A New Name: When it’s bad to be the ‘good girl’

A New Name – Emma Scrivener

What kind of label did you have as you were growing up?

 
There are many ways that we’re labelled to differentiate ourselves from others.  Amongst our family or friends we become known as ‘the pretty one’, ‘the funny one’, ‘the smart one’, ‘the rebel’, ‘the loud one’.  These labels form part of our identity, and we do our best to keep hold of them if they are positive or shake them off if they are negative.

 

In my family, I was the ‘good one’. I was also ‘the clever one’. They are, as labels go, fairly positive ones to have. But even these positive things can become destructive so easily. How do you know when you are ‘good enough’?  How do you know when you are clever enough?

 
This is something that Emma Scrivener explores in her new book, ‘A New Name’. She was the ‘good one’, the ‘clever one’ – but it didn’t feel enough. She became a Christian at the age of 13, and soon after she developed an eating disorder.

 

Feeling unsure of her identity, both as a teenager and as a Christian, anorexia gave her a sense of identity. In the midst of uncertainty, anorexia gave her back control.

 
She showed me anorexia

 

I found it to be an unexpected read. Firstly because it was so well-written and compelling I found myself staying up late to read it; I was gripped from the first page.  It is one of the most beautifully written, witty and engaging autobiographies I have ever read.

 
This description of anorexia gives you an idea of her gift with words:

 

“You see, the face of anorexia is a terrible thing. It’s not a glossy model in a perfume ad. Or a delicate patient, emaciated, yet beautiful. It’s a cadaver, cloaked in sequins, modelling her new clothes. It’s a starving animal, circling the empty cupboards. A creature, splattered in vomit, blank eyed and vacant. A child, rocking back and forwards in the darkness. Foraging through the bins for mouldy bread. Chewing it and spitting it out. It a face frozen in a rictus grin, mouthing lies. ‘I’m fine’, it says. ‘Everything is under control.'” A New Name, p. 121

 
Emma writes so vividly and honestly about how it feels to have an eating disorder. I have read a fair amount on eating disorders but this was the first time I really felt I had an understanding of what anorexia felt like and its complex causes.

 
Somehow she manages to convey simultaneously the addictive pull of obsessively reducing your food intake as a way of gaining back control on your life, whilst also exposing the horror of slowly starving yourself to death. Her writing walks the tightrope of the cold logic and sheer madness of an eating disorder. As I read it I felt both with her.

 
She showed me myself

 
But as well as beautiful, it was a disconcerting read. I thought I would be reading about Other People: People Who Get Eating Disorders – and I was confronted with myself.  The picture she painted of the unsure teenager, the perfectionist student could have been me. I don’t have an eating disorder, but she wrote my story.

 

Underneath, we have the same spiritual problem. We had the same idol. The impulse to succeed, the desire to excel, the determination to prove oneself and push yourself. The desire for control over things that you can’t control.

 

“As my eating disorder took hold, I was just as ‘religious’ as I’d always been. I was still trusting in God. The difference was that this god had a small, rather than a capital ‘g’. And surprise, surprise, it was a god that looked just like me. The god of performance, hard work, externals and rituals. A god that gave nothing of itself, but demanded everything in return.” A New Name, p. 83

 
The consequences of her idol were an eating disorder; the consequences of my idol were a few brushes with moderate-severe depression and then refusing to listen to my body when it was getting more ill. But the idol was the same. I suspect that we are not the only ones.

 
We tend to dismiss perfectionism as the one acceptable weakness that you can list in a job interview. But it is dangerous and destructive.

 
She showed me Jesus

 

There was one part of the book that left me in tears. It was not the part where her mother was confronted for the first time with the sight of her near-skeletal body, nor when she realised that she was in love with her friend who had just been kicked out of the country.

 
The part where I cried was at the turning point in Emma’s recovery, when, having been a Christian for many years, she begged for his help and was confronted with the person of Jesus.

 
In Jesus, we escape the labels and the need to prove ourselves. He gives us a new name, a fresh start, a new identity.  Her exposition of Revelation touched me deeply; it was such a loving and beautiful description of our saviour, and it left me in worshipful tears.

 

If you, like me, are someone who struggles with feeling weak, and wants to see Jesus more clearly, I suggest you buy this book immediately, whether or not you know anyone who has an eating disorder.

 
Through writing so honestly about the clay jar of her body and character, she exposes the treasure of the gospel, and the gentleness and beauty of Jesus. A New Name is one of those best kinds of biographies (and indeed, the best kinds of lives): those which reveal their character truly, weaknesses and all, and in so doing allow Jesus to shine through.

 
Buy her book, A New Name here
Emma blogs at A New Name

 
Over to you:

  • What was your ‘label’ as a child? Did you like it?
  • Can you relate to the need to prove yourself?

Linking up with WIP Weds, Joy in this Journey (Life:Unmasked)
  and

Beholding Glory

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13 Responses to A New Name: When it’s bad to be the ‘good girl’

  1. Cat 28th August, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    I have yet to read this book but very much want to – I have no doubt it will confront me with my idols too.
    I can relate to needing to prove myself. I need to prove that although I am a woman I can be a good staff worker and although I am working I can be a good wife. I want to prove that my opinion is valued and prove that just because I am a bit shy doesnt mean I dont have something to say. I guess I want to prove that I am a good christian too. No idea who I am trying to prove that to – probably myself and maybe everybody else. haha! It seems rather silly reading that back. I am so glad Jesus loves me and I dont have to prove myself to him – even though sometimes I try to! 🙂

    • Tanya 29th August, 2012 at 8:15 am #

      This is the glorious thing about blogging – you can put your inner thoughts out there and think, ‘oh no- I bet I’m the only one who thinks like this’ and then someone encourages you with a ‘you too? Me too!’

      I think honesty and self-awareness are such an important part of the battle, and as you say, it’s such a gift that we don’t need to prove ourself to Jesus. We are pre-approved! 🙂

  2. Mary Beth 27th August, 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    Wow that does sound like a great book. I was also labeled the “good one” or the “smart one”. It’s been challenging to not allow those labels to define me or give me affirmation.

    Thanks for linking up with WIP Wednesday!

    • Tanya 28th August, 2012 at 10:03 am #

      Hello, fellow good girl! Thanks for stopping by again. Much love x

  3. Mia 22nd August, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Dear Tanya
    I am quite disturbed and sad by your post; not because of what you have so beautifully portrayed, but by the emotions and memories that surfaced of my own idol, the endless striving to earn love. Thanks to brave souls like yourself, Emma and others who have shared their struggles and stories, I have started to write my own blog and the healing our Lord Jesus has brought to my soul is quite profound. I am still not able to share everything, but are making good progress. Emma’s story is so personal, yet so familiar!
    If you want you can visit my blog at hisnlovingembrace@wordpress.com. My insecurities started I think with my mom’s death when I was 3 and the label I always tried to overcome was that of the family’s black sheep. I hope to be able to share more in the future. Blessings .
    Mia

    • Tanya 23rd August, 2012 at 11:34 am #

      It’s so encouraging to me that I was able to communicate some of the heart of Emma’s book – your reaction is evidence of that. There’s something about honesty that calls deep into our souls. I’ve so enjoyed reading your first couple of posts, and wanted to encourage you to share your heart at your own pace, within what you feel to be safe. These things are precious.

      I felt really sad at reading that your label was the ‘black sheep’, and of your mother’s death at such a young age. These sound like hard things to carry. I hope that the stirring up of these emotions and memories will not remain disturbing, but foster healing. Much love and prayers. xx

  4. Jo 22nd August, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Oh my!
    I know there are many people out there who are dogged by the idol of perfectionism and the unrelenting god of performance, but so many who don’t know or don’t recognise it. I’m so thankful that God brings it to our attention in such gentle, yet meaningful ways (such as through Emma’s book for you).
    I’m the good girl who so long as she didn’t rock the boat or show off as a child, met with parental approval – even as a christian, how hard it is to shake off such ingrained behaviour as an adult, deal with the depressive episodes or whatever way it manifests itself. There is so much else I could say here and perhaps that is material for a personal blog in the future!
    Bless you girl x

    • Tanya 23rd August, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      Thanks so much for your comments, Jo! Saying hi to a fellow good girl. I think you’re right – these things do go pretty deep. (I kinda hope you get to rock the boat and show off every now and again these days, though…)
      Much love x

  5. Dominique 22nd August, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    This post has come at such a timely moment for me. Thank you.
    Just as Emma’s book made you cry, so has your post made me shed some tears. I don’t have an eating disorder either but I saw myself, recognising the idol of perfectionism and the unrelenting god of performance. Thank you, not only for the reminder that perfectionism is dangerous and destructive but, more importantly, that Jesus is my identity-giver. How often I have told young people that and yet still struggle to remember it myself..! I’m off to buy that book…
    Hope you will keep writing, Tanya, for as long as God gives you strength. 2 Corinthians 9:12

    • Tanya 23rd August, 2012 at 11:22 am #

      Oh – lovely Dominique – when I read your comment I also cried!
      I think it was more than your kind words – I was thinking of a coffee shop in Oxford and tears and chocolate and your beautiful soul. MUCH love xx

  6. Jenni Mullinix 22nd August, 2012 at 1:25 pm #

    Sounds likes a great book! Thanks for sharing!

    • Tanya 23rd August, 2012 at 11:20 am #

      Thanks – it really is excellent!

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