Friday, March 21, 2008

Big Fat Manifesto

I've always enjoyed hearing people try to explain the paradox in the term "good Friday." I have never enjoyed hearing about what someone gave up for lent. Perhaps the people who give up something that they really need to give up--giving free rein to their temper, for example--don't talk about it. I know I don't ever want to hear about someone giving up chocolate. In modern America, giving up chocolate is not penance; it's using religion to help you with your diet plan.

Recently I read a new YA novel entitled Big Fat Manifesto, by Susan Vaught. It does the best job of any book I've ever read about of describing what it's like for a fat person to live in modern America, especially shopping for clothes and going to the doctor. Here's her description of going into a normal-size store with two normal-sized friends in order to show them what it's like:

Of the two available salesclerks in Hotchix, neither of them comes toward me. They study me, though, and I catch each expression on camera. Surprise, annoyance, then eye-rolling. Mild disgust, followed by a head-to-toe check of my body, and more obvious disgust. They stop looking at me and start talking to each other.
I catch bits and pieces of what they say.
...Not sure why she's here.
Can't be to shop...
Bet her boyfriend can't wait to get some of that...
Maybe buying a gift. You go.
No friggin' way. You.
This I'm ready for. I've heard it more than once. Lots, in fact. Which is why I shop at Diana's, where the clothes make me look like a grape.
The women at the register give me a few more snide expressions, then ignore me. Seems like the bigger I get, the more invisible I become. Another fifty pounds, and I'll be an outright ghost.

Of course, being ignored is better than attracting notice. More than a decade ago, I was putting gas in my car and some guys speeding by on the highway felt they had to lean out of their car and shout "try Jenny Craig!" in my direction. When the girl in the novel is at the doctor's office for a check-up, she thinks "Maybe if I could sprout fangs and claws I could teach people how it feels to sit trapped and helpless while somebody pokes holes in your skin and your feelings."

The most amazing part of the novel is the description of the girl's boyfriend getting weight loss surgery. His surgery is successful--he doesn't die from it, and he loses weight afterwards. But the price he pays is clearly spelled out for those who haven't considered everything that such surgery entails. Can you even imagine voluntarily mutilating your body so you can lose weight? This book will clue you in to the pressures that make some people willing to do it.

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