I am a fan of Stephanie Klein, whose first memoir, Straight Up and Dirty, told the story of what it’s like to find yourself in your 20s with not a husband, but a "wasbund" who had an affair, only to have to begin again by "rodating" (rotating the men to have as much sex as possible). This love of sex began early, and Klein was indeed the fey chick who all the guys would play with. Just ask any former football-playing, best-looking, most-popular guy in high school who he had the best raunchiest sex with and he will, I can almost guarantee, give the accolades to the unpopular pudgy girl who knocked his socks (as well as other things) off.
In Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp, Klein gives us another slice of her life, this time as a journey through her tweens and teens punctuated with her many summers spent at weight loss camp, or “fat camp”. Each chapter begins with a diary entry from that time of Klein’s life and then we get the story to go with it. But in the end we get a true sense of what it is like to live your entire life with a focus on your size and the food you eat.
As an eighth-grader Klein knows she is overweight. The boys at school call her “Moose” (which sticks to her no matter how thin she becomes); her father constantly comments on her size, telling her that “No one likes fat girls”; her mother takes her to the neighborhood nutritionist, Fran Levine the “fat doctor” of Roslyn Heights, Long Island; and finally they enroll her and her sister (who doesn’t need to lose weight) in fat camp. So imagine her horror when, years later and pregnant with twins, she gets on the scale at her obstetrician’s office and is told that she needs “to gain 50 pounds."
- "Mimi, you have no idea how hard this for me." I’m fat as it is, I was about to say aloud, but I knew she’d start in about my distorted body image. She could’t undrestand. Instead, almost apologetically, I lamented, "I used to be fat."
"Well, to look at you no one would ever know it."
No, I thought, I will never forget it.
Camp Tanisin (a blend of her camp experiences) proves to be a place where Klein faces her body, loses weight, and returns year after year until she becomes staff. In her first days at camp she realizes she is by far one of the smallest people there but still experiences the indignities of being weighed on an industrial meat scale, the joy of her first hickey, and the typical frendship and trauma of adolescence:
- The objective of at camp was to boost my self-esteem and my confidence, and improve my overall health. Despite the noble intentions, I ate with chopstics, sucked on ice cubes, and hate private water parties the night before weigh ins. I learned about enemas, laxatives, diet pills, and vomiting.
Because camp became a competition, against others and against herself. All the women I know have strange and interesting relationships with food. We eat too much or not enough, we have secret ways to lose weight quickly after a binge, and we ration and obsess about food. “I still go on diets where I’ll eat nothing but cabbage soup or hot dogs or no refined sugar or bleached anything. I read labels looking for 9 grams of fiber in a single slice of bread. I eat noodles made of tofu. I say it’s for my health, but I don’t really believe it. The chemicals in frozen dietetic foods aren’t for my health; they’re for my thin.”
And we learned this from our mothers and our families. We learn from the women and men who we grow up with that thin is always better. And that’s why thin makes us happy. “Because when my clthes are looser, I smile more readily and laugh more freely. I’m happier thin, in part because I remember, and am bombarded by, messages from those I love that I’m better for it.” Even with a husband who loves her and thinks she is the sexiest woman alive no matter what size, Klein says, “I’m ‘healthier’ now, but it doesn’t feel happy.”
Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp is not a joyous, happy story about losing weight and finding your true happiness without food. This is real life gritty memoir of how it really feels to battle with food and yourself for your entire life. Every parent of a girl should read this book!