Mental Health in YA Literature ~ Part II

Natalie Noel Truitt brings you the second installment of her three part series on mental health in literature.

How far would you go to feel loved and accepted?

For some people the answer is more extreme than others. It’s a problem that we see all over society. So few feel good enough. Some are quiet about it, some post it all over social media, and some take it much, much further.

For some it causes panic attacks, for some self-mutilating actions, and for some skipping meals or purging what little they eat. Sometimes it can go the other way too. People become so selfish and prideful that they don’t care how they affect others. They have the mindset that since they are pretty they are above others.

As Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” So many people forget that attractive isn’t a synonym for beautiful.

We can find so many examples in literature, both old and new, of this root of a problem that has caused so much mental distress.

First off, Snow White. Ah, a classic. Most everyone knows this timeless tale. We see two beautiful women and how they handle this beauty. The queen is incredibly jealous that there might be someone else in the land that is more beautiful than she is, to the point that murder seems like a viable option. Snow White, on the other hand, knows that beauty doesn’t lie solely on the exterior but ultimately is on the inside. Snow White’s kindness makes her infinitely more beautiful than the queen. If the queen could have just seen that that was what she was missing, her obsession would have died down, and she could’ve been happy with who she was.

Another example is more modern, proving that this can start young. In Ramona and Beezus, although not spoken about directly, Ramona sees herself as imperfect. She wants to be just like her sister, but at her young age she can’t. She isn’t old enough to even realize what her feelings could lead to, but she naturally surrounds herself with positive people who make her feel beautiful, until she believes that she really is.

Another modern example is the book Running Lean by Diana Sharples. This is a book that’s a bit scary in this area because of how true it can be. I started this article with a question: How far would you go to feel loved and accepted? In Stacey’s eyes, she cannot be loved unless she is stick thin. Why would her boyfriend, Calvin, want anything different? She eats as little as possible, purging anything she must consume to relieve suspicion. In her mind, after all, she is not sick. She is fat and needs to be thin, and nothing will ease this insecurity.

It’s a long dark path that leads to a trip to a hospital when her body can no longer take it, the same long, dark path that so many others go down. We are a society that seriously struggles with self worth.

It’s hard to find a balance between pride and insecurity, but surrounding oneself with positive people is a good start. Smile. Learn to love yourself. There’s a good chance that everyone else already does, so you should too.