Author Q&A with Jordan Lee Knape, author of Best Body Memoir
Written when she was 23, Best Body Memoir is a true story about girl meets eating disorder that disposes the myths surrounding eating disorders and depression to reveal a path towards recovery for all of us.
Q. What did you think about while writing Best Body?
A. First disclosure is Best Body is a memoir, which means I wrote while crying — essentially. It’s not easy looking back at a time you’d much rather forget but I like memoir, I devour memoir, and I believe that reading memoir is important. Go figure I’m a (huge) Joan Didion fan and that essential line, that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live,” I believe with a full heart. Even when it hurts to read, even when it hurts to write, even if and when you’d rather not look back. If you lived through something so difficult you consider yourself a survivor… honesty is what I’m after. Because it makes all of this hurt worth something.
Q. How did you come up with the title?
A. You have to read chapter two! Best Body is not a random title. Actually I had another title I was going with for years — I’ve been working on Best Body Memoir for eight years now — but then another, Really Big Deal Writer took the title — of course without knowing — all I had going for me with the title was the name in a Word Doc. That’s reminder #1 for a writer: You can take 8 years but eventually you’re going to have to hand the writing over. I learn that again and again in my day job as a copywriter. These stories and ideas don’t belong to anyone. I’m certainly not the only woman who has recovered from her eating disorder, certainly not the only person still standing after they’ve hit rock bottom too many times to count. I don’t mean to say that our individual stories don’t matter — I write memoir — but I think there’s huge value collectively. You don’t just write for yourself.
Q. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
A. I never wanted to be a writer per se, I wanted to act. But I was always much more writer than actor, writing is a sort of performing where you don’t have to wait for your agent to get you an audition, you don’t have to wait to be told “Action.” Writing feels attainable, for me, and when I finished school and quickly had to support myself, I quickly became a freelance copywriter. I don’t know if you ever think of yourself as a writer, it’s more what you are, what you’ve committed to doing with the time you have. At parties I say I’m a writer, so there’s that. I know I’ve always written and I require stories daily, writing, reading, watching — as long as I get in my daily Triumphs Over Darkness, or what have you, I’m good.
Q. What are the top 5 messages in your memoir that you want readers to grasp?
- Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are not passing phases… they require treatment and are serious indicators of problems that need to be addressed, problems much bigger than thigh gaps and calorie counts.
- Eating disorders are the #1 cause of death for all mental illnesses and yet only 10 percent of people with eating disorders ever find treatment — meaning we have some work to do in recognizing how serious eating disorders are.
- Eating disorders aren’t about privilege, class or skin color… but they are about high expectations and feeling as if you can’t live up, which is becoming increasingly universal. What’s more, eating disorders run in families. Like alcoholism, you don’t just have one anorexic in the family… there’s a big genetic factor.
- Recovery is possible, but it’s not what you think. Being recovered from a mental illness like eating disorders requires daily, ongoing work. People with eating disorders have a tendency to think in terms of black and white. But recovery isn’t black and white. I did recover fully from my eating disorder, but that’s because I’ve committed to a lifetime of saying no to the disease. There’s not some rainbow you reach with recovery where the frustrations subside. Recovery takes work.
- Don’t be so afraid of hardship! Looking back, there are many things that I would change about my life thus far, but not my eating disorder. As long as you don’t let them kill you — as long as you learn your lessons — eating disorders are a life experience just like any other hardship and the suffering and eventual recovery has only made me stronger. There’s a tendency to push eating disorders away, especially in high-performing families and schools, as if you can make the disorder go away by not thinking about it. But that’s not possible. That’s why eating disorders are so deadly. On the positive side, I’m just a 26-year-old copywriter and I’ve already been able to write a book and I’m well-traveled, on my own dime; these are things I couldn’t have dreamed of when I was sick… I credit the work I did in my teens and early twenties with the life I have now.
Q. Your book spans your life from age 13 to 23. What challenges are there in chronicling a decade of time in your life?
A. My commitment to staying honest. Honest to how I feel, which, well, feelings aren’t so easy to pin down. Feelings change, they change minute by minute, which makes writing tricky when you’re trying to be honest to a certain time and place that was real for you. You have to learn how to pluck out the flesh to get to the bone. Because it doesn’t help to reveal a kind-of truth or a half-way truth. Truth hurts, I think. And it’s violent — violent to yourself because you clearly have to divulge information that any sane person would rather keep secret, and because you have to tell stories that aren’t yours to be told. You can’t write a memoir without throwing in the people you love (— and don’t). It’s one-sided, because you’re not writing their truths, your writing them in a light that was true for you.
It’s also a total gift — there’s no one side to the story but because I’m the only person to date that’s written about what happened in my eating disordered-life, a life that included many other’s, I get to pretend that my story is the most true. So selfish!
But in all seriousness, I think the specifics matter. That dedication to cut to the heart of the matter, even when it hurts.
Q. Please speak a bit about the process of recovery.
A Full recovery from an eating disorder, from severe depression and anxiety, from addiction… it is entirely possible — no matter how sick you are. The thing is we forget how much work is required to recover. I’ve met a lot of young women and men who have stayed sick. But I’ve also met incredible people who once had eating disorders, incredible people who recovered from drug addictions…. our reward is a full life with lesson’s learned from everything we had to face. But it doesn’t come without a price. I think of it as staying “in remission.” You work on it every day.
Q. What were the challenges in bringing Best Body Memoir to life?
A. I’m still so close in years to all of this. This is not me looking back after many years have passed, this is all still raw for me — my eating disorder, my family collapse, the fact that I could have this very tragic life instead of the one I’ve clawed out for myself. I hope that the timing helps readers. I don’t think I truly recovered from my eating disorder until I was about 21 or 22…. I wrote the final draft of Best Body at 23, completed editing at 24. The book is a bit of an open wound, because I had to pick at something that was still so fresh for me.
I’ve learned that there is real value in suffering… suffering is where we find our humanity and where we learn the lessons we need to learn to grow, hopefully the real suffering in Best Body can be seen for what it is: Something I had to face and work through in order to be able to call myself recovered.
It’s not easy recovering from an eating disorder and I don’t think we should take the term “Recovered” lightly! There’s a responsibility, in recovery, to stay recovered.
Read more about Jordan at www.bestbodymemoir.com Follow her @LeeKnape Connect with Jordan on Facebook - Pinterest - LinkedIn