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A personal and cultural look at the dark underbelly of Western beauty standards and the lethal culture of disordered eating they've wrought
“Electric with insight, and suffused with a strange, stubborn tenderness—a deep regard for what intimacy, hope, and resistance might look like in a world where women are taught to devote their lives to destroying themselves.” —Leslie Jamison, author of The Recovering
In Dead Weight, Emmeline Clein recounts her struggle with disordered eating alongside the stories of other women: historical figures, pop culture celebrities, and the girls she’s known and loved. Through the story of her own sickness, the raw recollections of interview subjects, and dispatches from social media rabbit holes, Clein challenges stereotypes and renders statistics and science deeply personal and urgent. From her first encounters with icons of the thin ideal to her years ricocheting between hunger and bingeing, from the pro-anorexia blog that unexpectedly saved someone’s life to the residential treatment centers that make so many people sicker, from a wrenching elegy for those who didn’t survive to a manifesto for sisterhood, solidarity, and recovery, Clein uncovers girlhood’s appetites and injuries to reveal the economic, cultural, and political history of an epidemic.
Dead Weight makes the case that we are faced with a culture of suppression, self-denial, and self-harm, an insidious, pervasive, and dangerous American cult of femininity rooted in racism and misogyny. Tracing the medical and cultural histories of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder and investigating the recent rise of orthorexia, Clein reveals the economic conditions underpinning diet culture, and grapples with the ways today’s feminism can be complicit in propping up the fetish of self-shrinking.
Drawing on a kaleidoscopic array of sources—from cult classic films like Jennifer’s Body to the aughts-era Tumblrverse, the writing of Simone Weil, Chris Kraus, and Anne Boyer to the medieval canon of anorexic saints—Clein calls for a feminism that doesn’t compel women to shrink their bodies to increase their value, urging radical acceptance of all our appetites instead: for food, connection, and love. A sharp, perceptive, and revelatory polemic about the external forces that shape our lives, Dead Weight is electrifying, unapologetically bold, and fiercely compassionate.
About the Author
EMMELINE CLEIN's writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Yale Review, The Nation, Smithsonian, Berlin Quarterly, VICE, BuzzFeed, Catapult and Antigravity, among other publications. Her chapbook Toxic was published by Choo Choo Press in 2022. She received her MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts; she lives in New York.
“Dead Weight is a lyrical and scrupulously researched portrait of disordered eating in its many manifestations, which is also, of course, a portrait of this country's disordered relationship to women's bodies. An authoritative, generous, and persuasive debut that I wish I could go back in time and gift to my teenage self.” —Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
“This book is a bomb, made of all of the fury and intensity of any girl who wonders what exactly they are hungering for. Emmeline Clein, everybody! The Joan Didion of the Tumblr era. This manifesto is meant to be devoured, in all of its witty, compassionate, feverish, elegantly argued brilliance.” —Kate Zambreno author of Heroines
“Dead Weight is a blistering debut— stylish, sharp, and smarter than anything else I’ve read about the fraught and gendered terrain of disordered eating in America. These essays are kaleidoscopic and virtuosic: With rigor and curiosity, she writes about Simone Weil and the history of the virtuous anorexic saint to the arrival of Ozempic on the mass market to the moral question of categorizing an eating disorder patient as ‘terminal.’ Deeply researched, highly literary, rageful and tender, Dead Weight offers new and urgent angles on this familiar subject.” —Jordan Kisner, author of Thin Places
“[Clein] pulls no punches in her analysis of eating disorders and their psychological underpinnings, and her prose style is urgent, intense, and often captivating . . . This is a book that deserves attention—not just by those suffering from eating disorders, but by anyone trying to understand this insidious phenomenon.” —Kirkus Reviews [starred]
“Essayist Clein’s stellar debut collection probes the inciting factors and effects of eating disorders in young women . . . Clein skillfully weaves together pop culture anecdotes, personal reflections, and analysis of social media posts in prose that’s vivid and sharp . . . This announces Clein as a talent to watch.” —Publishers Weekly [starred]