Author Eisha Marjara provides insights into her latest book.
Montreal, February 26 (CINEWS): One of the movie posters of Kubrick’s 1962 film Lolita reads “No longer a child…Not yet a woman. WHAT IS SHE?” When I saw that I thought, “that’s amazing. I completely relate to that.” It so perfectly and succinctly exemplified how I envisioned the experience of anorexia, one that I developed in my novel Faerie. Seventeen-year-old Lila, the protagonist, develops a condition that puts her life and growth on hold. She’s in between states of development and skirting life and death. Her severely shrunken frame embodies a figure that doesn’t look quite human; it’s unearthly, a creature she calls “faerie.” This creature represents a suspension of not only growth, but of Lila’s identity. She looks like neither child, nor adult. Her emaciated body lacking feminine curves and a menstrual cycle, is vaguely female, if at all human. The question the novel asks is, “How did she get to be this way?”
The experience of adolescence is wrought with change, upheaval and loss. One of the factors that seem to define Lila’s journey is the loss of her childhood. Childhood, especially for girls, comes with freedoms that seem to be taken away in one complete swoop, often at the onset of her period. The freedom of mobility, of exploration. The freedom to run, play, climb, dance, to touch. The liberty to show and receive affection. Her body has become sexual. Her sexuality, she learns is something that must be reigned in, measured and controlled. If not, it evokes shame and dishonour to her and to her family. It could even put her in danger. It’s a time that makes adults very afraid. In Naomi Wolf’s book ‘Promiscuities: The Secret Struggle for Womanhood’, she says that this experience contradicts what adolescence is supposed to be about: relationships, exploration of the world and her place in it, a process that’s crucial for the formation of her identity. Wolf says in her own words, we live in a culture that devalues women and girls’ sexual desires and experiences. I would say outright: we’re scared to death of them. Girls are held to a standard boys are not. Boys are encouraged to do the exact opposite. We live in a culture that sexualizes young girls, yet refuses to allow them to explore and express sexually. The double standard and hypocrisy send very confusing messages to girls at a very crucial part of their lives. With so much scrutiny and rules, girls learn that their bodies don’t belong to themselves.
In Faerie, the losses in Lila’s life build with each new painful experience and give birth to the faerie creature that grows inside of her. Her desire becomes nullified; depression and melancholia take over. Human emotions and her will to live fall away. No longer does the culture need to put her into her place: she learns to do it to herself. She internalizes the conditioning and controls herself. She learns to shame herself. To control her desires. To starve her body. To be a good girl. She develops a full blown eating disorder and ends up in the hospital.
Anorexia is considered a white girl’s disease. However, that perception has been changing. Eating disorders are prevalent amongst males and appears in all minority groups, including East and South Asians. Anorexia is deadly. According to many sources, it is the mental illness with the highest mortality rate. Although Faerie is entirely fictional, it draws from my own experiences. I had come from a home with a Punjabi mother who grew up in India where plump girls were heralded for their robust voluptuous beauty. But all around me—on TV, magazines, movies—were leggy, svelte models and celebrities, mostly all white, flawlessly beautiful in their prepubescent-like bodies. Inevitably this led to an obsession to be thin, a desire to look white, and reject my South Asian female identity.
As a writer and filmmaker, my work focusses on gender, sexuality and identity. The Incredible Shrinking Woman was a witty and satirical take on body image and gender politics. Feature NFB docudrama Desperately Seeking Helen was a more complex exploration of coming of age and identity as a child of immigrants. My current film Venus is a gender-bending dramedy about a transgender woman, who discovers that she’s a father of a thirteen-year-old boy.
Faerie, published by Arsenal Pulp Press, is a YA novel that will also appeal to adults. I hope it will inspire and touch young people, especially South Asian girls and give readers insight of one girl’s journey into womanhood.