In her novel Lady Oracle, Margaret Atwood invites us to experience the reality of a once overweight child take on womanhood, love, body and self.
Our red-headed heroin Joan Foster, is a confused girl that drifts through life, continuously running from her past, struggling with self-acceptance. Her adolescent obesity which was constantly criticized and ridiculed by her mother and peers, led her to later on adopt multiple identities. After fleeing to England, she attempts to find her own voice through her work as a romance novelist, which she kept hidden from her husband whom she described to be bipolar and revolution-hungry. In the end, she feigns her own death and flees, in another miserable attempt to find acceptance she desperate craves. Joan inability to escape her reality, leads into her endless fantasies of happiness.
Who is Joan Foster? Joan’s life began with the idea of not being good enough. Her fight with obesity, and constant scrutiny from her mother and peers destroyed her self-worth. Atwood complete understanding was shocking, I was left reading a passage that was multilayered and very personal. I couldn’t help but reflect my own memories of the past. Growing up, I found myself constantly reminded that I was not wanted. My mother was beautiful and successful in her youth and she wished me to be the same. As I grew older, parallel to Joan’s mother, I was not what she had hoped. Society has pushed this impossible image of beauty for young girls and that you were either to fit in the category of being skinny and successful or fat and unwanted. Being fat meant you were never able to make eye contact with someone, to feel the constant need to stay hidden, and never to speak out. Even after losing weight, it can be challenging to feel worthy as all you ever viewed yourself as was an ugly fat girl.
Years of bullying and humiliation led me to truly believe I was worth nothing. Joan also struggled to see herself as anything other than the fat girl she once was. The significant emphasis we put on beauty by society since the beginning of time, often can change us as a person. We lose the ability to feel good, and our ability to self-love. The notion of beauty by society refrains us over our ability to reach our full potential. We naturally seek out beauty, and beautiful people are no exception. It can be seen that Joan struggles with her perception of self. She hates her past self yet it has been the only constant person in her life. After losing weight, she finds a reflection of her past. She attempts to run away from her past not realizing she will never be able to part with it unless she comes to term with it. Her perception has always been different than others, considering she has always been treated as an outsider. Her aunt, one of the only people she truly loved in her life, wanted her to lose 100 pounds.
The idea of self-love was never an option. Joan believed that the only way to achieve true happiness was to be skinny. She shies from reality, running from her past, creating new lies and identity for people she meets. She is trapped in her own mind. She craves love yet at the same time is not willing to reveal herself to anyone in fear of rejection. She is incapable of trusting anyone. Her inability to self-love and self-acceptance remains prevalent throughout the novel. In Joan’s continuous attempts of escaping her past, she partakes in a cycle of her own self-created misery. She runs from everything in her life; her mother, Arthur, her past, her obesity. She fails to learn that she will never be able to run away as her past will always haunt her. How can anyone be happy with themselves when they are constantly living a life full of lies. In the end, her lies has finally caught up. Her decision to discontinue her Costume Gothics demonstrate that she is no longer willing to be part of make belief role as a victim. Perhaps, she has learned her lesson.
Life is short, when we are unable to love ourselves, we are holding back from what we can truly achieve. Joan, a once obese girl now seemingly successful, is now stuck in a reality she created. Her dissatisfaction results in her frustration with everyone around her. She wishes for an escape from her life yet she does not see all the opportunities she has lost within her own. Joan is a reflection of society, always wanting to be saved but unable to be see that there is no one capable of rescuing you from yourself.