THE FAT GIRL'S SONG: A RANT
"Also, I hate the way you never see fat people on the screen unless they're white trash or retarded or a criminal or all of the above. A fat girl on film is either there for laughs or to gross people out. Unless the film's about the fat girl's "journey" to social acceptance through weight loss. Where's the happy fat girl? That's what I want to know. Hmmph."'
Riley Rose – Everything Beautiful
There’s a fat girl in me who wants to get out. She wants to sing, I think. Or maybe she wants to rant. I let her out when I write fiction. She appeared first in a short story, and then in short film. When I wrote Everything Beautiful she hijacked the show. My books are fiction, but I hope they represent something of the world in which we live, and raise questions about how we should live, might live, could live. How fantastic would it be if our outsides were irrelevant?
As a child I was fascinated by fairy stories. I grew obsessed with the idea of transformation. I watched old Hollywood movies. I bought my first fake fur stole at an op shop when I was twelve, teamed it with a cigarette holder and glo-mesh purse. I was aware of bodies by then – how they were supposed to look. I’d read Blubber by Judy Blume. Everyone knew the girl with big boobs was easy and the fat kid didn’t really have a thyroid problem. Despite the fake fur I was a tomboy. I had a tomboy’s figure. I ate chocolate every day until the day my sister told me that my body had gone ‘lumpy’. I had been waiting for transformation, and now I found I couldn’t control it. I tried jogging. I took laxatives. I concocted beauty preparations nicked from The Women’s Weekly Book of Beauty where one woman claimed if she wanted to lose weight she just ate fruit for dinner for a week. But what’s a girl gonna do when she comes home from school and there’s spag-bol on the table, a fresh tin of Milo and Nana’s chocolate éclairs in the cupboard?
The book I was most obsessed with as a teenager was Lace by Shirley Conran. One of the characters, Maxine, manages to transform herself by starving herself and rolling out her thighs with a rolling pin at night in the finishing school.
‘There was never any need to do anything about her legs’ This line I have carried with me for twenty-something years. It’s too weird the things you remember.
In a the Sweet Valley High novel Power Play, Jessica Wakefield (bitch!) gives Robin, the class chubb, a makeover – she notes her lovely skin, considers telling her that if she lost weight she could really be something – but in the end she doesn’t tell her. Later when Robin loses weight under her own steam she gets a book of her own.
I grew up reading Dolly and Cleo and Cosmo and Elle and Vogue but I won’t read them now because all they seem to say is that you have two choices: you can ‘maintain’ or you can be ugly. It makes me feel queasy to see adverts for breast ‘enhancement’ surgery on the tube, next to some cheery stupid musical. Cut up your tits – sing a little song!
Readers, don’t read women’s magazines. Read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland. Read Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. In the future all women will have short hair because it’s practical and they won’t waste time worrying about whether they should go for the Brazilian, G or sideburns.
To return to the quote, the happy fat girl in film starts and ends with Hairspray’s Tracy Turnblad. I have not seen the recent version because I can’t imagine how it could be better than the John Waters original. Tracy Turnblad is more than just the sum of her wobbling parts. She says ‘This is what I’ve got and I’m going to shake it.’ And for her confidence she is rewarded: she gets to go on The Corny Collins Show AND she wins the hot guy. At no point during the writing of Everything Beautiful did I think I was writing a happy fat girl story. But this is mainly because happy characters are boring characters. And while we need more diversity in YA fiction, Riley’s weight wasn’t my calculated attempt to bring about a balance. She just came out like that: big and brash. Deep down, she’s probably not thrilled about her weight, but she refuses to let it be the thing she worries about. Riley’s weight makes her marginal, but judging from the reader responses we all believe we are outsiders. Be proud of who you are. Don’t wait for the transformation. Don’t care.
Thank you, Simmone, for such a brilliant guest post! Check out Simmone's website here, and my review of Everthing Beautiful.
What do you think of what Simmone has said?