In "Pretty, Hungry" by Ellen Hopkins, teenager Lorelei Jeanne recounts, in verse, the unfortunate lessons she has learned from the people in her life about the relationship between weight and beauty. As in most of her writing, Hopkins does not shy away from the dark side of life, and her story about Lorelei involves an alcoholic mother, a judgmental, absent father, and at least one two-timing boyfriend.
The poems begin with Lorelei’s premature birth, discussing how she was formula-fed from the beginning and given comfort through food. Later, she recalls how her father implied she couldn’t be beautiful unless she could also be thin, and how this sent her down the path of starvation. As the story progresses, Lorelei also talks about the reactions of her grandmother and the boys in school to her ever-decreasing size.
This is not a story about anorexia, but rather a sad contemplation on the consequences of not feeling beautiful or thin enough. Lorelei learns that her value as a person depends upon how much she weighs, and she never sees herself as pretty until someone else labels her as such. She relies completely on her father’s opinion of her looks and can’t see her own beauty, on the inside or the outside.
This powerful story would be a wonderful way to open a discussion among teen girls about the pressures placed on them to be skinny, or to look a certain way that society has deemed “beautiful.” Readers who have already discovered Ellen Hopkins through novels in verse like Crank, Glass, and Impulse already know they can trust her to be honest with them, and the brutality of the truths she illustrates through "Pretty, Hungry" is just strong enough to really get through to teens and resonate with them. Girls will both empathize with and pity Lorelei, and this combination of feelings is likely to stick with them even after they have walked away from the story and moved onto something else. This is a powerful story with a vitally important message every woman, young and old, can benefit from hearing.
I borrowed Does This Book Make Me Look Fat? from my local public library.