• Book Review: Body Stories by Lisa West-Smith

    Skills: Resources

    From Contributor: Jana Eilermann

    I was recently paroozing the internet looking for a graduate program that sparked my interest. As I was browsing the website for the Association of Experiential Education, I started looking at their books on sale. On that list I found a collection of narratives about women transforming body image through outdoor adventure. The book is called Body Stories by Lisa West-Smith, Ph.D, a therapist specializing in eating disorders in the Greater Cincinnati area. I was so excited to find this book as the subject is essentially my senior project and my major area of interest and practice.

    Initially, I had a hard time putting the book down and felt like my highlighter and note taking pencil were permanently attached to my right hand, while book remained secure in my left. The book is split into three sections: defining, transforming and exploring. I am a person who loves numbers, facts and figures so the introduction spoke to that part of me. Beyond that, the personal accounts were so moving. Largely, I enjoyed reading responses to questions including, “What does it mean to be beautiful?” and, “What makes you feel at home in your body?” These women get it. They were able to put into words everything that I have been feeling but unable to express.

    Themes included the stress one feels when looking into a mirror and picking apart her body, but when engaging in high adrenaline outdoor activities the mind and the body work together and create one strong being. How many outdoor activities require so much mental strength that the participant is unable to focus on much else and thus feels a sense of peace as the chatter in her head quiets? One woman wrote about her increased fitness through an enjoyable activity with friends and the strength she has built from it – and from that physical strength, mental strength and self-love. She closes with the statement, “Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I’d spend my fortieth birthday cavorting around on rocks in the sun, taking pictures of myself and loving myself.” (West-Smith, qtd. Mary McClintock, p. 101) Another woman writes of a solo backpacking trip she took to get away from the stress of life at home with her husband and an unfulfilling job. She concludes, “my flailing at a culture that wants to define me as tiny and decorative and superficial exhausts and defeats me. But here in the wilderness, solo, I am strong and alive. I float in a still pool.” (West-Smith, qtd. Ann Vilen, p. 94).

    Much of this book spoke to me and what I have been feeling over the past years as I have found my own solace and strength in nature. This book however does have its sections that make me go “Hmm?”. For instance, there is an interview in which the author asks what makes a person beautiful. This interviewee’s response was hard for me to read. Personally, I feel that any question like that opens the door to an array of “shoulds” and generalizations for a large population of people, in this case women. One of the things Heidi has drilled into my brain over the past year is to “[not] should all over yourself!” It took me a while to work my way through this section as I tried to not should all over myself even though I felt like I was being told to do so. My other point of concern is the final section where a female climber develops anorexia through rock climbing with her boyfriend. It was graphic and hit a little too close to home for my taste. It felt like it didn’t quite fit with the message of the book as a whole.

    Aside from these few concerning sections, this book was a fantastic and easy read. I felt connected in some way to each of the contributing writers and the community of outdoor women at large.

    If you’re looking for a quick and mind opening read, look up Body Stories edited by Lisa West-Smith.

    About the Contributor: Jana Eilermann was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. After moving to Brevard, NC in 2009 to pursue degrees in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, as well as Integrated Studies focusing on Social Science and Environmental Studies, Jana began a life journey she never expected. After a series of events, Jana found herself on a surprising journey of introspection. Jana embarked on this journey toward self-care and recovery from an eating disorder in April 2011, and has since made great strides. After lots of hard work under the mentorship of Heidi Houser and the dream team at Tapestry, Jana is excited to share her journey toward mindfulness and balance with the world on her blog: FantasticalMorsels.