Misadventures of Fatwoman #fiction #chicklit

*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 β€œfat” 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.


Misadventures of Fatwoman by Julie Elizabeth Powell is one of those books that I don’t want to review. I finished it ten days ago, and it’s been in the back of my mind like the need to get blood drawn. Some time ago, I gave up on self-published fiction. However, there’s the chance a fat-positive book would be dubbed unmarketable. Booksellers, from what I’ve seen, like for thin to win, and if the main character doesn’t get her body “under control,” well, that’s not what Americans want to read. Misadventures of Fatwoman was published for Kindle books on July 28th, 2011. I stumbled upon it on Goodreads and took the chance back in December when I was compiling a list and buying books for my fat fiction quest. The cover suggests a svelte, confident woman performing on stage:

misadventures

This is a fairly misleading image. Let me explain.

Andi Wallace is a 39-year-old fat British woman. She got married at a young age, had a baby, and then discovered her husband was cheating on her. Later, Andi marries again, this time to a thin man named Ray, and they have a daughter. Andi and Ray have been married for a number of years (16, I believe), so her trust issues are mostly under control. Except she’s fat. Except she found an item from a hotel she’s never been to in her husband’s jacket pocket.

In the very early parts of the book, I thought I had found a winner in my fat fiction quest. Andi thinks, “…why say big when she meant fat?” As stated above, I do not encourage euphemisms for “fat,” because fat is not a shameful word. Then, Andi dissects her memories of being a little girl unashamed of her body, a girl who is adventurous and jumps off the high board into the pool. Andi notes, “. . . what struck her was the utter confidence she had in her abilities. . . .”

Right away, though, I realized Andi’s head is a dangerous place to be. She is “proud” when she doesn’t eat food she wants (only to gorge in the middle of the night). When Andi has a breakdown over her weight, she visits the doctor, who actually listens. This moment is beautiful. Fat people often are not listened to by medical professionals because doctors assume all issues are caused by fat (why does my doctor weight me and ask about my diet when I have bronchitis??). Andi even points out she knows diets don’t work.

And yet the rest of the book is filled with more chicken dinner talk. She uses phrases like “fat, batwing arms.” She’s disappointed that “her excess fat pleated in concertina fashion around her torso.” If something bad happens to Andi, she feels “it was her fault anyway, being so fat and ugly. . . .” After her son is born, Andi “couldn’t seem to shift the tyres of fat that looked like they’d been inflated beyond the realms of possibility. . . .” Why am I going on with so many examples? Because when women, fat or thin, read such a book, they internalize the message. Fat is bad, fat people are monsters, fat people should be reminded constantly they’re fat. I can’t express how hideous I feel when I read books like Misadventures of Fatwoman13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, and Fat Girl. But I’m doing it to find the books that need to be read.

I mostly felt terrible for Andi’s husband, who is shrugged off when he tries to be intimate because Andi is worried he will feel her soft belly. Then there is her best friend, a thin woman who constantly eats, who listens to Andi moan about how she couldn’t do things or express her concerns to her husband about the item she found in his jacket that suggests he’s having an affair. Andi’s fat obsession neuters her. It takes away her agency and renders her passive.

What about that cover? Andi’s job is to teach people who live in a home for those with physical disabilities how to use computers. When the funding doesn’t come through, she decides to put on a talent show to raise money. Though everyone in the house tells Andi she is charismatic, Andi refuses to be the MC. She’s too fat, of course. Imagine that: a house full of people who cannot fully use their bodies have to beg a fat woman, who has no issues with mobility, to see her body as valuable.

In a moment that asks readers to suspend disbelief (“drown” is more what happened), Andi is able to organize the entire talent show in one morning: where to hold the event, the date, how many acts should go on and when, who would sponsor the Talent Night, got a dress shop to donate costumes, a restaurant to donate a meal to 3rd place winners, a basket of “luxury” foodstuffs from the grocery store for 2nd place (a “hamper,” I learned it’s called), and an air balloon ride for 1st place. She talked to reporters, too. Holy moly, lady. People go to college to become event planners; you don’t get the idea one morning and have it all planned within an hour or two. If she did, wouldn’t Andi at least praise her organizing skills? No, she moans that she has to be the MC because there is no one else. And she’s too fat.

Andi, of course, won’t perform in the talent show, which is what I thought would happen based on the cover. Again, she’s too fat. One reason the event was planned so quickly, I’m guessing, is that Julie Elizabeth Powell wanted to have as much room as possible for Andi to look fat, feel fat, be awkward because she’s fat, have other snobby “putting on airs” women tell her she’s fat, and oscillate in her decision to bring up to her husband the hotel. In the end, Andi buys a costume online so that it fits her (who knew that was possible?!) and dubs herself Fatwoman. Why she needs a superhero identity to be an MC, I don’t know.

Overall, the author could have developed a really great novel about a woman who spends 200 pages organizing and participating in a high-stakes charity event that could have ended with Andi coming through as a human being. Instead, Powell encouraged horrible stereotypes, got into my head and made me feel ashamed about myself, and let me down deeply.

For some pick-me-up, read Susan Stinson’s Meet the Writer feature in which she discusses conscientiously writing fat fiction.

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32 comments

  1. Don’t give up on your search, you will find some worthwhile books, I’m sure of it. I must admit I’m a bit of a self-publishing snob, I rarely find books that are self-published and actually worth reading, mind you, I began in publishing so that kind of bred the negative self-publishing vibe in me πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you may have to write a fat-positive book yourself! I fear I rarely read self-published books now either – I’m sure I’m missing out on an occasional good one, but if it’s really good it usually gets picked up by a publisher anyway…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I’ve only found two gems that were self-published that I can remember. There is a mountain of sewage to wade through to get there, though, so it’s not worth it in most cases. For this one, I just wanted to try based on the title and description.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am sorry that this ended up being a disappointment. I totally get you though. Just reading the review had me getting frustrated by the MC. I don’t know if self-depreciating is the correct term but I don’t like how she kept putting herself down and using weight as the issue. I know its the author who portrayed her that way but it does make the MC hard to like.

    I like what you are doing though and your commitment to find the right book in this genre is commendable. All the best and your review is amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Self-deprecating is definitely the right word, and anyone whose been to therapy knows that the more you say terrible things about yourself, the more they become true. You internalize them and make them the reality (i.e. if you think you can’t do something, then you actually can’t when faced with the challenge). Listening to people talk like that can also wear you down. Thus, I don’t know how Andi’s friend and family could be around her. Thank you for your kind words, Diana!

      Like

  4. Every time I open one of these reviews I have hope that you will find a book that has positive fat representation! How is this so difficult? Our society sucks.

    “Instead, Powell encouraged horrible stereotypes, got into my head and made me feel ashamed about myself, and let me down deeply.”

    This breaks my heart 😦

    Here is a random question: Do you write at all?! It may come to the point where you just need to write a book lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do write. In fact, I have three degrees in creative writing, including an MFA in fiction from the University of Notre Dame. However, I did those three degrees back to back and attended Notre Dame during a tumultuous political and economic time. Thus, I felt pretty….empty as a human being for many, many years. I’m just now (7 years later) getting back to being ME. Then I will write again!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. UGH. Why is this so hit-or-miss?! Based on this review, it sounds like Powell was so close so many times. I sometimes wonder if the authors can’t see the horrible stereotypes they are encouraging because they accept them as truth? We have so many barriers to break down still around body acceptance issues in general.

    I hope you can find more books quickly which support your positive fat representation quest soon! I’m still waiting for Dietland from the library, but I want more to read! More!

    Liked by 1 person

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