Thursday, November 25, 2010

Through Thick and Thin, Gok Wan

Recently, I was asked to review the autobiography of Gok Wan, 'Through Thick and Thin'.  Gok is of course the larger than life front man of "How to look good naked".  I must admit I watched a few of these shows and preferred his sensitive approach, over the sometimes abrasive style of rival show "What not to wear" - I cringe at the thought of anyone grabbing my chest area and referring to 'the girls' at 'tits'.

Gok also did a doco on overweight teenagers which aired here in New Zealand a while back, so I knew he had issues with his weight in childhood.  Through Thick and Thin lays bare Gok's battles with self esteem and self acceptance.  He was born into an English/Hong Kong Chinese family who owned a series of restaurants and takeaways. Gok explains that in his culture "Food means love and family".  However his overeating meant he suffered at the hands of school yard bullies, not only for his weight, but his mixed race and sexuality. 

Despite the very evident love and support of his family his self loathing lead him down the path of anorexia.  Sometimes harrowing, sometimes funny, during the retelling of his story he never throws himself a pity party or seeks to lay blame.  Instead he is unflinching honest about his anorexia, sharing excerpts of his food diary over this period - he took up to 50 laxatives and 1 single teaspoon of honey a day.  The slippery slope toward starvation isn't glamorised, he speaks openly about how lonely and isolated he became, and how afraid he was.  
During this time he attended acting school in London, but on a trip home his sister demanded to know what was going on and he finally broke down admitting "I didn't have the strength to fight [the hunger] any more.  I was exhausted and beaten.  I'd failed and now I was killing myself".  Oilen, his sister marched him off to the doctor that afternoon, but no course of treatment or support was offered beyond the obvious advice to eat more food.  Later than afternoon he admitted to his mother "He didn't know what he was doing or why, and he didn't know how to stop either."  So began his recovery, he moved back in with his close knit family and "Everyone did all they could to wheedle, beg and coax [him] to eat".  Over time he put on weight and found strength enough within his family unit to move back to London and embark on his next adventure.

What emerges from his trials is a huge personality, an alter ego "Auntie Gok"; and an ambitious man who tries on several different careers from IT recruitment (can you imagine it?) to selling make up at The Body Shop in search of his niche.  A memorable part in the book describes him going to Harrods to borrow Christian Lacroix outfits for a styling job which he had basically lied his way into.  Being his first foray into the world of styling he had no idea there was a protocol behind organising outfits for photoshots.  With not even a business card he "literally skipped out of Harrods with tens of thousands of pounds worth of clothes in [his] arms" on the strength of his acting ability alone!

With determination and a fair amount of luck Gok falls on his feet with "How to Look Good Naked" and I'm left with the impression that this is far more than a job to him.  Through helping women feel good about their bodies, Gok comes full circle in his journey towards self acceptance and keeping anorexia at bay.

As is so often the way with celebrity autobiographies, this isn't a Booker prize nominee.  It is written in an accessible way though.  I think its a perfect little holiday read, if you don't want anything to cerebral to take to the beach.  This would appeal to anyone who has, or has had problems with their self imagine; or who has suffered from bullying.  Here is the story of a man who has managed to tackle his issues and shares his trials and tribulations in an honest and uplifting way! 

I would love to recommend it as stocking stuffer for a teen but it does have a fair smattering of the "F" have been warned!

I'd like to thank the Random House and Kiwi Mummy Blogs for the opportunity to review this book for you.


  1. Wow I had no idea of the story behind Gok. I think he is brilliant on How to look good naked. I love biographies too. Might have to hunt this one out for a summer holiday read.
    Great review!

  2. This was such a nice review, even though it wouldn't win any awards agreed. I think I enjoyed it a bit more than you, please check out my review and let me know what you think :)


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