Book review: How To Disappear Completely by Kelsey Osgood

 

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The Independent Culture

I approached this book with trepidation, acutely aware that the last thing the literary market needs is another navel-gazing misery memoir masquerading as the “ultimate guide” to anorexia.

Fortunately, these sentiments are the precise starting-point from which Kelsey Osgood begins her tome, which is not as autobiographical as the cover blurb might have you believe.

The book is actually more like an extended essay, expertly exploring the trappings of eating disorder awareness-raising and powerfully peppered with the author’s first-hand experiences of anorexia nervosa.

It also refers to a mind-boggling number of case studies and books (both medical and biographical). One could never accuse Osgood of relying on her own experiences as being representative.

What’s so refreshing is that the book genuinely covers new ground in what can feel like a saturated debate. Osgood is one of the few authors on this topic to see both herself and her illness clearly. She pledges never to disclose her lowest weight, daily calorie intake or “weight loss secrets”, having taken much of the inspiration for her own eating disorder from books written by fellow sufferers who did precisely that.

The author rails against what she perceives to be a culture of glamorising anorexia and she bravely acknowledges elements of the illness others have been quick to dismiss as “trivialising” – the taboo aspects of vanity, narcissism and attention-seeking.

As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder myself in the past, at times this made for uncomfortable reading. Yet I couldn’t help but agree with the author at every turn.

Osgood also explores the relatively modern phenomenon of “pro-anorexia” social media and the way in which it plays into the competitive climate among anorexics.

She broaches the distinction between pro-anorexia and pro-recovery support forums, concluding that there isn’t one, in reality – these are both environments in which vulnerable people will garner eating disorder “tips”.

This is one of those books that desperately needed to be written. Osgood isn’t afraid to wrestle Goliaths such as the media’s handling or popular medical opinion either, and her tone remains both reasonable and defiant. At times I felt like cheering.

The book is beautifully crafted – it is by turns stark, shocking, moving, but it’s never depressing and at times it’s even funny.

Osgood manages to convey the absolute seriousness of her former condition while also bringing much-needed hope, dispelling a few pervading myths along the way. She regularly claims not to have any definitive answers and yet in acknowledging the complexity of her subject she actually brings a rare clarity.

I heartily recommend this read for anyone seeking understanding of what is a complex illness, set in the context of an even more complex society.

Natasha Devon is a founder of the positive body image campaign Body Gossip and can be found blogging at independent.co.uk

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