Misfit by Charli Howard: My Review
Rating: 3/5 stars
I'm one of those people who always finds it quite difficult to review memoirs, especially when I'm critiquing them, because something about placing a rating on an author's real unique experiences/thoughts and analyzing them doesn't feel quite right. When it comes to Misfit, Charli is telling a very personal mental illness story about her eating disorders but it was only a very short time after this point in her life when she wrote it, which leads me to think she still wasn't thinking perfectly during this process. As always with autobiographical works, I'm going to give my honest objective point of view about what I read.
The other thing was less a problem with the book and more just to do with the point in my life that I read it. While her story is one that everyone should be aware of, you can definitely tell that Misfit was targeted towards a younger audience as I found the writing was quite young and simplistic. Yes, she writes in a very unfiltered and honest way, but as an older reader I did get frustrated with it. I must say, if I had read this book a couple of years ago when I would have been able to relate so much to Charli, I know I would have absolutely loved it and been very moved by it. However, due to moving on from past issues and personal growth, I went into it at 16 already knowing the reality behind how body image is portrayed in the media so I didn't personally get a whole lot out of it. That being said, I still think there is a lot that many other readers can gain from Misfit.
Before picking up Misfit, I actually had no idea who Charli Howard was - somehow her fame as a model and body-positive activist completely escaped me. However, it was really nice going into her memoir knowing nothing about her life, in the same way I like going into fiction books knowing nothing about the plot, because I had the chance to be introduced to a really inspirational woman and her story without knowing how it was going to end up.
In her memoir, Charli highlights some extremely important things regarding weight and mental health and the mythical concept of 'a perfect body'. We follow her from when she is a young girl, constantly moving from place to place, making new friends in new schools, and eventually developing an obsession with food and being thin which leads to her severe disordered eating in the form of anorexia and bulimia. When she was 17, she decided to become a model and from here she really exposes the horror within modelling agencies, how she was forced to fit into certain categories of beauty.
In 2015, when Charli was 23, had been modelling for 6 years and starving herself for 10, she got a call from her agent after returning from a shoot in Stockholm where she was asked to model a pair of leather trousers. Her agent told her she was "too big to fit into the trousers" and "just never going to be small enough". She was a size 6. She'd been going to the gym for five hours a week. She'd been eating cotton wool soaked in orange juice. Although this wasn't the first time they'd told her to "tone up", it was the first time she'd felt pure anger, so on her way home she wrote a Facebook post basically saying a big f*ck you to her model agency and the fashion industry. The post when viral and soon after this she moved to New York to work for a new agency which embraced her natural shape as a slim size 10.
I'm really glad this book exists for the way it cracks down on body negativity and how dangerous this can be to your mental health. I think Misfit is a brilliant book for young girls to read who believe they should look like the models they see on Instagram, magazine front pages, online shopping websites, etc, because Charli's story really does unveil the truth behind all the supposedly 'perfect' photos we see.
Unfortunately, there were a few things about Misfit that I did not like at all. To start, I REALLY hated the condescending tone of the writing at times and the way she spoke about her mental illnesses. At one point, she jokes that there was "no childhood trauma to excuse me from going completely mental" and I could have screamed. It just sounded to me like she was suggesting that developing a mental illness is some kind of weakness of character, that there should always be some excusable reason behind it, that if you have anxiety then you are just letting the stupid thoughts win. Even if this isn't what she intended, her choice of words just rubbed me up the wrong way so many times and, while I appreciate she was trying to be light-hearted and make her book accessible, it just didn't feel like the right way to tackle such heavy topics. But that's just me.