One Minute You’re Fine

Eleanor Birne

  • Fat Girl: A True Story by Judith Moore
    Profile, 196 pp, £12.99, June 2005, ISBN 1 86197 980 0
  • The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict by William Leith
    Bloomsbury, 296 pp, £10.99, August 2005, ISBN 0 7475 7250 X

I don’t know whether I’m fat or thin. I suspect I might be ‘plump’. I do know that when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, I was skinny. I also know that I am not skinny now. One reason I know this is that when I went back to my old university last summer, I had to be reintroduced to the college chaplain by my (still) skinny boyfriend who was in the same year at college but who the chaplain had no problem remembering. ‘Oh,’ the chaplain said, when he was reminded of my name and college year. ‘I am sorry. I didn’t recognise you. It’s just that your face has got so … round.’ I might have forgiven his extraordinary tactlessness if he hadn’t said exactly the same thing to me the summer before.

There are fat people in my family and so I know what being fat can do. I grew up with a mother who told me from the time I was old enough to understand her that she’d been thin up until the point she had me. I grew up with a father who often makes comments about my mother’s shape and says things behind her back that no daughter wants to hear. I remember him once telling me he’d been out shopping with my mother. They’d been trying to get her a new suit jacket. ‘She tried loads on,’ he said, ‘and you know how it is. She looked bloody awful in all of them.’ About three years ago my mother lost a lot of weight. Then she lost her job and got depressed and stopped going to the gym. She put all the weight back on, with some extra too, and has never really lost it. It has only just dawned on me that it might happen to me: indeed, may have happened already. I now go to the gym three times a week. I eat salad for lunch. People tell me how well I look. I suppose that means I must have been fat until recently and just didn’t realise it. Which makes me wonder: at what point are you thin and at what point do you become fat?

Judith Moore is fat and has almost always been that way. In her own words, Fat Girl is ‘a story about an unhappy fat girl who became a fat woman who was happy and unhappy’. She is candid about her fatness and the sweatiness and breathlessness that go with it. She even has a greedy dog; she recounts an episode in which her overweight dachshund steals a piece of KFC chicken from a skinny blonde woman, causing the woman to drop the entire bag of takeaway on the floor. Moore handed over twenty dollars in compensation. In places, her account is a sort of love story. She writes with longing about ‘long burpless English cucumbers’. Eating ice cream is an erotic experience:

I sat at the edge of the couch, legs slightly apart. My elbows were on my knees; I was hunched and full of sorrow. I wore a loose cotton nightgown. My breasts hung down inside the gown and swayed. I spooned into my mouth the first chilly strawberry dollop. Cream melted on my tongue, which didn’t take long, because the ice cream was soft. I spooned in another bite. I wanted to say to the ice cream, ‘I love you.’ I wanted to say, ‘You are my mother.’

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