“What if I let go of it? What part of me will die? Why can I not let go of it for anything? What part of me does this disorder define? Who will I be without it? What will I be? Where will I be?”
These words are just a snippet of the thoughts captured in Shani Raviv’s journal, years into her anorexia. This journal entry captures the questions that readers may experience while reading her memoir. They also aptly depict the internal struggle that Raviv felt over the course of her illness. Raviv’s memoir, Being Ana: A Memoir of Anorexia Nervosa chronicles her journey into and out of her illness.
Raviv’s story begins in her adolescence, which is when her anorexia began. She describes a scene that begins in a restaurant where her family is encouraging her to eat, and culminates with her losing control in the bathroom. The family dynamics have a clear and direct impact on her development and condition.
Raviv describes her mother as having a more “hands-off” approach to raising her daughters, and she is subjected to mature themes while still young. Her father is more controlling, and their relationship is very tense. At one point, he tells her that she is no longer his daughter.
“With those few words, my father had affirmed my deeply held belief that I wasn’t worthy. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t lovable. And I accepted it. I believed it. I owned it,” writes Raviv.
As she continues into adulthood, she cycles between waitressing and bartending jobs while also bouncing among various living situations. It is abundantly clear to the reader that the lack of foundation and structure in her life are compounding her personal challenges. Her romantic relationships are enshrined with varying levels of abuse and codependence, and her familial relationships are strained; her illness is a continuing source of tension with her mother.
There are moments throughout the book in which Raviv gains glimpses of insight into her illness, moments that give the reader hope that the tides may be turning and that she might finally begin to heal. For instance, while living with her sister, Raviv begins to gain an understanding of her reckless behavior and how it relates to her anorexia.
“I would learn that an anorexic is depriving herself so radically and chronically of food that her restrained energy builds up inside her. This causes an energetic pressure that by its nature has to have some explosive release. I would begin to understand that the drugs, the sex, and the cutting all gave me some sense of release from that pent-up energy. It was the same with the stealing,” writes Raviv.
Raviv’s story feels like a constant tug of war. There are alternating desires to cheer for, beg, plead, bribe, cajole, console, sympathize, empathize, and scold her.
Being Ana provides an intimate look into the life of an anorexic. Raviv’s journal entries are glimpses into her thought processes, which allow readers to understand the intricacies and complicated strings that support and pull at anorexia.
Being Ana is a great resource for clinicians and practitioners who are just starting out in the field of eating disorder recovery. While there is not much in the book regarding her recovery, Raviv’s detailed retelling of her journey into anorexia gives an insightful depth that is rarely captured in textbooks. This memoir could also provide family members of those with anorexia a bit more understanding of the illness from the inside.
Ultimately, Being Ana is a complicated story of a young woman’s dive into anorexia. While it provides an amazing amount of detail into her illness, there is little in the way of her recovery. In that respect, there is a certain lack of closure at the end of the book because there are many holes to be filled regarding her recovery. The reader is left to wonder, what else did Raviv do in order to finally overcome her eating disorder?
A large portion of the book is devoted to her life with anorexia, but there is only a small portion which really discusses her recovery. These chapters feel slightly rushed, and almost like an oversight. However, this point certainly does not discredit the worth of Raviv’s retelling of her illness. Many will find this memoir useful and insightful, even in the darkest depths.
Being Ana: A Memoir of Anorexia Nervosa
She Writes Press
Paperback, 296 pages