Blooming by Deborah Lytton
I first had the idea to write Jane in Bloom when I saw a piece on television about forgotten siblings. These were the forgotten children in families consumed with the care of a problem child. The problems were all different, but the result was the same. These siblings were invisible. Unseen and unheard because there was nothing wrong with them. I wanted to tell their story. And that became Jane’s story.
I decided to afflict Jane’s sister, Elizabeth, with an eating disorder because I see younger and younger girls focused on their bodies and media images of perfection. I wanted to speak out to girls and encourage them to find their own uniqueness and to embrace it. In Jane’s journey, there is a ray of hope—for Jane discovers gifts inside herself that give her self-esteem. She finds inner strength, courage, creativity and friendship. All of these things come to Jane not because of the way she looks on the outside, but because of who she is on the inside. The inner beauty begins to shine through her, and that is when Jane blooms.
Jane in Bloom depicts Elizabeth’s eating disorder through Jane’s eyes, so the details are blurred—this was intentional. There are many good books already on the shelves about eating disorders, many written by women who have personal experience. Jane in Bloom is unique because it deals with the impact of this disease on the family, and most specifically, on a younger sister. Jane sees her sister as popular and perfect. She sees only what she wants to see. And she thinks that she is less than her sister because she is different. Jane craves the attention Elizabeth receives, but it is only later in the book, after Elizabeth is gone, that Jane realizes the cost of that kind of attention.
Holding ourselves to a standard of perfection is impossible, no matter what our age. But I think girls have it the hardest. They are bombarded with images of thin, sexy young women, and they are told that this is how they should measure their worth. But I don’t blame the media for this. Movies have always featured beautiful seemingly-perfect people (think of all the MGM stars, in their Technicolor gorgeousness) and magazines have always had stunning models on the covers in exotic locations many of us will never visit. I think the problem comes from a trickle-down effect. Handed down from mothers to daughters. Girls see their mothers worried about their weight and their wrinkles. They see their mothers comparing themselves to airbrushed models, and they begin to compare themselves, too. In Jane in Bloom, Jane’s mother has an eating disorder as well. Again, since the story is told through Jane’s eyes, the specifics are subtle. But she has an image of her own perfection that has impacted her daughters. Happiness eludes her because she hasn’t accepted herself, flaws and all.
I think our only defense is to enlighten our girls and ourselves. We need to embrace ourselves, no matter what our size, shape and color. We need to remind ourselves that self-esteem and confidence are the tools we need to accomplish our goals and fulfill our dreams. We need to show by example that we love ourselves, just as we are. And then we need to instill this in our daughters and our friends. Women need to reach out to other women to remind them of their inner beauty. We need to water our daughters, sisters and friend with support so they can bloom.
Jane learns to look inside herself and no longer compare herself to Elizabeth, or to anyone else. This is the message I hope will reach girls who read this book—I want them to see how special they are and to nurture and value themselves. Jane’s babysitter and friend, Ethel, says it best, “‘We live in a world filled with comparisons. We’re always being compared. Asked to conform to a certain size, a certain weight, a certain beauty. But we have to learn to live with what’s in here,’ Ethel taps her chest. ‘Because we live with it forever. Believe me, beauty fades. But who you are inside, that’s who you can really depend on.’”