June 2005

Laura Lee Mattingly

nonfiction

Fat Girl: A True Story by Judith Moore

Weight in America is an issue I care about, which is why I bought Fat Girl and was excited to read it. A memoir about growing up overweight in this country promised, in my mind, to be compelling and heartfelt; a story not many people are able to tell without going into extensive detail about the different diets they tried and what worked or didn’t. From the inside flap copy, it was obvious that this book was not about how to lose weight, which is a subject I’m tired of, it was about actually living as a fat person.

Judith Moore has lost weight in her life, but she always gained it back. At the end of the book, she is not skinnier, she has not shed the pounds nor the self-loathing that comes, almost as a guarantee, with being fat in America. She is still fat and she still struggles with it; she has learned a lot over the years but she hasn’t mastered self-acceptance. This lack of transformation on the narrator’s part is unusual for a memoir. I give her credit for her honesty, for her reluctance to give the story a happy ending, but it also makes me wonder: why tell the story at all?

In an essay entitled "Why I Wrote Fat Girl," Moore says, “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 are disgusting and what goes on between your thighs is disgusting, so you don’t tell.”

The book reads this way, too. The descriptions are incredibly vivid but they often make you cringe. More than it will make you ponder our image-obsessed and weight-obsessed culture, this book will make you think about the unfortunate body odor and sweat problems Judith Moore faces as a fat person, such as: “...after a bath, in your fat folds and under your breasts and in your secular and your sacred secret places, you smell bad.” Not that every book you read needs to be pleasant -- it most certainly doesn’t. But I want to share in Moore’s experience, and at times like these she makes it difficult for us to get in close.

Moore survived a difficult childhood: her mother was abusive, she had few friends, her father (from whom she inherited her fatness) left when she was little; her loneliness is insatiable. At one point, over a cheeseburger, a man she’s dating says she is “too fat to fuck” and she never eats a cheeseburger again. She is fat because she is starved of love and eats and eats and eats to fill that void, sometimes even breaking into the homes of acquaintances to eat their food and dream of how it would feel if those people loved her. Food for Moore is life and love itself and this is clear from the steamy, almost erotic prose she uses to describe food and eating:

My mouth is dangerous… My mouth wants to bite down on rough bread and hot rare peppered steak and steamed broccoli sprayed with lemon juice. My mouth wants potatoes sluiced with gravy and Cobb salad and club sandwiches and ridged potato chips and loathsome onion dip… Caramel macadamia crunch [ice cream] might as well be the A-bomb, I am so scared of salty nuts and unctuously sweet caramel… of the frozen cream that melts along my tongue and walls of my cheeks.

Deliciously written and mouth-watering at first, but by the end of these descriptions, we feel stuffed, repulsed, and just about ready to put the book down.

Her crisp writing style definitely gives the book momentum, but like I said, she keeps a safe distance between herself and the reader. While we sympathize with her, she never lets us all the way in. She admits this in the end: “I am what I am. I am glad I wrote this and I am grateful -- very grateful -- that you kept me company while I did.” But readers need to do more than keep the writer company -- they need to be included.

She also admits, in "Why I Wrote Fat Girl," “I do not endear myself to you. I don’t put on airs. I am not that pleasant… If you have never been fat, you may find me and my story repugnant. There’s not much I can do about this.” How can you argue with that? She wrote the book she set out to write, and she knows that not everyone will enjoy it. She knows the book is unpleasant and will be disturbing to some. She doesn’t promise a happy ending. So, if the merit of a book is based on whether the author accomplished what they set out to do, bravo, Judith Moore.

But I wouldn’t recommend reading it. Perhaps it gives a sense of solidarity to other overweight people, perhaps they will recognize things and say ah-hah! So I’m NOT the only one! And that is most definitely a good thing. But don’t expect Fat Girl to offer any solutions or even any hope; don’t expect it to put a positive light on being overweight. Judith Moore does not like being fat and she makes that very clear -- it is what she is and there is nothing she can do about it. This book is one woman’s story -- told well, if rigid and formal at times -- about being fat and what fat means to her, not what fat means on a broader, more relatable scope.

Fat Girl: A True Story by Judith Moore
Hudson Street Press
ISBN: 1594630097
208 Pages