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Now That You Mention It

August 2, 2018

This past weekend when I went to Colorado to visit our friend and former house-mate, Miriam, I took the book she’d sent me for my birthday to read on the plane, Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins. I thought we could talk about the book while I was there, and we did, briefly, but I didn’t expect that my first question about it would be why did you send me a book full of criticism of fat women?

Miriam is a nurse, and although she’s been slim for the past thirty years, she knew the pain of being a slightly overweight young girl. I am currently at my top weight after the past few years of not being able to walk well. So when I asked her if it was a book that people in the medical community like, because the main character is a doctor (a gastroenterologist) she said that she hadn’t noticed the fat-bashing and thought I would like it because of the female friendships.

The main character of Now That You Mention It is a Boston doctor named Nora who has moved back to her childhood home on an island in Maine after being injured in an accident. We learn that after her father suddenly left her and her mother and sister, she gained a lot of weight: “when it finally became clear that my father wasn’t coming back anytime soon, I did what unhappy girls do all over the earth, and especially in America. I ate.” Nora was made fun of by her high school classmates, who called her “the troll”. Then she went to college and “shed thirty pounds in six months, joined the crew team…and started running.” Because all that keeps a person fat is not exercising enough.

When Nora introduces herself to one of her high school classmates on the island, the woman says “you lost weight. Christ. I didn’t even recognize you.” Another high school classmate she meets is described as “a woman who must’ve weighed three hundred pounds, body mass index of at least forty. Hypertension, judging from her weight and flushed face, and diabetes on the horizon if she didn’t have it already.” Because we all know that a person can’t be fat and healthy.

Even Nora’s mother, who has always been a normal weight, gets one of Nora’s lectures about food when she puts a slice of American cheese on a sandwich:
“Hey, American cheese is all fat, you know. It’s not really even cheese.”
“I like it.”
So did I. Who didn’t? “Just watching out for your cholesterol.”

Nora is so concerned about the weight of a daughter of a former high school classmate that she organizes a run called “Go Far, Be Strong” so that the young people on the island will get moving and discover the amazing pound-shedding potential of exercise:
“We raised more than fifteen grand for a health initiative for kids in grades six through twelve. Cooking and nutrition classes, some new equipment for the gym, obesity prevention, all that good stuff.” Because if you know how to eat better and exercise, you won’t be fat (or so Nora, like most doctors, seems to think).

The daughter of the high school classmate, Audrey, is initially described as “she hauled herself to her feet—fifty or so pounds overweight, and I remembered that difficulty, that envy at the girls who could stand from a cross-legged position as gracefully as an egret.” In the end, however, Audrey’s fatness turns out to be caused by her Cushing’s disease, which Nora diagnoses, and everyone is pleased when just days after Audrey’s surgery, her looks are improving: “it had been ten days since her surgery, and she already looked better, healthier, less tired. She had a light tan from working outside.”

There really are some good female friendships in this book, though. Nora’s friend Roseline, from Boston, is always enthusiastic about spending time with Nora. She sympathizes when Nora tells her about what it’s like to go back to the place she grew up:
“It’s like I’m the same person I was at fifteen, rather than an actual adult….This week at the clinic, I was called ‘the fat one’ and ‘Sharon’s other daughter, not the pretty one.’”

The female friends Nora makes on the island share her love of the Harry Potter books. They are a high school classmate, Xiaowen, and the nurse at the clinic where Nora is working, Gloria. Before Nora and Gloria find out that Gloria is dating Nora’s ex-boyfriend in Boston, they have a conversation about him in Harry-Potter-speak, calling him “Slytherin” because when Gloria met him he was wearing a green-and-gray-striped shirt:
“Gloria, how’s Slytherin?”
“I think Slytherin and I are taking it to the next level,” Gloria said.
“Does he want to Slytherin to your chamber of secrets?” I asked.
“Was that a wand in his pocket, or was he just happy to see you?” Xiaowen added.
“Come on over here, sweetheart, and I’ll show you my patronus.”
“You two are funny,” Gloria said, “in a juvenile, idiotic way….Actually, we did play a little Quidditch, if you know what I mean….”
“Did he capture your Golden Snitch?” Xiaowen and I said at the same time. We high-fived each other, giggling like the tweens we were channeling.

Gloria has to get over believing what Nora’s ex says about her before their friendship can continue. At one point Nora asks her “don’t you hate when two women have a really nice friendship going on, and then that friendship is ruined because of a guy?”

In the end, Nora finds love and resolves her conflicts with her family. She is going to be Audrey’s stepmother and Nora is glad that “she’d shot up four inches this past year, now that her Cushing’s disease was cured, and dropped a lot of weight.” So it’s happily ever after for everybody who deserves it; anybody still fat simply doesn’t know how to count or work off their calories.

It was a good enough airplane book, but I think I’m going to pass it on to someone else who, like Miriam, won’t notice the fat-bashing. (Is that you?)

 

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. August 2, 2018 3:47 pm

    I should have stopped reading after your first paragraph or two, because, like you, I noticed the fat-shaming immediately just in your review.

    I wish they would get over it. Doctors’ success rate with long-term weight loss under their supervision is 2%. Yup. TWO percent. For the past 50 years or more.

    Adding psychological pressure on top of a body which refuses to regulate its own weight properly is MEAN. Weight is not my job, any more than breathing should be.

    Yes, there is an epidemic going on. Countries such as Mexico, which had NO fat people when I was growing up there in the 1960s, now have the highest obesity rates in the world.

    But the answer is not dieting and exercise (and fat shaming for those who can’t diet and exercise, or don’t lose weight that way), but figuring out and repairing the huge change in humans over the past half-century. Individuals making changes in their lives is good, and sometimes fruitful (don’t eat the ubiquitous fruit – fructose is VERY fattening, and humans were evolved to turn fruit into fat in the VERY short time during the year in which local fruit was ripe – to make it through the next winter without indoor heating).

    A book this rife with that mean and negative attitude can’t have anything other than stereotypes in others areas such as ‘relationships’ and ‘friends’ and ‘family.’ I think I’ll skip it.

    • August 3, 2018 8:33 am

      I did pull out most of the examples of fat-bashing that made me react as I did.
      And yes, weight loss usually doesn’t work long-term. As a lifelong yo-you dieter I see that.
      One of the things I’m proud of is that I raised my kids to have a healthier attitude about food than I do (never used it as a reward, etc.)

  2. August 2, 2018 5:01 pm

    Geez, when I saw your first paragraph I was sure I knew which fat-hating Kristan Higgins book this is, but it sounds like this author just has a damn bee in her bonnet. (She has a new book out that I heard a lot about on Twitter — Good Luck with That — as being really, really fatphobic and awful.) Anyway, this sounds immensely frustrating. 😦

    • August 3, 2018 8:20 am

      This one wasn’t that frustrating, really; it just built to a point. Thanks for the warning about this author, who I had never read before and never will again.

  3. Gwen Bailey permalink
    August 2, 2018 8:50 pm

    As Marge Pierce says,”To every girl, a happy ending.” What a relief to know that there is a specific reason for every weight gained and lost!

    • August 3, 2018 8:19 am

      You’re right; only Marge Piercy’s poem “Barbie Doll” is a sarcastic-enough response to the fat-bashing in this novel.

      This girlchild was born as usual
      and presented dolls that did pee-pee
      and miniature GE stoves and irons
      and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
      Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
      You have a great big nose and fat legs.

      She was healthy, tested intelligent,
      possessed strong arms and back,
      abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
      She went to and fro apologizing.
      Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.

      She was advised to play coy,
      exhorted to come on hearty,
      exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
      Her good nature wore out
      like a fan belt.
      So she cut off her nose and her legs
      and offered them up.

      In the casket displayed on satin she lay
      with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
      a turned-up putty nose,
      dressed in a pink and white nightie.
      Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
      Consummation at last.
      To every woman a happy ending.

  4. Miriam (me). permalink
    August 5, 2018 12:14 am

    You are right. I was oblivious to the fat comments. I wonder to what extent the author was as well.

    • August 5, 2018 8:08 am

      The author may well be unaware of her deep-seated revulsion for fat people.

  5. Nancy Keegan permalink
    August 5, 2018 5:49 pm

    Holy smokes. Thinking it over, it’s no surprise they like Harry Potter; JK Rowling seldom hesitates to fat-bash. (I still love Harry Potter, tho)

  6. August 6, 2018 10:57 pm

    Ugh. I would have been so turned off by this. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people write or say that fat peoplet can’t possibly be active or healthy or not have diabetes or some other condition due to being fat. That Harry Potter innuendo was funny, though.

    • August 7, 2018 8:18 am

      Yes, there were good parts, and I think that for someone else the fat-bashing wouldn’t have been so noticeable. You do tend to notice it, though, when you’ve had these things said about you.

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