Alibi V.12 No.30 • July 24-30, 2003 

Art Article

Womanly Desires

Appetites: Why Women Want

Caroline Knapp
Counterpoint
hardcover
$24

The late Caroline Knapp, best-selling author of Drinking: A Love Story and Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs, died of lung cancer a year ago. She guided readers through the intimate world of canine commitment with her dog Lucille. Knapp humbly demystified female experiences of alcoholism through her own alcoholism, and undoubtedly prompted many women to venture into their first AA meetings.

In her final book, Appetites: Why Women Want, Knapp gives her readers an expansive autobiography that on the surface may seem to be just another book about eating disorders, but is actually a book that confronts cultural dictates that insidiously curtail women's hungers, not only for physical sustenance, but for fulfillment, identity and personal power.

Relying as usual on her reservoir of direct personal experience, Knapp begins with her own past imprisonment in the compulsive confines of anorexia. Her descriptions of her skeletal form and cruel daily food allotment (a container of yogurt, an apple, a very few cubes of cheese) dismember her form into mere parts. For anyone suffering from anorexia, the author makes it plain that transcending appetite is the all-consuming goal in mastering virtually any need.

As Knapp emerges from the prison of anorexia, she addresses the unspoken mental rants and laws of diminishing returns that many women subscribe to in order to negotiate their yearnings for food with distorted body images. The numbing escapism of compulsive eating and the silent wasting of anorexia are not the only self-destructive behaviors that are addressed in Appetites. The author eloquently targets false outlets that keep women spending excessive dollars and even more valuable energy and perspective.

Appetites occasionally seems to be a simple equation of a problem (eating disorders, compulsive shopping, sex addiction, obsessive relationships) balanced with the appropriate 12-Step program to remedy the turmoil. But in an age when gastric bypasses are becoming increasingly acceptable, having the alternative of Overeater's Anonymous garner multiple mentions is deeply reassuring and a call to confront fundamental behaviors that fuel any addiction or compulsion.

Unabashedly focused on upper middle class women, Appetites takes a fresh look at the avenues of power, education and choices feminism has opened to generations of women. Choices regarding reproduction, careers, marriage and family may seem elementary, but the greatest strength of this book is its insight into how certain unspoken cultural edicts can create bewildering conflicts for modern women. Beyond the fear of weight and precarious self-control, Appetites targets spiritual, emotional and power imbalances that keep women immobilized when it comes to relishing what is actually on their plates.