Calgary’s Charlotte Bellows just graduated from high school this past June. But she already has another milestone to celebrate: the publication of her memoir, The Definition of Beautiful.
Bellows wrote this book between the ages of 15 and 17. As the world underwent pandemic lockdowns, Bellows documented her descent into and recovery from anorexia.
“When I first started writing it in Grade 10, I would have never imagined that it might one day be published,” Bellows says. “My goals were more introspective – it was more about healing. Way further into the process, when I started taking editing really seriously, I realized it would be a power move to publish. Self-discovery and self-expression were my goals.”
In the early stages of the project, Bellows had the support of her English teacher, Ms. Cameron.
“High school is of course a very tumultuous time, for a number of reasons,” Bellows notes. “I was so lucky to have Ms. Cameron, who supported and encouraged not only my writing, but also my personal growth. There were points during the publication of my book where I got scared about having such a personal story out there in the world, but she was always able to provide wisdom and keep me focused on my end goals.
“I’d like to thank her for the significant positive influence she had on my high school experience and writing debut (and also for all the candy she gave me).”
Although The Definition of Beautiful is non-fiction, Bellows turned to novels by writers such as Dennis Cooper, Justin Torres, and Ocean Vuong to learn aspects of craft.
“I would say Vuong has also inspired my style when it comes to writing,” Bellows says. “He usually writes poetry, which I’ve read, but his novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous did such a great job combining the storytelling of a novel with the lyrical prose of poetry.”
Once the manuscript was complete, Bellows submitted it to Calgary’s Freehand Books, where it caught the eye of managing editor Kelsey Attard and her colleagues.
“We were so wildly impressed with this book – it’s written so beautifully, with such insight,” Attard notes. “I flew through the book, unable to put it down, completely engrossed in Charlotte’s story and in the innovative way that she tells it.”
While she began studying psychology and philosophy at the University of Victoria in the fall, Bellows also took time to launch her book. Juno House, a clinic that specializes in adolescent girls’ and young women’s mental health and that treated Bellows, offered to host an event for The Definition of Beautiful.
“The goal would be to get the book into the hands of other teenagers struggling with eating disorders, and their families,” says Bellows. “It would be amazing to potentially help people with this.”
She was also looking forward to launching with friends and family at an independent bookstore.
“Though The Definition of Beautiful is a memoir on mental health, I wouldn’t want it to get categorized as a guide to recovery, especially because recovery looks different for everyone,” says Bellows.
“I’d rather have it recognized for its literary qualities. What better environment to celebrate that than a bookstore? I’m also just such a fan of independent bookstores. Love the vibes.”