By the age of seventeen Anne Putnam weighed over twenty stone and had tried everything, from dieting to fat camp to wearing big t-shirts. When she decided to have weight-loss surgery, she thought everything would change. But now, nine years later and ten sizes smaller, she has discovered that changing your body doesn’t automatically change how you feel about it. Her memoir Navel Gazing: One Woman’s Quest for the Size Normal grew from her blog, a blog that provided a vital outlet for her thoughts at a crucial time. Sarah Vine of ‘The Times’ had this to say about about Navel Gazing:
‘A book anyone, male or female, young or old, who has ever looked in the mirror and disliked what they see, will identify with … The writing is vivid and superb, the detail both unflinching and fascinating … Don’t go on some miserable diet this January; read this instead. It will get you through the insanity of the “new year, new you” frenzy; more importantly, it might help you stop loathing your body.’
Anne explained the importance of blogging to writing.ie:
“I started my first blog in January 2008, about six months after graduating from university and moving to London – I called it My Earlobes Still Feel Fat, and declared it an outlet for my persistently negative feelings about my body, seven years after Gastric Bypass surgery at the age of 17.
The topic was nothing new to me: I had been writing about my body and my related self-esteem issues for years. It started with a journal (weepy and melodramatic, as they are wont to be) in my teens, and mellowed into a more sharply focused form in university, when I began to take creative writing classes. My Creative Nonfiction class, for which we wrote multiple short pieces and a final 5000-word personal essay, was the most obvious place to explore my feelings about the physical and emotional changes I had undergone in recent years, but body image and societal expectations crept into my poetry and fiction homework too.
So when I left school and began working as a receptionist in London, I felt the loss of those creative outlets keenly; I felt stifled, bottled up, my negative thoughts and self-doubts festering inside my head. I began the blog as a way to sort out that tangled mess and expel it from my brain in a neater format – ideally, I figured, writing about my body would not only help soothe my own angst but might also provide information and support for other young people going through similar emotions.
The problem with the latter of those goals was that I neglected to publicize the blog. This was intentional – I have never been one to force my writing or my feelings on other people, to the extreme where my parents didn’t read my recently published memoir until they purchased it online of their own volition. This sometimes comes off as coyness or coldness, but really I just don’t want to foist my problems on other people. So I wrote on my blog and checked my stats regularly, hoping people might stumble across it and become regular readers, and maybe even contributors.
That didn’t really happen. A few close friends of mine were (and are) frequent readers, and I would often get emails from them in response to new posts, but with the exception of one or two strangers who came across it through Google searches and commented or emailed with questions, the blog went largely unnoticed.
Still, it was immensely helpful to me in the pursuit of an outlet for my self-esteem issues and discomfort with my body. I was living in a new city, in a new country no less – I was also living with my boyfriend for the first time, after a year and a half of being long-distance, and facing life after academia: work, rent, bills, and generally learning to be an adult. So my anxiety levels were very high and I was pretty unstable at the time; I spent a lot of time fighting with my boyfriend, who was the only person I really knew in London, and if it weren’t for the blog (and regular online chats with friends back in the States) I’m not sure I would have stuck it out. Many nights I stayed up well past midnight, looking up the price of plane tickets home and researching the cost of shipping all my things in case I decided to throw in the towel and flee, tail tucked. But usually after a couple of hours of planning my escape, I would change the page in my browser to my blogger dashboard and hammer out a post instead, and often in the morning things looked more manageable.
Not only did writing down my emotions in a theoretically public forum allow me to feel as if I’d somehow faced and dealt with them, but it also gave me distance from them. I could go back to blog posts days, weeks, months, or even years later, and look at them from an almost detached viewpoint. I found myself reading my past words in an analytical way, sorting through the emotions expressed and trying to find reasons for them, rather than just taking them at face value. Even as I was writing posts, in the immediate moment, I occupied a sort of no-man’s-land, pulling back from the feelings I was describing just enough to articulate them to someone (my semi-imaginary reader) who might never have experienced anything similar, while also staying close enough to them to document honestly what was going on in my head and heart.
Although the blog never really took off in terms of readership, it has been invaluable to me, on an emotional level and also in helping me hone my writing. This came in handy in yet another form when I joined the City University Creative Writing (Non-Fiction) course in the fall of 2009; I decided to write a memoir about my experiences with weight loss surgery and body image, and the year and a half of practice I’d had writing my blog were instrumental in helping me figure out how to focus my story.
A lot of what is understood about blogging is that it is a means to an end, and that end is usually publication or at least a large readership and a steady income from ad revenue. But my blog gave me something different, and something that was much more valuable than revenue: it gave me an outlet for feelings I had trouble understanding, a place to articulate the turmoil inside me. And maybe it was kismet that it also prepared me to write my first published book, but even if it hadn’t I would still be grateful to my little blog (and even littler readership), because as wonderful as publishing has been, straightening out my tangled brain has been even more rewarding.
Read an extract of Anne Putnam’s memoir, Navel Gazing: One Woman’s Quest for the Size Normal here http://annehputnam.com/writing-things/navel-gazing-excerpt/
Follow her on Twitter @ahputnam