I had heard about this novel on Book Riot, and started noticing it in paperback around town. Since Book Riot recommended it so highly, I picked it up, and was not disappointed.
Gay makes it evident right from the get go that this is not a life memoir, there will be no before and after pictures, and the book will provide no motivation for weight loss. It is simply an account of what her body has gone through.
At age 12, Gay was gang raped by a boy she thought she loved and his friends in an abandoned hunting cabin near town. He ignored her at school, but hung out with her afterwards, but only if she would do whatever he wanted. He treated her terribly, and made her feel that she should be grateful for his attention. After the rape, she was slut shamed at school. She withdrew further and further into herself, and ate and ate to create a fortress around herself as protection. She was ashamed and disgusted with herself to allow this horrible thing to happen to her, and felt she had to keep it a secret from her family.
By her late 20’s, Gay was a 6’3, 577lb woman. She visited a clinic to look into gastric bypass, and struggled with the decision to not get the surgery. After all, doctors are supposed to know what is best for us, and you want to follow their direction, but ultimately you have to do what is best for you. Gastric bypass offers such a seductive solution, but it “fixes” what our bodies look like, which people believe will solve all of their problems, not the problems themselves. Even the term ‘morbid obesity’ as described by Gay “frames fat people like we are the walking dead, and the medical establishment treats us accordingly”.
I found myself relating to Gay so strongly, and she told her story so candidly. She illustrates what it is like being a larger woman, how people see the size of your body before they even consider you, or how larger people survey a room full of people and measure themselves in comparison, to see who the largest in the room is and pray it isn’t you, or, how people make assumptions about your body, without knowing anything about you.
Gay turned to reading, finding it an escape where you can be anywhere than your life. She even read some of the same books as I did growing up, such as the Sweet Valley High series, and felt the same as I did. These books allowed her to live a life she was never going to live otherwise. She was never going to date the captain of the football team, never be popular, never be a petite blond, and I felt much the same way. Reading about it was an easy way to pretend that a better life was possible, one where a boyfriend and a large group of pretty friends existed.
I can’t pretend to understand where Gay comes from. I have never experienced rape or slut shaming, and I have not reached the same weight as her. But I feel like I understand her. I understand what it is like to look at seats and fear you won’t fit, and if you do, you fear every creak you hear and fear the seat might break. I understand how frustrating people’s comments can be, which can be well meaning and heartfelt, but unsolicited, as if I am not aware of my size (believe me it is something a larger woman is very acutely aware of!)
I loved how she called out our “cultural cruelty” to large people, how we are viewed and perceived and treated, and how inundated we are with commercials and weight loss problems, told that by losing weight all our problems will be solved and we can be treated like a normal part of society. No wonder people fall into eating disorder behaviour. I was horrified to read how Gay researched eating disorders, and even became bulimic, finding tips online like drinking lots of water prior to a purge to make it easier, or to eat carrots prior to a binge because they act like a visual marker. It was utterly heart breaking!
When Gay went to boarding school, it was similar to university for me. Like her, I lost any ounce of control, eating myself to an all-time high weight, having access to never ending pop machines, a dining hall, and even a greasy spoon of a restaurant in the dorms. I loved eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Like her, I too threw myself into computers, and chatting with strangers on IRC was easier than living in the real world. There I wasn’t a dateless loser, I wasn’t so awkward, and I felt normal.
I think it is safe to say this is a book I would highly recommend. It was a fast read, but it was a story that needed to be told, and one that will stick with you. I loved knowing I wasn’t the only one who was so acutely aware of their size, felt the same, feared the same, dreamed the same. I admire her bravery, her candor, her honesty. Mostly, I am happy she has brought light to society’s bullshit views, and made me realize how to look past how society sees me and tries to change me, and really see and understand myself.