Tuesday, March 9

Big Fat Manifesto - Susan Vaught

Jamie Carcaterra's in her senior year, an aspiring journalist, and fat. Not a little pudgy, seriously fat. And she's fine with that - so fine she writes a regular feature in her school's paper, about her life, and signs of as Fat Girl. Her writing is strong, funny, serious, informed, and she hope that it will be what gets her a National Features Award for writing. But when her beloved and loving, footballing boyfriend Burke decides to have bariatric surgery everything changes - and Jamie writes about it all.
I really enjoyed this strong, convincing novel that reflects the conflicts involved in being plus-sized in a 'normal'-sized world. Vaught incorporates a number of really interesting details about fatness - the really frightening facts about bariatric surgery, health and fatness, the tyrrany of clothing manufacturers and the fashion industry, and the attitude of many health care providers toward fat people; I particularly liked the way Jamie's doctor assumed she was sexually inactive, and how (as happens so often in real life) he acted as though any medical issues she had were due wholly and solely to her weight.
That much is, one would hope, a given in this context. What makes Vaught's writing stand apart is her recognition and exploration of Jamie's unrecognised conflict. It's not until Burke begins to lose weight that she acknowledges that she, too, wonders what she'd by like, her life would be like, if she was thin. Who would she be, how would she (and the world around her) change, and what would she be prepared to sacrifice for it? Burke is prepared to risk his life - and though Jamie is informed, and strongly opposed to bariatric surgery, some part of her is okay with the danger if it means passing for normal.
Like Jamie a significant part of my self-image is tied in with being fat, and I similarly feel the tension between accepting who I am and embracing a Healthy at Every Size philosophy, and wanting to be thin. At the moment I'm leaning considerably more toward the weight loss end of that continuum, and experiencing quite a lot of conflict, so Big Fat Manifesto came along at a great time. It hasn't left me any less divided, but has given my conflict visibility and allowed me to recognise it more clearly. I really liked the complexity and depth of this novel, and am interested in seeing what else Vaught has written. - Alex

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