The Definition of Beautiful

A Memoir

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Amazon Buy on Waterstones.com
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

1
To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add kindle@netgalley.com as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
2
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 1 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 15 Jan 2024
Colby Clair Stolson, Freehand Books

Talking about this book? Use #CharlotteBellows #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


Description

A stunning memoir of coming of age and recovering from anorexia in the 2020s

Charlotte Bellows wrote The Definition of Beautiful between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, in the wake of lockdown and in recovery from anorexia. In the tradition of Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar and Françoise Sagan in Bonjour Tristesse, Bellows writes with deceptively straightforward urgency, pushing through society’s constraints on the bodies and minds of girls and women to offer a story both achingly familiar and devastatingly new.

In 2020, fourteen-year-old Charlotte’s lifelong drive to achieve ‘perfection’ distorts into an all-encompassing obsession. Living between the suffocating world of lockdown and an uncanny dreamscape inhabited by competing avatars, Charlotte faces a parade of masked faces in hospital rooms, the aftermath of first love, the erosion of lifelong friendship, and the agony of seeing her illness devastate her family as it threatens to destroy her; as the world reopens, she finds new connections and mentors, new joy, new ways of thinking, new ways to be.

Charlotte Bellows offers a potent fusion of insight and innocence — a story for those who suffer or have suffered from eating disorders, but, more, a vital coming of age story of a young gay and artistic woman, tugged and throttled by a myriad of pressures, not least from the dark gravity that is the underside of her own creative drive.

A stunning memoir of coming of age and recovering from anorexia in the 2020s

Charlotte Bellows wrote The Definition of Beautiful between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, in the wake of lockdown...


A Note From the Publisher

Charlotte Bellows wrote this, her debut book, between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. She'll have a book published before she enters university!

Charlotte Bellows wrote this, her debut book, between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. She'll have a book published before she enters university!


Advance Praise

"In her stunning debut, Charlotte Bellows has crafted a work of searing honesty, beauty, and daring. She takes on the definition of beauty the world demands and in exquisite prose, in a structure uniquely hers, bravely carries the reader into anorexia’s devastating isolating alternate landscape, a landscape of heartbreak, hopelessness, and ultimate transcendence. It is an intimate story, yet universal to all who have felt despair. Its language sings as she opens to the reader the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit. I read this book breathless at its emotion, its intelligence, and its art." — Rosemary Nixon, author of Are You Ready to Be Lucky?

"Charlotte Bellows has bravely given us the opportunity to have an artistic understanding of what it means to live with an eating disorder. She calls into question why we aren’t doing more, and shows the power of beauty when people truly and emotionally show up." — Andrea Halwas Larsen, Registered Expressive Arts Therapy Consultant and Educator

"In her stunning debut, Charlotte Bellows has crafted a work of searing honesty, beauty, and daring. She takes on the definition of beauty the world demands and in exquisite prose, in a structure...


Marketing Plan

  • Author appearances: Calgary
  • National advertising
  • National targeted review mailing
  • Pitches to literary festivals
  • Author appearances: Calgary
  • National advertising
  • National targeted review mailing
  • Pitches to literary festivals

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781990601460
PRICE US$21.95 (USD)
PAGES 256

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (EPUB)
Download (EPUB)

Average rating from 20 members


Featured Reviews

Charlotte Bellows memoir is both poignant and unflinching. This is a deeply personal account through the voice of teen protagonist Charlotte.
We are introduced to Charlotte who is struggling in a Post Covid world to find her identity. She is plagued by many of the insecurities which many of us have in modern life and this makes her narrative highly relatable.

As someone with an interest in young adult fiction the themes and discussion which this provoked are relevant to young teenagers but also to older readers who may be supporting someone with the same struggles.

I found this a memorable read although at times it challenged some of my own ideas of beauty and idealism in modern society.

Sometimes a reader needs a writer to reach deep into their soul to achieve a memorable work. Charlotte Bellows is an accomplished writer which this work shows.

Was this review helpful?

Bellows was in Grade 9 when the pandemic shut the world down. With time to spare, she set about trying to lose some weight—and, in the privacy of a world removed from everyone else, but with seemingly half the Internet determined to lose lockdown weight, a diet spiralled into an eating disorder.

I'm intrigued by this as something of a pandemic memoir. It's not at all the focus, but I've read enough articles talking about the impact of the pandemic on mental health, and on eating disorders more specifically, that this feels like the beginning of what might be a wave of memoirs about that. At one point Bellows' therapist observes that "The timing really is awful ... You have an eating disorder during a global pandemic. Normally, as part of the healing process, you would reconnect with teenage life. But now, with all these restrictions, you're stuck in a tricky situation" (loc. 792*). Isolation exacerbated by isolation, I suppose.

Bellows wrote "The Definition of Beautiful" while coming out of that eating disorder—and out of the more restrictive pandemic regulations—and while still a teenager. It's not entirely unique for that latter point, but this particular book is a truly impressive feat for a teenager. Writing a good story or essay is one thing, but managing a full-length book is another thing for anyone, let alone a teenager, and Bellows does an excellent job with pacing in particular, and with to-the-point but fully realized scenes. There are some places where I think age might help (more on that in a moment), but on the whole this puts a lot of adult-written memoirs to shame. (One of my primary thoughts while reading was "This is clearly someone who reads a lot", which is always a good feeling.)

Two things that didn't work as well for me: First, a fair amount of the book takes place in Bellows' dreams, in a place she calls the Deep, which I'm not particularly keen on. I'm not actually sure if it's all actual (lucid?) dreams she had or more of a literary device to illustrate where one's mind tends to live during an eating disorder, but whether fiction of nonfiction dreams have always felt too intangible to hold my focus when reading. (Personal preference and your mileage may vary.) And second, at times—especially early on in the book—word choices and phrasing tilted a bit far towards angst. The book makes up for it in taking a clear-eyed (and almost numbers-free) look at the experience of illness and recovery, but that's really the one thing where I think time and distance would be a benefit.

Here's hoping that Bellows keeps writing. It'll be interesting to see where she goes with it, either fiction or nonfiction.

Thanks to the author and publisher for providing a review copy through NetGalley.

*I read an ARC, and quotes may not be final.

Was this review helpful?

This is an extraordinary first work by a promising young new author. She alternates between her real-life descent into life-threatenng anorexia and the struggle with parents and health professionals with noctural visits in a land called The Deep, where a boy named Ed (Eating Disorder) vows to protect her. He eventually becomes her captor. This is an excellent metaphor of the power of anorexia and bulimia to possess a person, and her writing does so magnificently. Her struggle to release herself from his grip and seek a healthy life is a result of a harrowing experience with him, but such is the impetus to healing from a chronic eating disorder. I look forward to more from this young writer.

Was this review helpful?

This is one of the most beautiful memoirs from a strong young author. Charlotte wrote her memoir about overcoming her eating disorder. She began writing this when she was 15 and later finished when she was 17.

Her story of overcoming her inner demons, her eating disorder, societal pressure and finding her inner beauty is extraordinary. She talks about “The Deep” and her captor, Ed in a meteorological way that any reader can understand the inner workings of her demons.

This book, I personally believe, will help so many girls and women struggling with their inner demons. Showing body positive and self love is achievable.

Thank you Netgalley and Freehand books for sharing the opportunity to read this beautiful memoir. An especially big thank you to Charlotte Bellows for sharing her journey.

Was this review helpful?

"You're beautiful, Charlotte." Out of the countless beautiful lines written in this book, this quote is by far my favorite.
I don't think I've ever read a memoir so touching in my life. The stark contrast between her attitude towards food and body image at the beginning and her ideals during recovery was so relatable and genuine.

The struggle of COVID and being isolated for so long poisoned people with the idea of re-emerging differently, particularly with weight. "I was alone in my head, until one day I realized I wasn't." Eating disorders don't usually happen overnight. They worsen over time and get out of hand. Hospitals refuse to acknowledge someone needs help because they aren't 'skinny enough' to be admitted yet, despite visually decaying. "People see dying and mistake it for beauty."

"Why is beauty so painful?"
"How do you save girls from daily living?"
The constant poison present every day on social media creates such an unrealistic standard of beauty for young girls that digits on a scale and food packages determine their entire youth. "Society's current definition of beauty isn't even human." The demanding idea of altering your body to receive praise and be adored sets so much pressure on girls that they deprive their bodies and themselves of joy.

Charlotte's forgiveness and acceptance at the end were admiring, especially with her parents. Throughout the entire book, I was rooting for her and knew she'd have to want to get better for herself. "There's a future out there that I'll be alive for."

The title speaks for itself. 'You're beautiful, Charlotte." After starving herself and battling death for the false idea of beauty, Charlotte gets told she's beautiful as she recovers and gives her body the love it needs. Beauty is everything and everywhere. Giving it a single definition would remove its meaning entirely. I hope Charlotte honestly is living her most beautiful life and persists in writing. Her words are beyond beautiful and will only bloom as she continues.

Was this review helpful?

This was a beautiful heart wrenching story. It’s amazing to read of the real struggles of women’s fight for finding our own beauty and how it can have such a surmount influence in our lives. This book is something I wouldn’t usually pick up but I’m so glad that I had the chance to read it.

Was this review helpful?

This novel tugged at my heart strings. A heartbreaking coming-of-age story of a 14-year-old girl recovering from anorexia. This book made me cry ugly tears; the strain that children, especially teenagers, are put under by the idea of chasing 'perfection,' especially from the media and society, is horrendous.

As children, we are conditioned to believe that what we see in the media is the standard, and as teenagers, this influences our attitudes towards one another in school, dating, friendships, and relationships; which includes our own relationship with our own bodies.

Charlotte's anorexia, the destruction of lifelong friendships, and the agony of seeing her illness devastate her family as it threatens to destroy her are all front and centre in this gut-wrenching memoir; as the world reopens, she finds new connections and mentors as she tries to overcome and understand her illness.

As I type this, I'm choking up with tears again; as a woman in my twenties, this story hit so close to home for teenage me, reflecting how badly society as a whole has failed us and will fail our children if we attempt to turn it around before it's too late.

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Was this review helpful?

Please read the trigger warning to this book as it has plenty, but wow, what a work. I love how--perhaps because the author is still so young--there's genuineness to the way it's written & the way it tells stories. To get into her head and all of the things passing through, how she illustrates it through the companion of Ed & The Mysterious Girl, the dreamscapes of it, yet there was hope and warmth and rawness of adolescence's peak and harsh high school days...? This is among my best read for the year. I am of healthy & well condition but I am on the thin side & it's eye opening to know that everyone felt cold when they're.. thin. And some of the.. how it gets painful & frail it's feeling sometimes to have to sit for a long time. Her relationship with food. The way she saw Dr. Blunt & wanting to get better, even if she hated it at first, at least to dodge that; but then that becomes the beginning of her getting better? I love it. Thank you for sharing your voice, Charlotte.

Thank you to publisher & Net Galley for allowing me the eARC copy in exchange for this honest review.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: