Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Fat Chance: An Italian Will Tell You If You Put on Weight. Are We Too Coy?

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Fat Chance: An Italian Will Tell You If You Put on Weight. Are We Too Coy?

Article excerpt

Five years ago I went to visit my relatives in southern Italy after an absence of some years. In that time I'd written a book and won an award and built a house. Admittedly, I didn't accomplish that last feat entirely alone, but the point is, I'd done lots; so, I thought, conversation would stray beyond the Pope. I was right--it did.

"Haven't you put on weight," came the first comment, on the first day, within the first five minutes of me getting there. I shuffled uncomfortably. "No, but haven't you?" the offended relative pressed. I reddened like some caught-out, humiliated child. And so it continued. "Have you seen the state of her?" one aunt said when I'd barely left the room. "Yes, that's Annalisa," said another as I climbed the stairs and she stayed in the lobby chatting to a neighbour. "I know," she said sadly. I imagined her shaking her head. "Look what's become of her."

By day five I was a nervous wreck, too scared to meet anybody new and, I am ashamed to admit, slightly teary. Even a big religious procession brought no respite, just contact with more people who would marvel at "what had become of Annalisa" (vanity forces me to point out that I never went beyond a size 16). My boyfriend, who couldn't understand much Italian then, was oblivious to it all. "Just tell me," I said on day eight. "Am I, like, really huge and I just don't realise it?" In my imagination I had now morphed into something from a grotesque Lucian Freud painting, all mottled, bulging flesh and slightly distorted limbs. …

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