Today we're excited to share a guest post for Alexandra Ballard's What I Lost as part of the YABC Scavenger Hunt! Read on for more about Alexandra and her novel!
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Meet Alexandra Ballard!
Alexandra Ballard has worked as a magazine editor, middle-school English teacher, freelance writer, and cake maker. She holds master's from both Columbia (journalism) and Fordham (education) and spent ten years in the classroom, beginning in the Bronx and ending up in the hills of Berkeley, California, with her husband and two daughters. What I Lost is Alexandra Ballard's debut novel.
~ Guest Post ~
When I was 17, I made myself throw up after feeling guilty about eating a brownie. I’d gained ten pounds the previous summer, during a disastrous teen tour-type trip abroad. I’d been miserable and used food to feel better. And then, when I came back to confront a senior prom and a dress that didn't fit, a crash diet triggered something inside of me. An eating disorder was born.
It was a long, hard 13-year struggle to get well, but I did it. I’m now 43 years old, a mother of two, and I’ve been in recovery for the same amount of time that I was sick. And even though I am as proud of the accomplishment as anything in my life, I still can’t shake the shame.
I thought writing about it would help, so I did. A young adult novel about a girl not so dissimilar from me. Fictionalizing the experience made it easier to go back to those dark places, at least on the page. What I didn’t expect - though I should have - is that it’s not just my story anymore.
The moment that drove this home came last month, when a woman I knew came up to me at the elementary school book fair. She knew about my book and, after a bit of small talk, broached the unavoidable question: “Do you have any experience with eating disorders?”
I steeled myself. I’d dreaded this question, but knew it would come eventually. “Yes,” I finally said. “I do. But it was a long time ago.”
And that’s when a voice popped up behind me. It was my ten-year-old daughter. I hadn’t known she was there.
“You had that?” she said, eyes wide.
I immediately wished I could go back in time and lie. But I couldn’t.
“Yes, honey, I did. A long time ago.” And then, seeing she was confused, I added, “but not now.”
“Oh,” she replied, an uncomfortable look on her face. Then she ran off to find her friends.
As I watched her blonde head disappear through the library door, I wanted to cry. This was the first she’d ever heard about me having, as she called it, “that thingy your main character has.” The moment I’d been dreading had arrived. How was I going to tell my two perfect little girls about my past?
Right now, they live in a world where body image doesn’t exist. They eat what they want, when they want it, and they do so with complete, innocent joy. They like to be naked, although my eldest, now skidding into tweendom, is phasing out that habit. Neither of them have ever looked in the mirror and hated their legs or stomach or arms.
And as far as they know, neither have I.
But I have. Thousands of times. Probably more.
Today, I do everything the parenting advice sites say when it comes to teaching positive body image. I don’t complain about myself in front of my girls; I don’t label foods good or bad; I feed the girls everything, from zucchini to french fries to sushi to green beans to pizza, which we have every Friday night. I even cook with butter. And, as much as it occasionally still pains me, I eat what they eat with a smile on my face. Sometimes, I take seconds.
In our house, when my husband and I talk about eating healthy, we talk about making our bodies strong, not slender. We discuss how all foods are good foods, how a delicious, drippy ice cream cone on a hot summer day can be as good for the soul as broccoli is for the body. We bake cookies, breads, and brownies together, enjoying both the process and the final products.
Sometimes, I think that I overcompensate, that maybe I should crack down more on their eating habits. But I’m afraid to. I don’t want my children to ever think I’m not pleased with their bodies or introduce the idea that they shouldn’t be. I want them to live in their current state of body-image bliss for the rest of their lives.
But with my book coming out this month, my children are about to discover my past. For a while, I thought we’d hire a babysitter and keep them home from the book party. But I want my girls to see their Mom reaching one of her life goals. Our entire family sacrificed so that I could write this book, and I want to celebrate this moment with them. And I don’t want to hide anymore.
So I’m going to do it. At some point in the coming weeks, I’m going to sit my daughters down and tell them that back when Mommy was a teenager, she got sick. And her sickness made eating really hard, and that she was very sad.
I’ll tell them how that poor girl was ill for too many years, that recovering was one of the most difficult things she’s ever done, but how sometimes the hardest battles we fight can be the most rewarding. I’ll explain how it took a lot of help, strength, bravery, courage, and determination, and I’ll finally give that girl who worked so hard to get better her due.
Or at least that’s my plan. Just like no one ever sets out to get an eating disorder, no one ever looks ahead to all the repercussions once they have one, and certainly not this far down the line. We always expect our children to be better than us, to do what we say not what we do. But our past has a way of catching up to us. Is it better to confront it head on, or provide information on a need to know basis? Which of our faults and struggles provide lessons for them, and which only confuse?
I don’t pretend to have any answers, but I know I have to try. So the last thing I’ll tell them has nothing to do with lessons, or strategies, or modeling. I’m just going to hug them - my two beautiful, perfect girls – and tell how amazing, how special, how unique they both are, how I love them for who they are on the inside, that their insides make their outsides shine. And then I’ll hope and pray and beg the universe that my words stick.
What I Lost
By: Alexandra Ballard
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Release Date: June 6th, 2017
One winner will receive a copy of What I Lost (Alexandra Ballard) ~ (US Only)
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