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Big Fat Manifesto

Big Fat Manifesto
By Susan Vaught
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, 2007
308 pages

Big Fat Manifesto would not be found in the stacks of pagan or spiritual fiction at your local public library. It should, however, be set in a place of prominence in the Young Adult Wonderful Controversial Feminist section. And if there isn’t such a section at your library, there should be.

Jamie Caracterra, the protagonist of BFM, is a goddess in her own right. A brilliant high-school senior, she’s working very hard to win the National Feature Award for “outstanding journalism promoting the public well-being,” which is a scholarship to the college journalism program of the winner’s choice. And she’s fat.

Jamie has all the dreams, anxieties, fun and friends that most high school seniors have. And she’s fat.

But Jamie is not a quiet, “I’m sorry I’m fat” kind of girl and she begins a column in the school newspaper called Fat Girl Manifesto. In her debut column she says, “I am so sick of reading books and articles about fat girls written by skinny women. Or worse yet, skinny guys.” She proclaims, “I’m a fat girl! And I’m not just any fat girl. I’m THE fat girl, baby.” She proceeds to present five fat girl myths she means to write about and shoot down. They are:

Myth Number One: Speak gently to poor Fat Girl. She can’t help her terrible disability.
Myth Number Two: Poor Fat Girl needs to be educated about her problem.
Myth Number Three: Poor Fat Girl laughs to hide her tears.
Myth Number Four: Poor lonely Fat Girl can’t get a date.
Myth Number Five: All poor Fat Girl wants to do is lose weight.

And she shoots them down with flare!

Jamie’s life becomes pretty complicated when her supportive boyfriend decides that, though Jamie is fine the way she is, he wants to have weight-loss surgery. The balancing act she must maintain while juggling her feelings about the surgery, her school work, her desire for a higher education, the reaction to her column from other students, teachers and the outside world (including the committee who chooses the National Feature Award winner) is not easy. How she does deal with it is what sets this book apart from a typical teen angst story.

Certainly there’s angst here (how could there not be?) but Jamie’s story is told with courage and humor. There are laugh-out-loud moments that anyone can identify with. Jamie is a wonderful, smart (and smart-ass) girl that you wish you were best friends with. And it’s definitely refreshing to read a tale of a fat girl who doesn’t spend her time rushing to a “fairy-tale” happy ending of losing all the weight and suddenly becoming popular.

The strength of this book, and the reason I chose to review it — aside from the fact that I loved it — is that its message is neither “everyone should be thin” nor “everyone should be fat.” Jamie has doubts and fears, but she also researches and arms herself with as much unprejudiced knowledge as she can find on the subject of fat and health. And she makes you laugh and sympathize while she does it.
I recommend the story here because I believe fat is a feminist subject that elicits passionate opinions on all sides. This is a side that isn’t often heard. The fact that it’s done so well while being highly entertaining makes me want to give it some kind of award. So… I hereby bestow the “Big, Beautiful, Young Goddess Award” on the book Big Fat Manifesto.

Okay, there really is no such award, but if there were, it would so go to this book.


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