I wrote Fat Girl because I'd read books that other fat women wrote about how they were fat. Most fat women didn't write the truth about fat. They didn't write about fat fat fat fat thighs and how tender flesh on the inside of fat thighs rubs and rubs. The skin on one thigh rubs the skin on the other thigh down to raw blister. Every step you take, this raw blistered skin hurts. You can't tell anybody, "I have blisters" and "I hurt" because first off, you don't want to talk even in whispers about anything that goes on in the gloom between your thighs. No way. You are disgusting, and what goes on between your thighs is disgusting, so you don't tell. Besides, anybody you told would know you got the blisters because you're fat.
They'd cluck-cluck-cluck that you were fat because in one sitting you poked in your snout and gobbled, with warm garlic French bread: an entire four-serving bowl of the perfect Cobb salad: Romaine and Bibb lettuces, Haas avocado whose soft ripe flesh turns an immeasurably buttery green, watercress, tomato loosed tenderly from its tight skin, cold chicken breast and ham cut into batons, hard-boiled egg, chives, crumbled Maytag blue cheese, bacon fried and broken up, and for dressing, a heavy sluice of whatever you like). Anyone you told about that Cobb salad and French bread would feel either revolted by you or sorry for you. You don't want anyone to feel either way, not about you. You don't wish friend or stranger to feel sorry for you because you don't feel sorry for yourself, you feel fat.
From the beginning, if you were a child of many chins, you learned right off to set a goofy smile on your face when boys yelled "Fat-so." You learned not to cry one tear when they sang, straight to your heart, "I don't want her, you can have her, she's too fat for me." Those boys screamed, "Pig Face, Pig Face, oink oink oink." When you trundled past them on the asphalt playground, these same boys reached out and pinched doughy flab on your arm. While they pinched, they squealed "Fatty, fatty." If a grownup asked, "How did you get that red place on your arm?" I said, "Bump'd into sump'in'." How can you confide, how can you tell, about pinches and oinks and "I don't want her"? Somebody should, I told myself. Which is also why I wrote Fat Girl.
Another reason I wrote Fat Girl is that few writers about fatties write that even thin girls (and women and men) can, behind their bony walls, remain fat. They weigh 110; they think they weigh 200. How this happens is that if a person's been fat and gotten thin and maybe even stayed thin, she doesn't forget she was fat. Thin people who've lost weight tend not to lose the fat-jowled self. Grandma's Sunday dinner (or Denny's special) is always setting a table in their mind. Thin people who once were fat don't forget fat jokes. When you lose 50 pounds and you're with someone who didn't know you when you were a tub o' lard, you well may make fat jokes too. The worst (and dirtiest) I ever heard was "You'd have to roll her in flour to find the wet spot." Some fat girls become anorexic women. Some anorexic women die of starvation. That's truly sad, much sadder than fatness.
Fat women who wrote about how they were fat ignored the aesthetics of food. They did write about how, for many fat people, food is more than peach pie, more than consolation, more than love. But nobody fat, writing about fat, quite got down to the nub of how much she admired the greasy sheen on hamburger buns, admired that grease as if it were Art, as if that oily patina (acquired on an ancient, filthy grill) were the "unravish'd bride of quietness" Keats admires in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn."
Narrators of first-person claptrap like what you read in Fat Girl often greet the reader at the door with hugs and kisses. I don't. I do not endear myself to you. I don't put on airs. I am not that pleasant. The older I get, the less pleasant I am. If you have never been fat, you may find me and my story repugnant. There's not much I can do about this. I gave part of the Fat Girl story to someone to read and he told me, flat out, that it was repellent. I thought, but did not say, "Then, how can you say you like me?" I realized that he did not like me. He tolerated me. Fuck him.
You can't hide your fat. But the truth about fat gets hidden in many books fat women write about being fat. Now that Fat Girl's written, printed, and distributed, now that Fat Girl's ready to be read, I ask myself why so much gets left out when fat women write about being fat.
According to the thin or the formerly or even presently fat, the fat person lacks willpower, pride, this wretched attitude called "self-esteem," and does not care about her friends or family because if she did care about friends or family, she would not wander the earth looking like a repulsive sow, rhinoceros, hippo, elephant, or general nine-headed monster. The fat person doesn't even love herself because if she did, she would be slender and lithe and getting exercise by being busy with her bicycle rides and weightlifting with her three-pound pink weights. The most shameful fat facts, and those facts most avoided when the fat or formerly fat write about fatness, are facts about the fat body. Nobody wants to write details of how nobody wants to do sex things with you and the humiliating acts, sexual and other, that you commit to get a man (or woman) to love you. Nobody wants to write how somebody looked at you, across a perfectly tasty cheeseburger and French fries dinner, and said, "You're too fat to fuck." Huffing and puffing no fat person wants to admit to, or weeping when you look in the mirror and a creature who inspires horror and dismay looks back at you, or shopping in fat stores for fat clothes, or how repulsed thin people are when they watch you slurp succulent pink shrimp dipped in red cocktail sauce (your puffy fingers dangle the shrimp's prickly tail), or how much trouble fat women have pulling on pantyhose over meaty thighs and rolls of stomach and buttocks that grind like the turbines that move water over the top of Grand Coulee Dam. Even the Size 3000 pantyhose made especially for fat women rip and tear when you try getting your tiny hog feet through the hosiery's filmy fabric. Plus, right away after a bath, in your fat folds and under your breasts and in your secular and your sacred secret places, you smell bad. Nobody, especially nobody fat or once-fat, wants to write this.
What people do want to write about is weight loss and how to achieve it. They want to write about self-esteem and how to gain it. Fat Girl makes no claims to do either. What Fat Girl does is tell my story. I have never lugged home sacks of food and binged. I have never taken diet pills or made an appointment with a quack diet doctor. Nor have I gone the vomit or laxative route. I am a simple overeater who has spent decades eating too much and dieting and exercising. I am what nutritionists call a "yo-yo dieter." I gain 20 pounds and lose 15. I gain 40 and lose 50. I do not supply windbag notions about what's wrong with me. I tell you only what I know about myself, which is not all that much. You, if you read Fat Girl, will know more about me than I know. Fat Girl is a confessional box, and inside those four walls I make a clean breast of it.
Fat Girl tells the story of my family and the food we ate. We were an unhappy family. With the exception of my father's maternal grandparents and a woman who worked for them and my mother's half brother, nobody much loved anybody. There was not a lot of family feeling. There was not a lot of blood-is-thicker-than-water and home-is-where-the-heart-is. Everybody was pretty much in it for himself. We were hard American isolatos. We were solitaries, some of us, even outcasts. Unhappy families, though, still have to eat. For my father and for me, who are Fat Girl's primary fatsos, food was source of some of our greatest pleasure and most awful pain.
One aspect of Fat Girl that some critics don't like is that Fat Girl (and the person who wrote it) doesn't "end" happily and happy. Fat Girl does not haul ass its reader somewhere over the rainbow. Fat Girl's author does not prevail over adversity. I mistrust stories that finish on a note so triumphant that silver flutes pipe and wedding bells ring and Uncle Ben's long-grain white rice ricochets across the hot concrete outside the First Presbyterian Church on a June afternoon.
Adrienne Rich long ago wrote that "the dutiful daughter of the fathers is only a hack." I'd rather be fat than be a hack. The truth is: I may be both. Our buddy Keats wrote in his "Ode on a Grecian Urn" that
- Heard melodies are sweet, but those
- Are sweeter;
Perhaps I should have kept my fat trap shut about fat fat fat fat thighs and the rubbing raw. I don't think so. Fat Girl wants to make room for herself. She wants to tuck in her big belly and sit with her strong spine straight; she wants to sit right there on the bookstore shelf with the other ladies whose true-life stories are getting told. She wants you to take her off the shelf and hold her in both of your hands and open her up. She wants to tell you her story, and she wants you to tell her your story. Especially if your thighs are fat. She also wants to say, "Thank you for hanging around and reading this."
Fat Girl: A True Story. Hudson Street Press, a member of Penguin Group USA, Inc.; 2005; 196 pages; $21.95.