Fat Girls Need Fiction
Here we see all the abilities of fancy, deftly woven together: its abil-
ity to endow a perceived form with rich and complex significance;
its generous construction of the seen; its preference for wonder over
pat solutions; its playful and surprising movements, delightful for
their own sake; its tenderness; its eroticism; its awe before the fact of
—Martha Nussbaum, “The Literary Imagination
in Public Life” (1991, p. 901)
Fat girls need fiction.
For this to be true does not require that fat girls need fiction more than anyone else, or that we need it because we are fat. Human beings are complex, and there is unlikely to be only one simple story about why we need anything.
I am a novelist, frankly biased, but I find it utterly compelling to think of bringing the qualities that Nussbaum attributes to fancy—a generous construction of the seen; preference for wonder over pat solutions; tenderness; eroticism; and awe before the fact of human mortality—to the contemplation of my fat body. The idea of the architects and disseminators of public health policy (or even, say, a nurse rolling up my sleeve to measure my blood pressure) considering fatness using such habits of mind represents the possibility of a very different world than the one where I live now. “Playful and surprising movements, delightful for their own sake” could be an appreciation not just of the workings of the imagination but also of fat in motion. I consider it a gift of many long, ardent, malleable hours of reading fiction that my mind makes that leap.
I originally read Fat Girl Dances with Rocks secretly over a period of weeks—the old
Tower Records on Newbury Street in Boston had a copy, and I went back again and
again and read it a few pages at a time, as this was pre-size-acceptance for me, and
owing to my seemingly bottomless reserves of internalized fat hatred, I couldn't bring
myself to take it to the counter and buy it. Like, in front of someone. WHOA. Never.
I read it like really gruesome, really forbidden porn—it was simultaneously horrifying
and exhilarating. I was disgusted with myself for wanting to read it but I couldn't stop.