SVH # 74: The Perfect Girl

24 Mar

perfectgirl

Estimated Elapsed Time: 4-5 weeks

Summary/Overview:

Robin seems to have it all since she lost all that weight and became co-captain of the cheerleading squad, but lately she has been feeling extremely self-conscious about her body.  She relies on her boyfriend, George Warren, to reaffirm her self-worth and self-image.  Then he announces that he wants to take up flying again (because it went so great last time?), and is going to be taking flying lessons and won’t be around as much.  This worries Robin for a number of reasons, but the biggest one seems to be that she doesn’t know what she’ll do without him around.

As Robin obsesses about her body and her weight, she also seems to worry about not seeing George.  Things worsen for her when George starts talking about his new friend from class, a woman named Vicky who’s an oceanography major and a math whiz.  When George brings her along for what’s supposed to be a double date to the disco that turns into a three’s-a-crowd situation, Robin starts to really freak out, because Vicky is thin and gorgeous, and George will literally not shut up about her.  Robin is rude to Vicky, who seems to be genuinely nice but also says things that kind of suck, and she and George fight, driving them further apart.  When Robin weighs herself and finds that she’s gained three pounds, she decides to start seriously restricting and excessively exercising, telling herself that she will be better when she’s thinner.

This continues for days, and Robin’s eating disorder worsens to the point where she seems unable to eat nearly anything, and certainly not in public.  As she restricts, she also becomes bossier when it comes to her cheerleading duties, as the girls are planning a fundraiser to raise money for a new gym floor for the high school.  The plan is to create the largest ice cream sundae they can and sell tickets to people who want to see it and eat it.  The girls notice that Robin looks drawn and thinner, and that she’s starting snapping at people when they offer her food, but her clearly obsessive food problems are largely ignored.

She keeps dropping weight and avoiding eating around people.  When George takes her out to dinner, she orders food and then sends it away, embarrassing George and making herself feel miserable.  Things worsen for her, and when people start to express concern about her frail frame, she brushes them off.  In addition to not eating, she starts to exhibit other signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder.  When she finally faints at the Super Sundae even the cheerleaders have put on and is unable to be revived, she wakes up in the hospital.

Pretty much everyone comes to visit her while she’s there, including Vicky, who gives her this weird speech about how George doesn’t even see Vicky as a girl because he’s so in love with Robin and Vicky isn’t perfect because she did drugs when she was 14 because her parents were getting divorced.  The whole thing feels tonally wrong, but whatever.  George is also there and they reconcile, with Robin apologizing for being angry with him.  But she also breaks up with him, because she finally admits that she has anorexia and needs to work on getting better.  When she returns to school a week later (are we really to believe they wouldn’t put Robin in treatment?), her friends are cautiously optimistic.  And that’s sort of it.

Trivia/Fun Facts:

  • All the ice cream comes from Izzy’s Famous Ice Cream stores, which is weird, because don’t the teens all love Casey’s for their frozen-dairy fix?
  • Robin’s safe foods include dry salad and water.

Memorable Quotes:

  • “Even though she never had to go on a diet, Elizabeth was always aware of her weight. Some girls dieted religiously, and some girls were almost obsessed with the way their bodies looked.  It was hard not to be conscious of it to some extent. Elizabeth just hoped her friends used common sense.” (17)
  • “A cold fist closed around Robin’s heart. And who was to say it couldn’t happen again? If George had been capable of cheating on Enid, didn’t that mean he was capable of cheating on Robin?” (40)

A (Totally Unqualified) Critical Analysis:

It’s hard to snark on this one not only because of how earnest it is, but also because it’s trying so hard to paint a fair picture of what an eating disorder looks like.  Of course, it’s a Sweet Valley High novel, it’s not even 150 pages, and the timeframe is so compressed that it makes the disease seem bizarrely short-lived.

While I was reading this, I was uncomfortable with the unintentionally ironic message the book is sending to its readers.  Throughout this entire ordeal, the ghost writer works hard to accurately portray body dysmorphia and the addictive feelings of hunger in Robin, who, I would argue, has been struggling with anorexia and disordered eating since she lost the weight back in book 4.  And for the most part, they do a pretty good job of giving credence to Robin’s thoughts and fears, even if it reads as sort of a textbook of what anorexia looked like, at least according to early 90s diagnoses.  So, fine, the book gets credit for handling this as well as could be hoped for a series that’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

No, the problem is with Elizabeth (and to a lesser degree, the other people in the book).  Throughout this entire novel, Elizabeth worries about how obsessed girls are with their weight and their bodies.  Several times, the word “sensible” is used to describe how girls should be about food and their bodies.  This doesn’t make sense, as an eating disorder is a mental illness and the concept of “sensibility” doesn’t apply, like, at all.  But more than that, Elizabeth keeps thinking about how a person’s size shouldn’t matter, and sort of smugly assesses Lois Waller, who is apparently the only fat girl in Sweet Valley High:

Lois would never be a fashion mode, but she clearly had a great relationship with Gene, and her life was completely optimistic. So what difference did it make if she couldn’t wear size-six jeans? None at all, Elizabeth told herself confidently.  None at all.

First of all, are you fucking kidding me?  Is this a joke?  I don’t think it is.  It’s so weird for Liz to be validating Lois’s existence despite, or in spite of, her size.  There’s something so bizarrely smug about this (even for Ms. Smug Smuggerson herself) that it’s completely and totally off-putting.  But what bothers me most about it, and perhaps what is most alarming, is that this feels like subconscious stuff on the part of the writer.  Elizabeth reassures herself that you don’t have to be a size-six to be happy and have a good life.

This is meant for the reader’s benefit, I guess, because Elizabeth is a “perfect size six” and it is mentioned in every single book before the reader is even 10 pages in.  So, we get this awful mixed message that says: love your body! Size doesn’t matter (but it’s better if you’re thin!).  If size truly didn’t matter here or anywhere, it would not be mentioned in every single book.

 

 

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2 Responses to “SVH # 74: The Perfect Girl”

  1. lemonypiecrust April 4, 2014 at 6:32 am #

    Not gonna lie, Robin breakds my heart a little in this one. And a massive EL-OH-EL at Liz feeling confident for Lois Fatty McFatterson Waller. Go away, Liz.

    • Clementine Bojangles April 9, 2014 at 6:18 am #

      I still maintain that Liz’s smugness about Lois’s confidence is the single weirdest moment of the series.

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