify our short-falls. E.M Reapy claims that we are in the business of counting the blessings of others, instead of counting our own blessings. She is right.
There were definitely times when I rolled my eyes during reading at how self-deprecating and selfish Natalie is, but then I watched her eat and I watched her cry and I watched the cruel jibes of others stamp on her self esteem. I realised that the author is extremely intuitive and she has identified how easily we allow our relationship with the self to be damaged by others; we allow society to make us feel like a stuck record, talking about our weight all the time. We don’t hear the compliments, we only hear the hurtful comments and that is a serious issue in society that we seek out the hurtful because that justifies how we feel and our relationship with our bodies.
E.M Reapy has written a shocking, uncomfortable and painfully realistic depiction of our relationship with ourselves, which leaves us exposed, unpleasant and yet… heard?
(c) Dymphna Nugent
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