I’d reached out to Jen prior to reading her book after the two of us connected on Instagram in order to gauge her interest regarding a guest spot on my podcast, The O.D. Movement, an open discussion on addiction obsessed the perspectives of those who have been impacted- directly or indirectly- by the disease. I was sent a digital copy of the book’s manuscript to prepare for our interview (the two part podcast is available on itunes, Soundcloud, and on the OD site: Pt. 1 & Pt. 2).
Spoiler Alert: Feminism is a central theme in this piece of work. After all, the book is titled Shape of a Woman and it’s the redemption song of a self-proclaimed female misogynist so how could it not be? Jen Elizabeth’s memoir is so much more than a woman regaining touch with her femininity as the title implies. I expected to be out of my element as a man reading the book my perceived limitations assumed from the book’s title. The fact of the matter is that because of the addiction angle Ms. Elizabeth’s book transcends the gender theme.
Staying true to its tone the book is in large part female empowerment but intertwined with enough significant undertones on individual strength and perseverance to keep even the most machismo of readers engaged. Shape of a Woman plays out as an unapologetic chronologically of the author’s life. Jen tells her story, as only she can, and does so magnificently. She’s lived a life right out of a movie, complete with a Hollywood ending where she slays her personal demons.
Jen was two years old when her family joined a religious “movement” (cult) and moved across the country from California to Alabama. By age five one of the churches “Shepards,” the term the group used for their religious leaders, begun grooming her. The exploitation soon turned into sexual abuse, which lasted until she was nine years old. She was introduced to alcohol around twelve years old and from that point things were off to the races as they say.
Substance abuse and mental illness ran wild in Jen’s family making both mental health and family relationships two of the other main themes present in this book. Some manifestations of mental illness included bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, munchausen syndrome, and munchausen by proxy. Jen eloquently articulated what it was like to grow up with a mentally ill mother, a father who practiced avoidance, and a brother who’s become consumed in the cycle of mental illness.
A 26 year old Jen was locked up, during this stint in jail she reached out to her parents and told them for the first time of the sexual abuse she endured at five. Although it would be another eight years before Jen achieved sobriety, this period of incarceration had a profound effect on her. While on the verge of breaking she allowed herself to cry, for the first time in years, out of sorrow for the little girl she used to be.
While serving a four year sentence in prison Jen had an experience that would change her life forever; an instance she herself could only describe as Divine Intervention:
He (God, a Higher Power) intervened on my piece of shit life and gave me the courage to make the most frightening decision I had ever made before. I chose to stop running. To turn around and make a sound. I would like to say that I roared at my demons like a mighty lion. But in truth my voice was a barely audible squeal.
This is not a book for the faint hearted, as Jen touches on some pretty heavy topics ranging from sexual and emotional abuse to addiction and toxic family relationships she doesn’t hold much back. If there’s one area of criticism I had on the book it’s that it leaves the reader wanting more. There’s areas I’d have liked to had explored in greater detail, such as the relation between her and her sibling, although emphasizing the the maternal relationship makes sense given the books overarching theme. Seeing as how Jen’s a first time author, and since her story could fill volumes, such a critique is nitpicking. I’ll admit a level of bias on my part for having been given the opportunity to get to know Jen on a more personal level through the podcast. Nonetheless, this is an excellent book for anyone interested in feminism, addiction, or mental health. More specifically, it’s ideal for anyone who has experienced addiction, toxic relationships, or mental health either personally or in their family.
Title: Shape of a Woman
Author: Jen Elizabeth
Publisher: Maddix Publishing
Publication date: 11 February 2019
Price: $15.97 (Amazon)