Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self

by Lori Gottlieb

A Los Angeles Times bestseller, American Library Association "Best Books 2001" selection, a Borders "Original New Voice" selection, and a Book-of-the-Month Club and Quality Paperback Book Club selection!

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What People are Saying
"By turns earnest and funny, hopeful and tragic, eleven-year-old Lori is a latter-day Alice: She takes us through the distorted looking glass that's held up to young girls and into the harrowing land of eating disorders. There is no other word for it: You will devour this book — and hopefully, keep right on eating."
—Peggy Orenstein, Author of School Girls: Young Women, Self Esteem, and the Confidence Gap

"Lori Gottlieb's approach is compassionate, and very, very funny. More than just a book about anorexia, Stick Figure is an entertaining and thoughtful coming-of-age story that deals with an almost universal theme — negotiating the minefields of early adolescence and living to tell the tale."
—Martha Manning, Author of Undercurrents: A Life Beneath the Surface

"Lori Gottlieb's eleven-year-old self is a singular storyteller of unblinking candor and precocious insight. As rife with wry humor as it is lacking in self-pity, this fast-paced chronicle is narrated with a light touch, and yet is chilling and poignant in its straightforward simplicity."
—Sarah Saffian, Author of Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found

Entertainment Weekly
Lori Gottlieb's memoir, Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self (Simon & Schuster, $22) is a smart, funny, compassionate journal of the author's bout with anorexia at age 11. Gottlieb, a former NBC exec, based her book on diaries she kept in 1978, the year she landed in Cedars-Sinai after her weight fell below 60 pounds. She infuses her younger self with wit sharpened by hindsight: "'Meals are highly charged events in your family,' Dr. Gold said, like if you ate dinner at my house your hair would stand up and you'd get electrocuted."

Stick Figure stands out as a fresh, edgy take -- not just on anorexia but on that perilous time in a girl's life when she's no longer a child but not quite an adult.

A too-lean pre-teen in Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self (Simon & Schuster, $22), Lori Gottlieb offers a sad and shocking (but ultimately triumphant) account that’s based on her actual journal from age 11, when she became severely anorexic. When her weight dropped below 60 pounds, she was hospitalized. Gottlieb’s now a healthy med-school student, but as a pre-teen she was as warped about her wasted body as she was perceptive about the hypocrisy of 1978 Beverly Hills society — a culture in which womanhood meant starving, shopping and endless self-obsession.

The Los Angeles Times
Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self reveals the mind-set behind both [Gottlieb's] eating disorder and the awkwardness of adolescence that led her there... Stick Figure puts her parents under Klieg lights, illuminating every lump and bump in their relationship, at least from an adolescent's point of view. Lori, at 11, is brazen in her determination not to eat and so keen an observer that even the saddest parts have some humor.

San Francisco Chronicle
In turning her diary into a book, the words remain the authentic voice of the girl she once was - a precocious, confused girl struggling to make sense of her classmates' obsession with dieting and her own fall into anorexia - and sadly, the all too many females who wish they, too, were the thinnest girl on the entire planet. The 11-year-old Gottlieb is full of surprising insights. Her biting wit spares nobody.

The Washington Post Book World
In 1978, when Lori Gottlieb was 11 years old, she did something 11-year-old girls often do: She started a diary. And like far too many other 11-year-old girls, she also began starving herself. Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self chronicles her transformation from a bright, healthy kid into a hospital patient on the verge of death, and it illustrates how a preadolescent girl struggling with questions about femininity and female sexuality (and what preadolescent girl doesn't?) can become convinced that anorexia is the answer…

Growing up well-off in Hollywood, Gottlieb seems to have been surrounded by women who were preoccupied with weight and appearance, and they made sure to pass that preoccupation on to their daughters. Early in the diary, Gottlieb writes that her mother keeps telling her to give her dessert to her brother or her father. When Gottlieb asks why, her mother says that "you should always save desserts for the guys, kind of like the way she says that you should always put your napkin on your lap." Gottlieb continues, "I didn't ask why when I went downstairs at night and found Mom standing over the kitchen sink stuffing a chocolate chip cookie into her mouth. To tell you the truth, I haven't asked why since.

The especially poignant thing about Stick Figure is that in spite of her illness, and her irrational view of her own body, Gottlieb is dead-on about society's irrational attitudes toward women's bodies; in fact, her sincere attempt to make sense of those misguided, illogical attitudes leads to the faulty logic of her condition (and much of the book's wry humor). She observes, for example, that the magazines her mother reads have recipes in them "like '12 Great Cookie Ideas' -- but then on the next page they always have articles called '12 Great Diet Plans' that tell you never to eat what you just baked." And she struggles to make sense of the following social truths, which she has learned from her mother and from her friends' mothers: "If you're a woman, you're supposed to try to look like a girl with a 'girlish figure.' But if you're a girl, you're supposed to act like a woman by not being 'spirited.' Except I eat and talk like the guys do. No wonder everyone thinks I'm a weirdo." The wonder is not that Gottlieb developed anorexia but that all the women around her didn't as well.

Manhattan, Inc
In 1997, Gottlieb was sifting through a closet at her parents’ home and turned up a set of diaries written when she was 11 [and] consumed already by an obsession with weight loss, control, and cool. Stick Figure, which has already been optioned by Martin Scorsese’s production company, publishes these diaries straight-up, retaining the voice of a preteen who knows way too much about the struggles that haunt women much older than that. Stark and unsettling, Gottlieb’s debut is a horror.

Biography Magazine
At the age of 11, Lori Gottlieb stopped eating. The highly intelligent and precocious tomboy reacted to the offhand comments heard daily — she would only find a boyfriend if she were slim; no one ever likes a girl with “thunder thighs” — which convinced her that extreme dieting was necessary to achieve the hyper-skinny feminine ideal she envisioned.

She survived to publish her childhood diaries two decades later as Stick Figure, an earnest account of her illness, which is unique in its straightforward, adolescent point of view. The author says she hopes her diaries will raise a number of questions. Chief among those questions is how we define femininity and whether or not our attitudes about weight “have a more profound long-term influence than we give them credit for."

“Does being a woman,” she asks at the end of this revealing, often devastating memoir, “have to be synonymous with being on a diet?”

Detroit Free Press
A heartbreaking, riveting and humorous autobiography of a preteen who absorbs all the wrong messages about food and figure. Told with the fractured logic of an anorexic teen, this book ends with a note of hope all the more important because it’s true.

Girlhood should be a time of freedom and promise, of learning and growth unfettered by the pressures of womanhood. Yet all too often girls are forced to conform to reductive standards associated with being thin and "ladylike." This is what happened to Gottlieb. A funny, precocious, and athletic 11-year-old living in Beverly Hills in 1978, she preferred reading and chess to shopping, but her intellectual gifts were devalued and her looks criticized until, convinced that she was fat and doomed to loneliness, she stopped eating and nearly died … Her compelling narrative is undoubtedly based on her diaries, but her saucy wit, shrewd caricatures of hypocritical and shockingly unloving adults, lack of emotion, and confident pacing and structure all evince a more mature mind at work.

A former Hollywood executive now attending medical school, Gottlieb has strived to be entertaining, resulting in a novelistic approach that verges on disingenuousness yet is undeniably effective… Gottlieb's chronicling of her precipitous decline from a creative and ardent girl to a walking skeleton afraid to breathe because she believed she was inhaling calories in an indictment of the disrespect according children, centuries of misogyny, and the persistent cult of thinness. Hopefully, young Gottlieb will serve as a patron saint for girls vulnerable to eating disorders and the adults who should be caring for them.
In the image-conscious world of 1970s Beverly Hills, 11-year-old Lori knows she's different. Instead of trading clothes and dreaming of teen idols like most of her pre-adolescent friends, Lori prefers reading books, writing in her journal and making up her own creative homework assignments. Chronically disapproving of her parents' shallow lifestyle, she challenges their authority and chafes under their constant demands to curb her frank opinions and act more "ladylike." Feeling as though she has lost control over her rapidly changing world, Lori focuses all her concentration on one subject: dieting. Her life narrows to a single goal--to be "...the thinnest eleven year old on the entire planet.

Stick Figure is a surprisingly upbeat memoir, mainly due to Gottlieb's descriptions of her upper-crust parents: "Mom and I usually don't like the same movies. For example, she didn't like my favorite movie, Star Wars, probably because no one goes shopping...." But despite the sly humor, Lori comes to a sobering conclusion that is, sadly, still relevant today: " can be too thin and not even know it, because you spend so much time listening to everyone talk about how ladies are supposed to diet, and how something's wrong with you if you aren't worried about being thin, too." Culled from Gottlieb's pre-teen diaries, Stick Figure is a wry and engaging observation of an eating disorder and the society that contributed to it.

The Boston Globe
Although it reads like a novel - a funny, touching, and absolutely gripping novel - "Stick Figure" is, astonishingly, the diary of Lori Gottlieb in 1978, when, at age 11 and all evidence to the contrary, she decided she was too fat and simply stopped eating. Raised in Beverly Hills, the kingdom of appearances, Lori was the precocious cuckoo in the peacock's nest, a clever, articulate little girl stuck in a culture of spoiled, superficial adults and the children who aspired to grow up just like them. Too young to shrug off the prevailing values, she embraced them with a quirky intensity, getting from diet books and calorie charts the same scary thrill that other children get from "Nightmare on Elm Street.

Wasting away to nothing, she was packed off to the hospital, where, with the smirky elan of Eloise at home at the Plaza, she whipped the interns at chess and outsmarted her doctors, not to mention herself, with impeccably reasoned syllogisms based on dangerously false perceptions.

Eventually she just snapped out of her anorexia. Maybe the adults she wrote off as total dorks were getting through to her after all…

The Seattle Times
What happens when a young girl from Beverly Hills trips on the fallacies of family and friends, then gets saturated by society's worship of the too thin? She almost dies.

Using excerpts from her diary as a preteen, writer Lori Gottlieb recreates the yearlong journey from an average home where she would bake chocolate-chip cookies with her mother to a hospital bed near death suffering from anorexia nervosa. We meet Lori in the winter of 1978. She gets good grades in school, likes sports but knows she just doesn't fit in, with her family or her friends. Her mother is a dieter who stays thin by "sharing" her food with her husband and son (never her daughter) and lives to shop. Lori hates to shop and doesn't understand why she has to save all the cookies she bakes for the men of the family. Though she is smart, Lori's teachers see her as contrary and a problem because she disagrees with writing assignments, usually turning in a paper more interesting but not what the teacher ordered. Lori shares with her diary this lament. "I don't know, sometimes I wonder if maybe I am unique.

Lori hardly seems a candidate for an eating disorder - until you realize that, at 11, even the smartest girls want to fit in. In that quest, Lori throws all her talent and determination. In a place where girls and women hum the mantra, you can never be too rich or too thin, Lori sets her sights on the latter: to be the thinnest 11-year-old on the planet.

Gottlieb tells all this with an earnest narration that is funny at times but always tragic. And although Lori steps deeper and deeper into her illness, there is no self-pity. The mood is simply: This is what happened to me.

Stick Figure succeeds in interloping on the mind of a preteen confused, both by what is expected of her and what she wants for herself...The author (as her present self) is a student at Stanford Medical School, and a regular contributor to the online magazine Salon.

Willamette Week: Portland News & Culture
Preteen anguish is truly compelling and horrifying in Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self. Lori Gottlieb uncovered her childhood diaries when she was a 29-year-old Hollywood executive thinking about going to medical school. Stick Figure chronicles 1978, Gottlieb’s 11th year. Her Beverly Hills is a shallow battleground where snotty little girls snipe at each other, mimicking their mothers, who are overly concerned about their hair and the size of their asses. The miniature Gottlieb is as obsessive as any adult. Though she’s tightly focused on schoolwork and won’t step on sidewalk cracks, her diet is her main concern. She believes she’s growing huge and quits eating in order to get back down to 60 pounds. Soon, she’s forced into the hospital to be treated for anorexia nervosa.

Stick Figure is a vivid glimpse into a young girl’s warped perceptions. It’s funny and outrageous, yet steeped in the sad truth about girls’ poor self-esteem.

WTAE-TV (Pittsburgh Channel 4)
There are very few moments in young girl's life when she looks in the mirror and doesn't wish for a new nose, prettier eyes, different hair or even a better body. It's the way of the world these days -- thinner, taller, prettier, better.

For Lori Gottlieb, that time came when she was only 11 years old. When she was a striking 33-year-old medical student at Stanford University, Gottlieb found her diary from her youth, written in 1978, and decided to let young girls today hear her harrowing true story. That's how Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self came to be....

Gottlieb provides an engrossing glimpse into the life of a child trying to deal with growing up and with society's expectations of being thin. The realism that she provides in her account is thought-provoking and powerful. It is scary, and very real, how she rationalizes why she doesn't want to eat and how she convinces herself that she shouldn't eat.

Gottlieb's writing style is clean, crisp and conversational and makes the reader feel like you are living her life. Her story will definitely strike a chord with anyone who has or has had body-image issues ...One can only hope that her real-life struggles brought to bookshelves and eventually to the big screen will help young women struggling with their inner demons, helping them learn to love themselves for who they are, not what society expects them to be.

Palo Alto Daily News
STICK FIGURE, then, is an eleven-year-old self telling a story with candor, insight and absolute honest. Often hilarious, the approach is compassionate and thoughtful… so get ready for a real joyride of a read … about how crazy our society is when it comes to body image and weight loss.
Meet Lori, an eleven-year-old struggling to fit in among the thin, rich, and beautiful of Beverly Hills. Unlike her friends, Lori’s more interested in math than makeup and chess than cheerleading, and quickly finds herself torn between maintaining her identity and being ostracized as a “weirdo.” As her world continues to spiral out of control, Lori—desperate, confused, and lonely—becomes consumed with losing weight and quickly falls victim to anorexia nervosa." "With Stick Figure, a book culled from her pre-teen diaries, author Lori Gottlieb recalls her trials and tribulations as a young girl suffering from this age-old disorder. Despite its grim subject matter, Stick Figure is surprisingly upbeat, thanks to the author’s wry observations and hilarious accounts of life ...

Gottlieb takes you through the frustration of being a young woman bombarded by an abundance of conflicting messages. She sees the women around her—especially her mother—refusing to eat dessert and constantly talking about how to maintain their “girlish figures.” Needless to say, as the book goes on, you’ll share Gottlieb’s anger over the unhealthy standards thrown at women today.

Writes Gottlieb, “Did I have a disorder, or was my behavior the result of a larger disorder all around me? ...who or what [was] ‘disordered’?“ Good question. Good book.

The San Jose Mercury News
In 1978, when Lori Gottlieb was 11 years old, she did something 11-year-old girls often do: She started a diary. And like far too many other 11-year-old girls, she also began starving herself. ''Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self'' chronicles her transformation from a bright, healthy kid into a hospital patient on the verge of death, and it illustrates how a preadolescent girl struggling with questions about femininity and female sexuality (and what preadolescent girl doesn't?) can become convinced that anorexia is the answer…

Publishers Weekly
After happening upon the diary she kept when she was 11 years old, Gottlieb was moved to publish this chronicle of her struggle with anorexia nearly 20 years after she wrote it. In the late 1970s, she lived with her parents and brother in Beverly Hills, where Gottlieb's loneliness and concern about looking attractive to boys swiftly transformed into an obsession with dieting, although she had never been overweight . . . Though it is clear that Gottlieb, who is a regular contributor to Salon, has polished her childhood diary, her descriptions of preteen vulnerability and self-consciousness ring true -- for example, when she recounts how, at lunchtime one day, her popularity skyrocketed because she could figure out a diet plan for every girl. In the context of the daunting statistic Gottlieb cites, that "50% of fourth grade girls in the United States diet, because they think they're too fat," her diary offers haunting evidence of what little progress we have made.

Jewish Bulletin of Northern California
Simple and unaffected, Stick Figure is a disturbing history by a very young girl of her unconscious self-destruction. It has been published as a warning to other young people against taking to heart society's idealization of "thinness" to the point that it becomes a sickness, destroying their judgment, their health and their lives.

Child Care Today
Culled from Gottlieb's own pre-teen diaries, Stick Figure is a wry, engaging observation of a girl from Beverly Hills in the 1970s, an eating disorder, and the society that contributed to it. As one customer states, "I have never been a fan of 'coming of age stories,' but this one is so dead-on (maybe because it is written in the author's own words as an adolescent), yet incredibly entertaining, I could not put it down and can't stop spreading the word. Parents should make it a point to check it out.

Twist Magazine
Another book about anorexia? Wait — this one’s different. Stick Figure is an actual diary kept by real girl Lori Gottlieb...and luckily for us, she had the guts to share her gripping diary.

Reading Divas: “Chick Lit.”
It's impossible to pinpoint the one contributing factor that leads such a young girl to decide to invisibilize herself, and Lori's journal does a great job of addressing the all-out infiltration of these damaging ideals on every level of society.

TV Week (Australia)
A coming-of-age story about a very isolated and precocious girl.

The Examiner Sunday Magazine (Australia)
Based on Ms. Gottlieb’s preteen diaries, [Stick Figure] offers a disturbing picture of some of the expectations and pressures placed on young women in contemporary society. The child’s eye reveals a few ugly truths and trends, but at no time is the book judgmental – the author aims to recount accurately how she viewed the world around her.

For Me Magazine (Australia)
Diaries offer some of the best insights into the human psyche, and this one is based on an 11-year-old’s obsession with being thin. Lori is a girl growing up in the late ‘70s who learns from a young age that everyone loves a thin woman. Suffering from anorexia nervosa, she eventually becomes the thin girl she’s aspired to be. A good, insightful read.

The City Wealigncentyerekly (Australia)
When Lori Gottlieb was 11 years old, she started writing in a diary about the world around her. These observations combine with the emotional honesty of an 11 year old, and a wit and intelligence rare in even adult memoirs.

Lori has compiled some useful sites for readers who are interested in learning more about eating disorders or getting support:
Eating Disorders Information Network (EDIN)

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa (ANAD)

Dads and Daughters – Raising Healthy Daughters

Empowering Books for Girls

About-Face Media Watchgroup

Caring Online

Eating Disorders Awareness

National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) Eating Disorders

Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center
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