Being a Fat Woman
Are you an American female?
How many times a week do you think about your weight? A dozen? Two dozen?
If you are fat American woman, weekly weight-thoughts probably number in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Weight permeates the day-to-day reality of practically every American woman. This is why Kristan Higgins’ book “Good Luck With That” is a must-read for all women, of any size.
And men too.
A sampling from her characters’ observations on what it’s like to live fat:
· True peace was rare when you were fat.
· Estimating weight is one of the superpowers of the fat.
· All those diets later, and here I was, still fat.
· I should lose weight, came the automatic response to anything important that loomed on the horizon.
· I have never had dessert in public. The disapproval, the disgust, the hatred over seeing a fat person eating just for fun.
· [A neighbor] once told me I didn’t need Halloween candy (I was six).
· Going to the doctor when you’re fat is a string of humiliations. The second you walk in, you only have one problem. You could have a spear through your heart, and the doctor would say, Eighteen hundred calories a day, lots of green leafy vegetables, and forty-five minutes of cardio every day, and that spear will be no problem!
· I just smile a lot. My smile tries to say, Please don’t say something mean, please don’t stare… I’m actually a really nice person and most people like me once they’ve given me a chance.
· I hate my fatness. I hate being so weak. No one will ever love me. Not like this.
· She knew. Every fat girl in the world knew that dream.
Searing. It’s the word that kept coming to mind as I read the story, told in the voices of Marley, Georgia, and Emerson, three fat-women friends. Not a term often combined with “funny” and “uplifting,” and yet Higgins manages to hit all these notes.
A typical narrative for a story involving a fat heroine is the Cinderella trope. The girl becomes thin and gets to go to the ball of life. Higgins turns this trope on its head.
One of the three women is, indeed, getting thin.
“I think I might have an ulcer,” Georgia tells Marley.
The thought that goes through Marley’s head is, “Lucky.”
Georgia’s life transforms because an ulcer is literally eating away at her. She lands a guy who didn’t notice her in law school, she wins her mother’s affection, gets a promotion and a raise.
“No accomplishment of my life measured up to my weight loss, apparently. Princeton, Yale … who even cared? I was thin!”
Marley, the most well balanced of the friends, decides early in the novel that obsessing about weight is not for her.
“Honest to God,” she says. “I don’t want to have to lose weight. It would have to become my life’s work.” Despite not being able to fit into normal-sized clothing, Marley is a self-described exercise freak with enviable blood pressure.
Typical of this lovely book, we’re not allowed to land on one conclusion — Like that thinness doesn’t bring happiness. As Georgia observes of all her newfound blessings, “The secret world of the skinnies was real, just like Emerson had always said.”
And don’t get too comfortable with the okay-with-the-way-she-is plus-sized Marley. Because looming in the background is Emerson, dead at 34 because of her weight.
Emerson appears in the novel through her diary entries, written to Other Emerson, the woman who might have been Emerson if she were thin. Emerson’s life, ruined through food addiction, curdles on the page.
“I can’t stay alive much longer if I keep eating this way,” Emerson acknowledges as she tops 600 lbs. And yet, she can’t stop. “[E]ven though I know it’s killing me. I love tasting and chewing. I love an enormous forkful of food filling my mouth, my stomach. I love swallowing and eating and eating and eating some more.”
Could there be a better description of an addiction’s lethal lure?
Emerson’s chapters are hard to read. Especially when she arrives at such a state of despair she literally tells off her idealized self, Other Emerson. “Now leave me alone… I might even eat you. I hate you, you skinny bitch.”
Emerson leaves Marley and Georgia a bucket list of things they must do in her memory, including such things as “eat desert in public.”
The novel shines with Marley’s and Georgia’s victories as they tick off Emerson’s list. Particularly scrumptious are the times when the women have a chance to tell off the thin world.
Georgia is trying on clothing in Pomegranate & Plumb, a for-only-the-exceptionally-skinny yoga store, when a clerk objects to the fact that Marley is with her in the dressing room. The store rules, she reminds them, is one person at a time.
“But am I really even a person if Pomegranate and Plum doesn’t make clothes in my size?” shoots back Marley.
When it comes to love, fat is a gender thing. Georgia and Marley have never dated or had boyfriends. Men can lean on money and power if they are physically unattractive, like the obese but multiple-model-mate Donald Trump. Or, as the joke goes about diminutive Michael Bloomberg, “He’s taller when he stands on his money.”
Georgia’s raise — which only happens after she’s lost weight — reminds us that fat women are literally blocked from making money.
Fat is a metaphor in “Good Luck With That.” It stands for the life we will live when. When I am thin; when I am married; when I have enough money; when I have a baby. The metaphor works, but it’s not the key reason why the novel is so important:
Thirty-five percent of American women are obese, and thinness is a dominant factor in how people view women and how we view ourselves. “Good Luck With That” is most powerful because of the way it sincerely immerses us in three fat women’s inner worlds.