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Did this book cover go terribly wrong?

Notallblackgirls Stephanie Covington Armstrong, a playwright and screenwriter, has faced more than her share of challenges: poverty, abuse, foster care. And an eating disorder. And the face of that disorder didn't look like her own. Armstrong was an African American struggling with bulimia, often portrayed as an illness affecting white females.

All of which sounds like the makings of an interesting memoir, and Covington will read from it at L.A.'s Book Soup on Saturday at 8 p.m.

But has Covington's book, "Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia," gotten a raw design deal?

Bulimia, an eating disorder, includes a range of dieting behaviors taken to extremes: fasting, exercise, use of diuretics and laxatives and self-induced vomiting.

It is this last behavior that the cover portrays, with two fingers jutting up from the bottom edge. As if there is a hand inside the book, ready to induce vomiting in the reader.

I consider myself lucky to never have had an eating disorder, but I can recognize an instrument of self-destructive behavior when I see one.

Are those too fingers as immediately recognizable as a vomiting-tool to you as they are to me? In the context of this book, aren't they horribly graphic?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Lawrence Hill Books

Comments () | Archives (11)

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Not having Bulimia, I don't think I would recognize what the two fingers meant? Also, why is the girl's face scratched out? That is more of a puzzlement than the fingers.

I did not immediately recognize the significance of the fingers (= cover fail), but now that I do, yes, bad taste and form.

Strange too, that the fingers look to be of a white person. Considering the recent controversy over Justine Larbalestier’s "Liar" cover (http://www.publishersweekly.com/article/CA6672790.html?nid=2788&source=title&rid=1606975753) I supopose I am especially sensitive.

Oh please! Two fingers poised for the gagging is something you consider to be horribly graphic? Really? What about a book about murder - one based on a true story for argument's sake - on which the cover has a few drops of blood dripping from the point of a knife, or smoke streaming from the barrel of a gun? Or a book about kidnapping that depicts someone being stalked, or one about rape that has a person hovering over another in a menacing stance on their respective covers? All of these are out there. Have you seen them and thought, "My God! That's horribly graphic!?"

Toughen up, sister! Find your guts. You seem like the kind of person who, if your child had a skinned knee, would freak out and hide in the bathroom at the sight of it.

Is this really the best idea for a story you could come up with? Yeesh. No wonder newspapers are tanking...

I don't find the book jacket graphic. The book is about bulima and bulima is about throwing-up. With this topic, direct is good. It is my understanding that keeping an eating disorder hidden is part of what occurs with some individuals. This design brings out into the open what is really going on. That is important because an eating disorder is a serious emotional and physical problem. It is not just a little weight problem. Finally, regarding the first comment posted: My take on it is that the girl's picture is scratched out to illustrate feelings of self-loathing, self-hatred, that an individual with an eating disorder may experience.

I knew what the two fingers meant. I think it is a good cover. It would make me pick up the book. And I don't think the fingers look white, I mean in general the back of black people's hands look not so different than the back of white people's hands. Maybe you should look at the back of a black person's hand if you think those fingers couldn't belong to a black person.

I wish I could put a photo up of my fingers, they look just like that in color and I'm golden brown in complexion.

In regards to the book Liar, while I think the publisher was trying to be sneaky, if I divorced myself from the issues that publishers have in regards to "can a person of color" sell a book, I would think having a white girl on the cover about a book about a black girl with an identity crisis (that crisis being not being white) is a great idea. I can artistically completely see how the Liar cover could work and it does work for me, though I dont' believe the publisher was being artful when doing it. A happy opps is what I would call it.

Yes, I definitely recognized the significance of the fingers. Yes, it is more graphic than some eating disorder book covers. And yes, I think that's perfect. Bulimia IS graphic. Eating disorders in general are horribly, horribly graphic. It's time to stop sugar coating them and glamorizing them. Two clean fingers is barely the tip of the ice burg.

I think the cover of this book is designed poorly; with the scratched out face above it feels chaotic and messy. But, I think the image is striking - in a real way.

Great cover. Smart. Well designed. Controversial.

Having dealt with eating disorders for thirteen years myself, including a horrific ten year phase of bulimia, I didn't find the two fingers alarming. I was looking at the fingers wondering, what significance they had. Only after reading your blog did I think, "Oh how obvious!"

I don't find the cover offensive or graphic, perhaps it may be raw...but that's even a stretch. Now, if her fingers had been slimed with purged food and vomit, I would have been offended. Exercising, fasting, and laxatives are all additional forms of purging. Many book covers have included symbols like these. I've seen book covers with a girl sitting next to the porcelain goddess, aka toilet, what's the difference here? I don't get it.

I recognized the two fingers immediately and think it's an excellent graphic for the cover. For many bulimics there will be instant recognition and hopefully the book can provide them with some insight into their own situation. For those who are unfamiliar with the havoc bulimia wreaks on the body, maybe the rawness of the image will help them better understand the disorder.

Yuck and yes. Bad design. Bad title. Too bad, because it doesn't sound like an awful book.

(Do "all black girls" know how to eat? What does that even mean?)


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