Sharyn showed me how to view the Jemima J Amazon customer reviews starting with the lowest rating. That’s fun.
I’ve been getting emails all day. Good God, a lot of you hate this book.
Sharyn showed me how to view the Jemima J Amazon customer reviews starting with the lowest rating. That’s fun.
I’ve been getting emails all day. Good God, a lot of you hate this book.
So the book Jemima J is about Jemima Jones, who, at 5’7″ and 217 pounds (p. 136), is the fattest woman in Kilburn, England, and maybe the rest of London, too. Possibly also the only fat woman there. Apparently.
Her massive fat is a result of hiding candy bars in her desk (p. 3), making poor choices at the salad bar (p. 17), and an insufferably generic childhood pathology (pp. 2, 112). Her considerable girth makes it difficult for her to sit in ordinary chairs (p. 5), completely rules out wearing bootcut jeans (p, 57), has been known to increase at a rate of two to three pounds overnight (p. 64), and has pretty much prevented any kind of sexual enjoyment whatsoever in her life (p. 18). As a result of her immense size, her leisure activties are usually limited to sitting in her room and cutting out pictures of supermodels from magazines (p. 2), and wallowing in self-pity (pp. 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 10, 14-17, 19, 21, 22, 31, 38, 40-47, 51, 58-62, et. al).
Yeah, not only does her weight keep her from telling jokes (p. 23), applying flattering makeup (p. 15), or, really, ever experiencing more than a split second of unadulterated happiness (pp. 1-371), it also pretty much keeps anything remotely interesting from happening in the first third of the book, where pretty much every twenty pages or so, an opportunity for a meet-cute encounter with her dull love interest, Ben, totally fails to happen because old fat-ass Jemima keeps having to stop somewhere to stuff her face. Poor Jemima!
Oh, and then it gets worse.
Mode magazine is calling it quits, which is kind of a shame. For those of you who live outside the U.S., or are men, or shut-ins, or whatever, Mode was the first mainstream fashion magazine to feature fuller-figured “plus-sized” models–though sometimes it seemed the only thing “plus” about the size numbers was that they were “integers greater than zero.” In general, though, Mode was created to promote an alternative to the kinds of beauty standards put forth by more traditional fashion magazines, and it was great.
Or it was sort of great. Or it was a great idea. I’m afraid to say I always had mixed feelings about Mode. I know I was supposed to be thrilled it even existed, and in a way I was, but I didn’t really like it. As much as I hate to say it, Mode was a little… well, lame.
Or it wasn’t Mode itself that was lame; it was the ads. Or it was the fashion industry. Somehow the whole gestalt of Mode didn’t quite work: on one page you’d see Kate Dillon in couture showing her milky cleavage; on the next there’d be an ad for some crappy knee-length tunic from Fashion Bug Plus. One of the inadvertently interesting things about Mode is that the clash between its pictorial content and its ads revealed the shitty realities of the clothing business–all the assumptions about age and class and aesthetics that make clothes in women’s sizes so depressingly ugly. Which is not to say the magazine didn’t try like hell to change those assumptions; if any progress has been made (and I think there has), Mode probably had something to do with it.
The weird thing about Mode was that it managed to become such an important magazine without having much to offer in the way of magazine. I know a lot of people were willing to overlook the magazine’s skimpy content because the models looked so much more “real,” but I guess I never quite agreed. Intellectually, I can understand the disgust that lots of people feel towards the “unrealistic images” of very thin women in Cosmoor Vogue. Personally, though, I never felt it. Maybe it’s a result of having never been thin in my life, but I never thought those models were supposed to represent me. I never felt I should “aspire” to look like Amber Valletta, and the idea that I ever would seems pretty fucking insulting.
On the other hand, when I read crap like Mademoiselle, I know I’m being encouraged to see myself in the articles–all the quizzes and the slumber-party chatter and the inane advice about relationships and careers and sex and “ways to drive your man wild.” Maybe Mode could have used some of that crap. When you skim all those dippy feature articles in other women’s magazines, you get a sense of the kind of persona they’re trying to sell you. When you read Mademoiselle, you’re the slighty naughty twentysomething party girl trying to make it in the big corporate world. With Marie Claire or the old incarnation of Glamour, you can be kind of shallow, but at least you vote and have most of your shit together. With Cosmopolitan, you can pretend to be a scheming uber-vixen in spike heels. With all these magazines, the persona never quite fits, but that’s kind of the point: you try it on for awhile for kicks.
I could never really do that with Mode, though. Most of their content seemed to consist of technical beauty tips and the sort of generic little feature articles usually found in airline magazines. At best, they’d have a feature story on some fuller-figured celebrity, which was nice and all that, but then again the point was always the same–Look! She’s beautiful! That woman is plus-sized and beautiful!
Maybe the whole problem with Mode was also the same thing that made it so different and radical: whenever you picked Mode, you were trying on the notion of being beautiful. You read Mode; you were beautiful. Every month, the Letters to the Editor were almost always the same–letters from women who were so very grateful to be beautiful at last. Or else letters from men who were practically wanking off at their keyboards because the women they saw in Mode were so beautiful, and they just wanted to let us know that the women in the world who look like the women in Mode are beautiful, too. And then sometimes Mode itself would take it on themselves to remind us that men think we are beautiful, because, actually, we are very beautiful.
I could go on with pointing out the limits of this kind of thinking, and make jabs at their “Ask Emme The Full-Figured Supermodel” advice column (which they ditched a couple of years ago anyway) but instead I’ll just make an analogy: Mode was like that one person who comes up to you at a party when you first get there and you’re all shy and you don’t know if you’ll fit in yet. And that person says, “Oh my God, that skirt is so cute–you look so good in it,” and you say, “Wow, thanks!” and the person says, “Really, it looks so good on you,” and you’re like, “yeah,” and you smile, and the person smiles back, and you sip your drink and smile at the person again, who nods, and then you don’t know what to say because you realize this person has nothing else to say to you. And then you look around, and you think, well, what now?
Don’t think there isn’t a part of me that wonders if I expect too much. I guess I should be glad that Carre Otis thinks being a Mode cover girl is better than being slapped around by Mickey Rourke.
And don’t think I don’t realize how powerful Mode really was. Whenever I hear people praise the magazine (which is often), they’ll always say something about how amazing it was just to see the kind of body types in Mode’s pictorials–and how it made them see the models in the other magazines differently. “You don’t realize how skinny those chicks in Elle are until you look at the women in Mode,” they say. Mode made the most difference when it functioned like a test pattern–images designed to help us adjust our eyes, that showed us what normal looks like.
Well, now we know what it looks like; now we know it’s beautiful. And now it’s time for something else to happen.
I went to see America’s Sweethearts last week. I’d heard the movie kind of stunk, and I could have seen John Cusack’s big, adorable head spout much better dialogue in other movies, but I went anyway. I went to see Julia Roberts in the fat suit. I needed to see what the film industry’s idea of a 180-pound woman looked like.
It turns out that Julia Roberts really does look like a 180-pound woman in the fat suit. I was pretty impressed, actually. She had some fakey-looking chubbiness around her face, but the general idea was right. She had a full face; she had a belly and a more ample chest, and what impressed me the most when I first saw her–when she walked into the hotel room in that flashback scene–was that she was just the Julia Roberts character with a fuller face and a belly. She acted the same way and she dressed pretty much the same way (Though when you’re the size she’s at in that scene, you don’t tuck your top in. You just don’t.).
But for the most part, the illusion worked. Almost. Because then the next time Julia Roberts made an appearance in the fat suit, she was stuffing her face. She was on a movie set and lingering by the craft services table with her cheeks full of food, with one hand feeding herself and another hand reaching for more food. The moment that scene came onscreen, everything changed about Julia Roberts’ performance in a fat suit. She’d become an imaginary fat person.
Imaginary fat people have food in their hands most of the time. Or their pockets. Often imaginary fat people speak with their mouths full. Imaginary fat people are socially awkward. Imaginary fat people are thin inside, but it’s hard sometimes to tell where the inside leaves off. The fat of imaginary fat people exists either in a fat suit or nowhere at all.
I’m talking about more than just onscreen stereotypes of fat people. Imaginary fat people aren’t quite the same thing. Their actions are stereotypical, certainly, but they come off quite differently than those of an overweight actor who performs fat-person cliches. Chris Farley played plenty of scenes in which he ate like a pig and smashed chairs by falling on them, but these things were about his physical comedy, the way he use his size, not the fact of his size in itself.
Imaginary fat people can be fat without the distractions of “character.” Fat is the character and imaginary fat people breathe themselves into life. They have nobody to blame but themselves.
During Julia Roberts’s first fat suit scene, the audience in the movie theatre didn’t know how to respond. When the hotel room door opened to reveal her standing there with her fat, there were a few tentative snickers; possibly a few were inadvertent, from surprise. Later, during the food scenes, the audience burst out laughing abruptly but wholeheartedly, relieved, as if they understood something at last. Or as if someone who had made them uncomfortable had suddenly left the room.
They also laughed when Julia Roberts gotupset and went down to the restaurant of the hotel by herself–a different hotel this time; now she was thin–and she ordered three big plates of food at once and ate from them voraciously. Of course they were laughing at the fat person who wasn’t there anymore. I mean, I laughed, too.
But then I realized I would never do that–eat like the way she was eating, alone, in public. Everyone I know who is fat has a problem with eating in front of strangers. You worry what people will think about you, what they’ll imagine.
An imaginary fat person doesn’t need a fat suit, but it helps. Think about all the Fat Monica jokes that have been told over the years on Friends. For a while it was enough to make verbal references to Monica’s past life as a fat person, sort of an inside joke. Skinny Monica would respond with little more than an exasperated look–oh, you guys! –whenever Ross and Rachel and Chandler made jabs at her phantom fat. The jokes were on nobody. But at some point it seemed everyone wanted to see the nobody, so the show’s writers put Monica in the fat suit, they wrote flashback sequences and alternate-reality episodes in which she would appear.They made the joke bigger and brought us all inside of it.
It sounds like that movie Shallow Hal will have the same kind of mind tricks as well–the movie where Gwyneth Paltrow plays a fat woman in some scenes and a thin woman in others. Supposedly the gimmick is that whenever Jack Black looks at her in the fat suit he sees her as a thin woman for some reason, and through this illusion he falls in love with her–therefore he really falls in love with a fat woman. But of course the fat woman isn’t real; only Gwyneth Paltrow is.
When you think about it, imaginary fat seems to be the only kind of fat the popular media can deal withat all. For months I’ve been reading stories in Us and People which insist that actresses are looking “healthy” again, natural again–using as their proof photos showing actresses first in their “too skinny” mode and then at their heavier, “more comfortable” size. I could pick out a few differences here and there–Portia de la Rossi’s arms, maybe, which are no longer as bony–but for the most part I couldn’t discern any kind of significant change in size. It’s a bizarre visual exercise: object lessons in looking at fat, in recognizing it only after carefully studying its absence.
We’re being told to look at ordinary arm flesh, or the occasional spill of skin out the side of a tight strapless dress, or the tissue that covers the hip bones–we’re told to take particular note of this stuff, and call it fat. The only fat we’re allowed to consider is the fat on someone like Charlize Theron. The only acceptable fat is practically invisible.
In the middle of Us magazine’s cover story “Hollywood’s Obsession With Weight” was a sidebar with a positive story about Carnie Wilson’s weight loss surgery. Having the sidebar there didn’t really seem to make sense, because the rest of the story was about actresses who were losing too much weight. But then, when you start to think in terms of imaginary fat, it makes perfect sense to include Carnie Wilson. Do you think anyone would have really given a shit if Carnie Wilson had lost all her weight by dieting and exercising? She would have gotten some press and some praise, probably, but the real attraction is that she lost the weight so quickly. Read any story about her and notice how often she’s quoted as saying things like, “It was as if I’d blinked and the weight came off.”
If fat can vanish like that, it might not be that real, right? We must love to think so.
So the June 2001 issue of Marie Claire has the results of some survey in which readers were asked how much money would induce them to do things like cheat on their partners or have a one-night stand or gain ten pounds permanently. For the ten-pound propostition, women could name a price of $100, $1000, $600,000 or state “no amount is enough,” and for each option the article ran a quote by a woman who explained her choice. The fact that more than half the women surveyed went for the last choice–no amount is enough–strikes me as depressing and yet kind of intriguing, and I’m sure there are all sorts of interesting reasons why so many women wouldn’t go for gaining ten pounds in exchange for, um, financial freedom. But all the magazine could come up with was this quote by “Shari, 34, nurse,” who says:
“I’m comfortable with my body, so adding ten pounds to it would take an unthinkably large amount of money–more than any lottery. The extra weight would bring me up a size and probably show more in my face and hips.”
All right, so I really don’t see any problem with that first part. It sounds like a matter of being at a certain comfort level and not wanting to change things. That kind of makes sense. But then Shari, 34, doesn’t shut up. She blathers on:
“I’ve always been a size 2, and I’m lucky not to have to diet, or go to the gym. Though I don’t flaunt my figure, I think I look good in almost all clothing styles. The ten extra pounds wouldn’t pose a health risk, but it would be noticeable to others–and that would bother me. When you’re thin, people offer flattering compliments like, ‘Oh, you are so lucky to be that skinny.’ If I gained weight, the positive feedback from others might disappear–and that could chip away at my self-esteem.”
This has to be one of the most dumbassed things I’ve ever read. Especially that last sentence. “Chip away at her self-esteem,” as if her sense of self-worth was some kind of Franklin Mint collectible she’d ordered.
She says that if she gained ten pounds permanently the compliments might disappear. If she was a size FOUR. And that this could adversely affect her belief in herself so profoundly that six hundred thousand dollars or more would not be worth the chance that perhaps friends and strangers would no longer fawn over her completely fabulous metabolism, because then if that happened she’d most likely spiral irreversibly downward into an existential wretchedness, and she’d shuffle along with her ponderous size 4 hips, forsaken, with no other choice whatsoever but to frequent trashy bars, drinking grain alcohol and slurring profanities and desperately climbing onto the laps of strange men and crazily dry-humping them and offering them hand jobs or whatever–not for money, of course, because she’d have six hundred grand socked away–but for the attention.
Because even with six hundred grand, a little therapy for this self-esteem problem is apparently not an option. And apparently also trying to gain a sense of self-worth from other things–such as, you know, being a NURSE and helping sick people–is also not an option. Because Nurse Shari probably spends all her time sashaying through the critical care wards wriggling her teeny butt and fishing for compliments from all the paraplegics and burn victims and amputees and chemotherapy patients. “How do I look today? Yeah, uh-huh, I’m totally naturally a size two! People tell me I’m lucky. Do you think I’m lucky? Oh, and it’s time for your dialysis. Anyway, my thighs in these jeans . . .” It just pisses me off that her inane quote was published in a national magazine where anyone could just pick it up and read it. And that any guy could read it and laugh his baseball cap off because OF COURSE he’d gain ten pounds for a few thousand bucks, no problem; he’d just take the money and buy amateur porn.
And I guess Shari is too stupid to consider that in a few years her body might change and gain ten extra pounds anyway, and when that happens I hope she thinks about how much interest that money could have accrued and how it would have come in handy when her kids needed to be bailed out of jail after getting caught imitating stunts they saw on Jackass, because they’re stupid; stupid by virtue of being raised by Shari, who is stupid. I hate Shari.
(And I hate that those Marie Claire bitches totally set me up to get all pissed off. They probably went through hundreds of surveys before they came across Shari’s and they snickered until they nearly peed on their Jimmy Choo mules and decided to run her quote as if it was something a reasonable person would say. I mean, I hope that’s what happened.)
But I think I would take the $600,000. I think, actually, I would just take the highest amount of money offered, provided it was at least enough to change my standard of living. Although I have to say I’ve been a total whore for compliments lately. Maybe I want to hear this stuff because I’ve actually done something. I’ve been going around for months and months stomping around on the floors of aerobics classes and slinking around Cub Foods looking at all the food labels and trying to memorize the point value for everything like an idiot savant, so I need my props.
I suppose if I gained the ten pounds and got paid six hundred grand, I could go around saying, “Hey! I got paid an assload of money to stop losing weight!” and friends would say “That’s fantastic! And you know, you still look great.” But maybe they’d say that just so I’d pay for their drinks. Also, I couldn’t really take credit for anything except just being lucky enough to have $600,000 offered to me, which would then make me as annoying as Shari.
Taking the money might make me a bitch; would it make me a whore? Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a reason not to care about my weight, and a huge amount of money would be a big reason. Maybe it’s a matter of what’s being sold. I have to think about what that would be.
I think all this aerobics crap has been straining my knees and I’ll have to start doing other things instead of hopping around. I’ll swim, I guess, as soon as I can stand the thought of walking around smelling like Chlorox; I’ll get a bike and ride and chap my butt for a while when spring comes, and I suppose I’ll do the elliptical cross-trainer machine some more.
Of all of these options, I like the elliptical cross-trainer the best. I like how it has the word elliptical in it: I like the idea that I am exercising my sense of obscurity. The treadmill, I think, is all about plain old existential banality; the NordicTrack just takes things way too literally, and as for the StairMaster–well, you can tell the StairMaster reads The Fountainhead and that kind of crap. I’m not sure about the dogma of exercycles. I’ll have to think about that.