Q&A with Miranda Luby

‘Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over’ cover design by Jessica Horrocks and illustration by Stephanie Singleton.

In the opening scene of Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over, 16-year-old Sadie takes the plunge and deletes her Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat accounts. Do you think social media is toxic? Is there a way to use social media that benefits our mental health?

No, I don’t think it’s inherently toxic. I think social media reflects the complicated reality of humanity, and also our own mental health. So, sure, there’s bullying and virtue signaling and filtered selfies on social media, but there’s also community and creativity and hilarious memes that make us feel seen. If we’re in a space where we feel mentally healthy enough to be able to engage with the good without letting the bad get to us, then I think that’s a great way to be on social media. Ridding your feed of negativity as much as possible and only following people who lift others up is really helpful, too. Of course, there is always a line. If you’re being bullied or harassed and that’s causing you to struggle, don’t blame your own mental health. You should absolutely log off and seek help if you need it.

Sadie is obsessed with ‘starting over’. Does this come from a place of perfectionism? How can we take a healthy approach to self-reinvention?

Yes, this definitely comes from a place of perfectionism. A place of not being able to accept the very natural messiness of life, and wanting to instantly and almost magically be someone ‘better’ so we don’t have to cope with the risk of ‘failure’. But that’s not how healthy self-improvement works.

I think a healthy approach to self-reinvention is about recognising that this kind of change isn’t linear or fast. It’s a process, a journey, and there will be times where we feel like we’re going nowhere or even going backwards, but these moments are actually opportunities to practise accepting that we can’t control everything and to go easy on ourselves so that we can keep slowly and steadily taking steps towards our goals without beating ourselves up.

Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash.

Sadie struggles with Binge Eating Disorder—an eating disorder affecting young people across Australia. How does Sadie’s eating disorder affect her, and what are some steps she takes to overcome it?

Sadie’s binge eating makes her feel physically ill, but it also makes her feel terrible emotionally. She thinks she’s greedy and worthless, and feels a lot of shame and guilt for not being able to ‘control herself’. The reality is that her binge eating is a reaction to the strict control she usually tries to maintain over her diet. But it’s impossible to keep up, and when she feels like she’s ‘slipped up’ somehow she swings to the other extreme because she doesn’t know how else to cope with the feelings her perceived failure brings up for her.

The massive step Sadie takes in the book towards overcoming her binge eating is recognising that she needs some help and then asking for it. She begins to realise that this is a mental health issue she’s struggling with, and not something she can ‘fix’ by being even more strict with her diet. That’s only going to make things worse. By the end of the book, Sadie’s on the path to learning that her worth isn’t defined by what she’s eaten (or not eaten) that day or what she looks like. But she also knows she’s not going to feel magically better about herself overnight. Recovery can be a long process and that’s okay.

Sadie is very concerned about her appearance. What do you think are the main factors fuelling this? What impact does Sadie’s low self-esteem have on herself and her relationships with others?

For Sadie, her appearance is tied up in her self-worth. She thinks if she’s in control of what she eats, loses weight and looks skinny, she’ll be accomplishing something important and feel like a ‘better’ person. Part of this is fuelled by her mum, who is very image-obsessed and cares a lot about what others think of her. But it’s also just a product of our culture. Not just diet culture and living in a society in which beauty and thinness are often praised, but also a culture of achievement in which we feel like we need to be ‘succeeding’ at everything all at once in order to feel good about ourselves—one of those things being our appearance.

Sadie’s low self-esteem makes her push people away, especially her best friend and crush, Daniel, because she’s scared they’ll reject her if they see her ‘weaknesses’. But the truth is, the people who love us for who we are want to see and love every part of us, even the ‘messy’ stuff, because that’s what makes us human.

Photo by Kevin Laminto on Unsplash.

Like Sadie, many young women today feel anxious about body image. How can we have better relationships with ourselves and our bodies?

Something I think really helps here is having a deep awareness of our thoughts and asking ourselves lots of questions. We need to notice what we’re telling ourselves, ask why we’re telling ourselves that, and then be able to decide if there is any truth in it and what a more helpful thought might be instead. So, if we’re telling ourselves our bodies aren’t ‘good enough’, we can ask: why do I think that? Why am I defining my body’s worth by its weight? Is it because that’s what our culture tells me to do? Who benefits from that message? Capitalism? Who suffers from it? Me and my friends? Do I want someone else dictating how I feel about my body, or should I be able to decide how I feel myself? That sort of thing. Be curious, go easy on yourself, and maybe get a little (a lot) mad at diet culture.

The pink feminist badges worn by Alexa and her friends remind me of virtue signalling, where people use a social justice cause to make themselves look good. What does Sadie learn from her experiences with Alexa and the pink badges?

Yeah, there’s definitely some virtue signalling going on with pink badges. But even though the girls’ motives aren’t all totally pure, they’re struggling with similar pressures to Sadie. They want to fit in and be popular, and at this school wearing a pink badge is the way to ensure that.

I think Sadie learns that people generally want to do the right thing, but sometimes our insecurities and desires get in the way of that, and that it’s worth trying to examine people’s motivations for their behaviour before judging them. She also learns that she shouldn’t need to ‘perform’ her feminism in the way others tell her to perform it in order to fit in or make a difference.

Feminist badges. Sourced from https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/115475177932444657/.

Alexa’s weaponisation of feminism is something I commonly see today—especially in the age of cancel culture and social media. What led you to explore this topic, and what does being an authentic feminist mean to you?  

I think a lot of social issues are being weaponised in our culture, and I wanted to explore this topic partly because the division that this causes is a real distraction from working towards much-needed change.

For me, part of being an authentic feminist—or being authentic in any of our social and political beliefs—is not just parroting a particular narrative or throwing around certain phrases (such as ‘believe all women’) because they’re socially approved or because it’s easier to see the world in this black and white way. It’s about doing the uncomfortable and difficult work of thinking for ourselves, thinking critically, and asking questions about our positions and our motivations for them before saying something or doing something that’s really more reactionary or performative than it is constructive or true.

Who are some young feminists that inspire you?

Grace Tame is hugely inspiring. She is just so authentic and true to herself. Nothing about her feminism is performative and all of her positions are so well thought through. I just love her.

If you could give any piece of advice to your 16-year-old self, what would it be?

To be kind to yourself. As often as possible, speak to yourself like you would speak to your best friend.

What are some of your favourite YA books that you would recommend to Rosie readers?

I recently read The Centre of My Everything by Allayne Webster, which is a really raw and powerful YA novel that centres on teen binge-drinking culture and generational racism. It’s also about transcending our pain and our past to find love and compassion and it’s just beautiful. Kay Kerr writes wonderful YA novels with autistic protagonists and authentic characters (Please Don’t Hug Me and Social Queue). The Museum of Broken Things by Lauren Draper is so heartwarming, and The Not So Chosen One by Kate Emery is SO much fun!

Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over by Miranda Luby is now available at bookstores across Australia.


Miranda Luby is an author, freelance journalist and copywriter living on Victoria’s Surf Coast. She has won several awards for her short stories, and her journalism features in publications such as National Geographic, the BBC and the New York Post. Miranda was shortlisted for the Text Prize for her debut novel, Sadie Starr’s Guide to Starting Over.

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