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Fat Girl on a Plane

December 5, 2019

One more thing to worry about—I didn’t know that anyone on the flight crew could take a look at someone approaching the gate and decide they’re “too fat to fly.” Did you?

That’s what happens to the protagonist of Kelly Devos’ novel Fat Girl on a Plane. Her name is Cookie and yes, of course she gets teased about it. The plane incident is a dividing moment in her life. There’s the time before 17-year-old Cookie is told she has to spend $650 on a second seat and then on board is told she doesn’t need the second one because “you can fit into one seat….mostly” and called a name I had to look up (“Cankles”). And then there’s the time after, when she loses weight and achieves some of her dreams.

Like many contemporary readers, I’m not often a fan of the divided timeline narrative technique. It’s overdone, and usually it doesn’t add anything. But in this novel, it is used well, to show how Cookie thought her life would be different if she were thin and how it actually is different as she works at becoming smaller.

The comments meant to diminish, of course, never help anyone become smaller, and Cookie’s story has a representative sample, including a “loud conversation that carries over ours” about a woman whose boss thinks she needs to “get rid of that candy dish on your desk. Hit the StairMaster once in a while. Then come back and talk to me about a promotion.” Because that’s how easy it is, you know.

The plot of the novel involves Cookie’s work as a college intern in the fashion industry, and her continued interest in creating a plus-size collection even after she has fought her way down to a size six. She creates a blog for her designs and calls it “Roundish” with this initial post:
“There’s a certain very famous designer who’s been quoted as saying ‘No one wants to see roundish women.’ For this guy, fashion is a world of dreams and illusions where only certain people are welcome.
Of course, it’s true that fashion mocks and humiliates fat people relentlessly. But the real deal is that we’ve all been Roundish at one time or another. We’ve all been made to think we’re less than we ought to be. We’ve all faced superficial shaming about our sizes, shapes, skin tones, hair or age and have been led to believe that our value is based only on what we see in the mirror.
Yet this designer is totally wrong about fashion. He’s completely missed the point. It’s not an illusion or a dream. It’s a tool that should help people feel good about themselves and achieve their dreams.”
I would say that it should at least be possible for a woman my size to buy a red dress, and yet it is not. The meager handful of dresses available in my size (and price range) are mostly black or gray.

I learned something from reading this novel. Cookie points out that “most fashion brands—the Pradas, Ralph Laurens and D&Gs of this world—make less than 25 percent of their money from actually selling clothes. So where does the rest come from? Generally, from accessories (bags, shoes, jewelry, etc.) and licensed goods (fashion brands slap their logos on everything from bedsheets to vodka). And designers have a special place in their hearts for things like fragrances and eyewear….But who is buying all of this stuff?….It’s plus-size women who are buying the lion’s share of these handbags and home goods. And we need to stop doing it.”

The divided timeline comes together interestingly at the end of the novel. Each previous chapter has been labeled “fat” or “thin,” with the number of days before or after joining a weight-loss program. Two of the final chapters provide a perspective on the division, with “Fat: Day 737” immediately preceding “Skinny: Day 866.” And the last chapter has a new label, with a reminder that “yo-yo dieting shortens your lifespan more than fat does.”

It’s too late for me to worry about years of yo-yo dieting, but I’m glad that there’s a novel like this for young girls who are just starting to struggle with their weight today.


14 Comments leave one →
  1. magpiemusing permalink
    December 5, 2019 11:40 am

    Sigh. I have unarticulateable thoughts.

    • December 7, 2019 11:32 am

      That’s kind of how I felt after watching the first episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel when her Bryn Mawr roommate, described as a fat girl so she’d be “someone to eat with who wouldn’t steal my boyfriends” got a gratuitous 15-second scene eating the pat of butter stamped with a Bryn Mawr crest while Miriam was admiring it.

  2. December 5, 2019 1:49 pm

    Yo-yo dieting is very bad for hearts. Long-term success rates for doctors is 2%. People LOVE to judge.

    Life is too short.

    • December 7, 2019 11:33 am

      All true. But a person does need to stay able to walk.

      • December 7, 2019 1:31 pm

        I can’t walk more than a few feet, or stand more than half a minute or so, but I still manage to keep my weight at least stable, and get SOME exercise (was out on the trike just yesterday – everything hurts today – but at least I got out of the building). Funny thing how we keep trying, keep adapting, as long as we can.

  3. December 5, 2019 6:49 pm

    This sounds informative as well as entertaining. I didn’t know that about designer goods or about dieting.

    • December 7, 2019 11:34 am

      It’s something to think about, for people who buy designer accessories.

  4. December 6, 2019 6:30 pm

    I didn’t know that about less than 25% of revenue coming from clothes. Why is so much media/cultural narrative about making everyone feel inadequate, no matter how they look? I guess because there’s no money to be made from contentment – we need to believe the next product will make everything different.

    • December 7, 2019 11:37 am

      Yes. And no one can quit eating “cold turkey”! I’m not the only one to notice the incongruity of the headlines for magazines in the checkout aisle of the grocery store–there’s always one about weight loss, and then at least one about recipes, with photos of the food.

  5. December 7, 2019 4:47 pm

    So she doesn’t magically solve all of her problems by losing weight?


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