A new novel by Jessie Cheng ‘23 brings mental wellness into the spotlight
At the beginning of the pandemic, when Boston College students abruptly left campus, the rest of 2020 felt indefinite. Many students saw the weeks (which turned into months) of quarantine ahead and wondered how on Earth they would fill that time at home. Jessie Cheng ’23 saw an opportunity rather than an obstacle. She decided to use her newfound surplus of free time to write. The result is her recently published novel Unglamored, which is not just a passion project but also a means to start a conversation about mental health and eating disorders—important subjects the author thinks students at BC could benefit from discussing.
A marketing and business analytics double major from California’s Bay Area, Cheng’s interests are wide ranging. Not only did she recently add an applied psychology minor, but in her free time, she is often singing (sometimes in the Boston College a cappella group Against the Current), reading, and working on creative writing. This was her first time writing a book.
Cheng knew that the unstructured, sometimes monotonous days of quarantine would make it difficult to be creative and stay disciplined. After all, writing an entire novel is a huge undertaking. She joined the Creator Institute, run by Georgetown University professor Eric Koester and designed to guide participants through the book writing process. She worked throughout the summer with a writing coach and a group of editors to meet her goals. By the end of 2020, Cheng finished her first manuscript, and in the months following, she edited, revised, and prepared to share Unglamored with the rest of the world. She did so with the help of Creator Institute partner, New Degree Publishing.
The novel is about 19-year-old Chinese-American singer Rose B.D., who secretly struggles with an eating disorder while navigating the pressures and expectations of being a celebrity. Living in Shanghai, she tries to balance a new romance, a national singing contest, and her health—all while under the thumb of her strict manager and abusive management company.
Cheng chose a celebrity as her main character to portray someone struggling with her mental health and with an eating disorder, but also to remind readers that celebrities are people, too. “It's so easy to nitpick at celebrities and then criticize them,” Cheng says. “You don't know half of what's going on in their real lives.”
Leveraging her marketing skills
The marketing strategy for her novel, informed by her marketing studies at the Carroll School, involves what Cheng calls an “author community,” in which people who preordered the book are granted special access and features. This community, which she primarily fostered through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, got a behind-the-scenes look at the publishing process through emailed updates and even helped her select the book cover.
For Cheng, part of marketing is being consistent online. Her author community allowed her to easily share the ‘why’ behind the book. She hopes that her novel starts a conversation about mental wellness and the effects of fame on young public figures, who so often enter the spotlight with little preparation for how intense the expectations will be. Over and over again, Rose B.D. is told that she chose the life of a celebrity, but she still struggles with an enormous amount of pressure and lack of support.
“I wanted to shine light especially on eating disorders within the entertainment industry because they're very, very prevalent, given the fact that celebrities are always visible,” Cheng says. As she points out in the Author’s Note of Unglamored, “We watch as they are slandered, overworked, and painted as perfect, even to the point that their dangerous diets are glorified. This is not only harmful for celebrities themselves but also for their impressionable fans.” She hopes that people feel a sense of connection with these celebrities, but also find the strength to seek healing and recovery in their own lives.
For college students especially, Cheng wants Unglamored to remind them to be compassionate and forgiving to themselves, and to be vulnerable and authentic with others. As she explains, high-achieving students like those at Boston College feel constant pressure to look a certain way. This leads, she says, “to a lot of unhealthy comparison and forgetting to fully see ourselves as who we are.”
Unglamored is now available on Amazon and through other select bookstores. While Cheng wants a future career in the music entertainment industry rather than as a writer, she still wants to advocate for mental wellness in all of her endeavors. She sees herself starting a podcast or doing speaking tours to spread awareness about mental health, encouraging people everywhere to, as she puts it, “have that courage to find recovery and healing, whatever that may look like in your life.”
Michaela Brant ’23 is a publications assistant in the Carroll School’s communications office.