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Words words words words

When I am ill and can’t eat, or when eating is painful and unpleasant, I can usually feed on words and that means a lot to me.  While I’ve been sick I’ve been reading a lot, and that’s included some old friends.  And this is one of the best, oldest ones and I’d like to talk about it:


Most Australian girls will recognise this book, and hopefully a fair few international ones as well. This is my beloved copy — there are crumbs in the spine, a couple of stains and a fairly dog-eared corner — bought when I was 12 years old and about to start high school.  It’s an incredible book. As the tagline says, it’s about body and beauty: there are chapters on eating and exercise — covering healthy eating and eating disorders — as well as body image, body shapes and the beauty and fashion industries.  The whole thing is groaning with Kaz’s cartoons and her wonderful, clear, dry, funny language and I fell in love with it as soon as I got it home. While growing up, this book was tremendously empowering, even though that wasn’t a word I really understood: it made me realise just how manipulative many industries are when it comes to preying on women’s self-esteem in the pursuit of profit; it made me think critically about the messages about womanhood and women’s bodies that we are FLOODED with in Western mass culture, especially in regard to shape and weight; it made me abandon the idea of dieting as a duty and it made me resistant (at times violently) to the whole “I’m so fat!” culture that is rife in womens’ changerooms around Australia (“I’m so fat!” “No you’re not, I am!” “You’re fat, what about this!” [repeat until everyone is dead]).  These are all pretty major lessons to learn, and being fortified with them right on the cusp of high school was incredibly good fortune for me.  I love this book, and I seriously consider its influence on my personality and attitudes huge. I’m glad I reread it while I’ve been sick.

It’s now out of print, but there is a website: Completely Gorgeous, which looks as though it contains a lot — maybe all? — of the original text and cartoons, free and accessible (as it should be).  Kaz Cooke is a wonderful, wonderful writer and I love her commitment to women’s health, both physical and emotional.  She went on to write “Women’s Troubles” with her herbalist, Ruth Trickey, all about women’s reproductive health, and balancing medicine with alternative- and self-care. I’ve just finished reading that too — more out of a burning need to read more Kaz than through any particular health concerns, though I have received some quizzical glances from housemates.  Although the chapters on self-care and diet are really good and practically worth the cost of admission on their own. Kaz also went on to write “Up the Duff”, which is on my reading pile (I’m going to have to change that phrase, it sounds too…bottom-related) next: again, because I want more of Kaz’s writing and I can’t find the box that I’ve packed all her other, non-health-related books in.  Kaz’s writing on women’s health covers a lot of territory: “Real Gorgeous” looked at body image and self-esteem; “Women’s Troubles” did reproductive health; “Up the Duff” covered pregnancy and childbirth (not jut physiological, either, but a lot of social/emotional/psychological stuff, which I think tends to be shunted to one side when pregnancy health chatter comes along); and “Girl Stuff” (her most recent one, which I’ve not read) did teenage girl health, a sadly-neglected area.  The woman rocks.

Kaz Cooke is one of my all-time, big, serious-inspiration heroes: she’s insightful, bold, dynamic and damned funny.  Actually, since writing this post, I suspect I’m going to re-read “Real Gorgeous”. Again. Or possibly just recite it to myself.

Clicky for Kaz’s website.

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