Fat Girl by Jessie Carty

*This book is part of my 2017 search to find positive representations of fat women in fiction or nonfiction, and that positive representation will not hinge on weight loss and falling in love. Thus, books will either meet or not meet my criteria, which will factor overall into my recommendations. I purposely use the word “fat” because it is not a bad word. Using plump, curvy, plus-sized, fluffy, big-boned, shapely, voluptuous, or any other term suggests that fat is bad and thus needs a euphemism.

Fat Girl by Jessie Carty

published by Sibling Rivalry Press, 2011


Though I don’t often read poetry because it’s not been the focus of my studies, I’ve come to realize that I know more about poetry than I think I do, and that my opinions on it are not worthless. I’m especially a fan of line breaks, clever rhyming (not the Hallmark stuff), and poems that make me want to do something. A fellow faculty member likes to say, “Poems have the power to change the world.” Well, I agree only to that extent when a poem changes my actions. A lot of what I read in college was alphabet soup burped up on paper, and I wasn’t behind that.

Carty’s poems aren’t gastrointestinal afterthoughts, but they don’t meet any of my other criteria for a good poem, either. The first poem, “Woman of Willendoff: The Artifact” threw me off immediately. She’s Willendorf, not Willendoff. This statue is often referred to as the Venus of Willendorf, but Carty writes, “She predated Venus mythology by millennia.”

Venus of Willendorf. Photo from Wikipedia.

A symbol of fertility, Carty asks how this woman, were she alive, “hold up an infant? Her tiny arms — crossed / over her chest — have no palms.” The focus on this fertile woman wanders to the statue’s hair, which reminds the speaker of “the weaving of baskets.” Strangely, the connection made next is to Easter egg baskets and looking inside “you” like an egg. Who is the focus — the fertile fat woman, or who “you” really is? At best, I  was left wondering what the point was.

The rest of the poems read more like thoughts, perhaps even ones I’ve had myself as a fat woman, with line breaks that don’t end on moments to create anticipation for the next line not to create alliteration, nor rhymes or slant rhymes. Poems included are “The Fat Girl on Grooming,” “Fat Girl’s Wedding Picture,” “Fat Girl on Air Travel,” and “Fat Girl at the Drug Store.” Each poem is very short; the collection is only 45 pages. What this means, though, is each word must have the weight of 20 to make such brevity matter. Instead, the “Fat Girl’s Wedding Picture” notes the bride’s off-white dress, her brown shoes with the low heel, the way she holds her bouquet by her hip. Very much an observation instead of something layered. The image itself, had the photographer considered lighting, tone, a theme, and angles, would be more meaningful.

Mainly, it was the way Carty succumbed to a chicken dinner approach to a fat woman’s body: pick it apart piece by piece.

a) Separate the parts, b) Name them, c) Criticize

Big thighs are shameful, suggest promiscuity. Breasts inhibit the ability to bend over and trim toenails, are even cumbersome during an autopsy. Clothes are problematic: they’re too small, hard to find, or look just everyone else’s except they don’t because they’re on a fat body.

I’m staunchly against dissecting the fat female body like a frog in biology, and I’m starting to learn that writers, both fat and not, only see the bodies of fat women, and that fat women have brains that match their sad, fat bodies. One poem, entitled “I Love My Biceps,” looked positively at a fat female body. The arms still “sag and jiggle,” but the speaker is proud of them and is reminded of a fat art teacher whose biceps enabled her to sculpt clay like nobody’s business. Since the poem moves into an image of a strong woman working with her hands, I appreciated it more, it still picks one piece of the body and inspects it. Where are more of these moments of strength? Fat is not weakness, but even fat writers are reassuring everyone that it is, and that it’s all fat women think about: a deficit in abundance.

As a result, I don’t recommend Fat Girl by Jessie Carty, though her other poetry collections may be quite different.


  1. Not much luck with this one, I guess. It sounds like it was too surface-y, no depth.

    The more I read poetry (which is not a lot), the more I’ve been trying to decide what I like about it (and what I don’t). One thing I’ve figured out is that I like poetry that tells a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “what I read in college was alphabet soup burped up on paper.”

    Ha! That description fits most the poetry I read in high school. I stayed away from poetry in college, and now I’m thinking I should reacquaint myself with it. I don’t think I’ll add Carty to TBR, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really like a correction called Alphabet by Christensen Inger. It uses math to create a formula for writing them poems in the book. I don’t love poetry or math, but that correction is great.


  3. I’ve been a poetry fan ever since I was a little kid – maybe Shel Silverstein kicked it off? 🙂 In any case, for me, poetry done right makes me feel something – relief, sadness, joy, recognition of a shared emotion. In any case, it’s a shame that this wasn’t what you’d hoped for. Do you think the poet was writing in this style (dissecting the fat female body) as a method of catharsis?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure… It’s possible, though she also has to know that the message she’s putting out their reinforces stereotypes and suggests all fat women are sad, dissatisfied heaps of flesh trudging around.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. But… don’t you think that if a fat woman writes a book about being a fat woman then it’s going to concentrate on the body? Would the real acceptance of fat as normal not be if it weren’t mentioned at all? Or at least wasn’t the main subject matter? The poetry still sounds pretty poor, though I’m a rubbish judge. On the whole I don’t really “get” much contemporary poetry – it often seems kinda whiny. Maybe I just read the wrong stuff… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Of course it would all focus on the body, though why it needs to be all criticism is my beef. Isn’t anyone ever thankful that their body allows them to do wonderful things, and that pointing out the “trauma” of fat arms is a useless endeavor? I agree that a lot of modern isn’t very thoughtful.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “A lot of what I read in college was alphabet soup burped up on paper, and I wasn’t behind that.”

    Hahaha this is why I love you lol

    This seems like it was the exact opposite of what you were looking for. It doesn’t appear that you’ve had much success in finding positive fat representation in literature… which is such a shame. I keep my eyes and ears open for any books that might fit the bill.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve only read one so far–Dietland, which I still think about FREQUENTLY. It’s a highly impactful novel, one of the most impactful novels I’ve read. After the current book I’m reading, I’m going to read some more Zora Neale Hurston. She makes me happy, and readers of my review were very excited to hear about her, too.


  6. Another great review. Entertaining and thoughtful! Sorry this one didn’t work out, at least it was short. I don’t read poetry at all except by accident, but occasionally I run into stuff I like.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This: “A fellow faculty member likes to say, “Poems have the power to change the world.” Well, I agree only to that extent when a poem changes my actions. A lot of what I read in college was alphabet soup burped up on paper, and I wasn’t behind that.”

    These words connect soooo deeply to me. My school poetry studies were often exactly as you mentioned– alphabet soup. Or, I was told how to interpret them. It was frustrating and separated me from poetry. I love the connection you make to your actions. That’s so important.

    Overall, it sounds like Carty really missed the mark. Her lack of precision and depth really seems to have cut her own poems short. It sounds like the sort of thing a publisher let through because it focuses on the “trendy” concept of fat-acceptance. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh, but this definitely didn’t help with what I think of as empowering fat-acceptance.

    Besides, I love that fried chicken image. I can’t stop laughing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t read much poetry, but it does seem like there’s been a long historical trend of using poetry to dissect women’s bodies. There’s a good deal of that in Renaissance poetry, anyway. I suppose it could be interesting if someone were to take that trend and do a positive representation of fat women. But, overall, the whole thing does seem a little objectifying, especially if we’re getting a plethora of poems about body parts and not much else to balance it with. Of course, people like being complimented on their looks and I’m sure a love poem about how beautiful the beloved is is not going to be necessarily offensive. But can’t women be complimented on beauty and other things, too?


    • To me it’s frustrating that traditionally good looking women are dissected to determine their “fuckability,” as one character in Sarai Walker’s novel Dietland calls it. And then, traditionally NOT good looking women are dissected to reveal all their flaws. Carty played a role in that narrative, and for that I gave her book a negative review.


      • Frankly, I find the whole thing amusing. Who actually sits there contemplating different body parts so they can compare an elbow to a ship upon the sea? I try to find the humor in it, but there is definitely a dark side to it. It’s uncomfortable to see a woman’s body catalogued as a collection of parts. I’d much rather see the whole woman celebrated–as person!


        • I’m really thinking about this stuff again because I’m reading Dietland by Sarai Walker to my husband. I’ve read it before, but because I bring it up often enough, he chose it as our newest nighttime read. Walker truly makes you think about how women, fat and thin, are dissected publicly and in media, even by people who have noble intentions on other aspects of their lives (vegan, human rights lawyer, nurse, etc.).

          Liked by 1 person

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