Fat Girl, Skinny, by Amye Archer. Boston, Massachusetts: Big Table Publishing, January 2016. 190 pages. $16.00, paper.
The first time a boy called me fat, I was at the public pool in fifth grade. I’d chosen a one-piece tie-dye number from JCPenney and Emily, my oldest friend, had a two-piece blue suit of which I was endlessly jealous. That summer we spent every summer day together, in and out of the pool, burning our feet on cement and slurping down drippy ice cream cones.
A boy named Connor Brooks walked up to my beautiful friend Emily, looked me up and down, said, “Who’s the fat girl?”
Amye gets it. In her memoir, Fat Girl, Skinny, she navigates the world as both a fat and thin woman after her husband leaves her for someone younger and thinner. She grapples with how her fatness affects how others see her, how she sees herself. She quickly moves through her life, good and bad dates, inappropriate boundary-pushing moments with officemates, and sometimes clubs you in the gut with how it is and feels to be fat in a world built for thinness. Amye’s prose is conversational and comfortable, but beautifully, hilariously, and succinctly said. The book breezes by like a conversation, a time-lapse in a movie where the second hand spins around.
As a recovering drug and alcohol addict, my recovery is so much like Amye’s. It hurts and feels so good to see how she she talks about herself and behaves frantically out of her own insecurities. Reading Amye’s work is like scratching a mosquito bite. Her fatness is your whatever. This book is for those of us who have ever felt trapped in a body or a mind:
No one ever says they want to grow up to be fat. Fat is a place you get stuck, like the Lincoln Tunnel at five o’clock on a Friday afternoon. Fat is a place where boys don’t like you and other girls laugh at you. Fat is your cousin’s First Holy Communion party, school on a warm June day, or a coworker’s wedding. It’s the last place you want to be. And when you end up there, you still have no idea how it happened. Because it wasn’t supposed to be this way. You weren’t supposed to be the fat girl.
With a tough gang of women, Sherri with an I and Pantsuit Pam, she hopes for flus and tapeworms, holds hands in bare feet, counts points. She’s so open with these women, even citing her reason for weight loss as “Revenge” (a moment where I knew Amye was my girl). My twelve-step program feels so much like her Weight Watchers. Me and my fellow addicts, a ragtag group of vets and ex-bigshots, even kids younger than me, in a big circle chanting the serenity prayer. The difference between our addictions is this: Amye is addicted to something she needs to survive. I kept coming back to this as I read her experiences and aligned it with mine. How do you quit something essential?
Amye splays open her ribs. She deeply explores the sorts of desperation we are all desperate to forget in ourselves and the simple injustices that shape the frame of our adult minds, like the time she and her lifelong friend, Georgia, cracked skulls at a ballet class when she was five. She ended up with a concussion, her friend jumped up, unscathed. Georgia is, also, you guessed it, skinny.
Amye is able to articulate how it feels to have your life get out of hand, how it looks in a brain:
And this is how my weight gain happens. A timeline of images, a melody of misery. My weight is a song and trying on dresses seems to be the chorus, repeating over and over. There is no memory of the first moment; it has been erased by a lifetime of dreaming what it would be like to be skinny. Skinny was something that was never attainable, a place I could never exist. The golden land of milk and honey, where boys fell all over you and treated you like a princess, where you were promoted easily because you were pretty, where you never had to pay a bill or skip a meal. Skinny was always the answer to my problems, the one thing that would make everything better. It was everything I ever wanted.
Her hurt looks like my hurt and I wished she could be with me as I struggle with my own similar and different problems. I want to look in Amye’s eyes and see myself. Reading her story is like knowing what you need, but needing someone else to tell you. It’s about turning inward. It’s about taking care of yourself or finding people to do it for you until you can.
It’s a love story between Amye and Amye, Amye and you. I finished the book with my eyes open wide, brimming with hot tears. I’m so much like Amye, it’s like looking into the future. And goddamn, the future is good.
Gwen Werner is the founding editor of Moonsick Magazine and author of Kill Us on the Way Home and I’m Ruining My Own Life. She is a sorority dropout and cry-baby from Iowa.