Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst known for his theory on psychosocial developmental on human beings, proposed a lifespan model of development taking in five stages up to the age of eighteen and three further stages beyond into adulthood. He put a large emphasis on the adolescent stage, claiming it is crucial for developing a person’s identity
(McLeod). In Laurie Halse Anderson’s novel, Wintergirls, the main character, Lia, may be an example of failing to complete these psychosocial stages. As demonstrated by Lia, failure to successfully complete one or more psychosocial stages can result in an unhealthy personality, which can lead to emotional and mental trauma such as eating disorders.
The fourth stage of Erikson’s theory is Industry(competence) vs. Inferiority. This stage is for children ages five through twelve, and is when a child’s peer group starts to influence selfesteem. The child feels the need to win approval by demonstrating specific competencies valued by society, and they begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments
(McLeod). However, if this child's initiative is not encouraged, or if it is restricted by the parents and teachers, then this child feels inferior and doubts their abilities (McLeod). This inferiority is present in Lia's character in Wintergirls; when Lia was younger and in ballet, her instructor criticized her body and helped push Lia into being anorexic and obsessing over her weight.
Another possible reason for Lia feeling inferior could be her mother's control issues. Her mom is very strict and controlling, so Lia's eating disorder might be her way of taking control of her own life. McLeod says success in this stage will lead to the virtue of competence, the ability to do something successfully or efficiently. If this relates to Lia’s weight, then it is safe to say that Lia has failed. She does not know how to successfully take care of her body, and she doesn’t even
successfully put others before herself. Lia doesn’t consider how her weight issues are affecting her family, especially her little stepsister.
Between the ages twelve and eighteen, a child transitions from the fourth psychosocial stage to the fifth stage. The fifth stage is called Identity vs. Role Confusion. During this period in a child's life, he or she just wants to fit into society and belong. This child has to learn the roles that they will hold as adults, and then he or she will generally reexamine their identity to find out who they really are (McLeod). This is especially true during puberty. The body changes so much, and the adolescent feels uncomfortable and insecure about their bodies. This can sometimes even confuse them which can lead to role confusion. Role confusion can make the child experiment with different lifestyles. Role confusion can also be lead by the failure to establish a sense of identity within a society. The child does not feel like they have a specific role. And pressuring someone into an identity can result in rebellion, by establishing a negative identity(McLeod). This may be the case for Lia. Because she struggles with the first stage, she struggles even more during this one, and it probably confuses her. Her body started changing during puberty. Her hips started growing and she maybe put on a little extra weight, and she freaked out. She wants to be skinny, skinnier than all the girls in school, skinnier than Cassie. She stops eating, and exercises too much, and takes laxatives.
Her parents try to control her by putting her into treatment. After she gets out, she tries twice as hard to lose the weight, only she is much sneakier about it this time. However, Lia is aware that she has no purpose. She said herself that she is not dead, but she's not alive either. She is a wintergirl, and she definitely rebelled, too. Her parents want her to recover, and get good grades and be a