In Clothes Called Fat

This single-volume manga by Moyoko Anno is the story of a woman with an eating disorder that was absolutely incredible, but also very, very difficult to read. Huge, huge trigger warning for eating disorders — it actually messed me up for a few days. But if you can get through it, I think it’s a very important work. This may be kind of disjointed, because it’s a bit hard for me to talk about, but more people should read this book.

Huge TW for this post as well.

It’s rather unusual to see depictions of binge eating disorder. The protagonist, Noko, does ultimately end up bulimic, but for the first half or so of the story it’s just BED, and it’s dealt with so well, treated as something somewhere in between a compulsion and comfort, something that pollutes every aspect of your being. Anorexia and bulimia get a lot of screentime, I think, because they’re illnesses that make you thin — they’re sexy, in a terrible, twisted way. But BED — and certain manifestations of bulimia — don’t result in thinness. There’s this unstated expectation with EDs, that if you’re going to be so sensitive you should at least be pretty… and I think I’m not the only one who’s heard, “Well, if you do have an eating disorder, it’s not working,” and the like. That the story makes it clear Noko is sick long before she’s also thin — long before she’s even actively trying to lose weight — is really important.

The way Noko’s boyfriend tortures her and uses her to up his own self-esteem is so… accurate. But more importantly, I think one of the really amazing things the book does is take the female bully Noko deals with and make her sympathetic. She’s horrible, almost sociopathic, but the thing about Thinness as a goal is that it’s never enough. You’re never happy. The nature of an ED is that you’re always miserable and it will never stop. Ami, the admin of Escher Girls, had a really insightful post about this:

[…] when my ED was really bad it started to occur to me that I could NEVER stop it, and I felt completely and utterly trapped.

The scariest part was that I realized that there was no end point.  I had to keep starving myself and exercising because I was defying the natural weight/size/shape my body wanted to be in, so I could never stop, I could never go back to eating normally.  And that’s on top of how absolutely trapped I was in the mindset of my starving and exercising being a compulsion at that point too.  But before I could tackle the compulsion, I had to let go of the idea of what my body had to look like to be “beautiful” and to be worthwhile.

And realizing that it was NEVER. GOING. TO. END. was horrifying.

When I started dieting, which ended up spiraling down, I never thought of the end point.  I thought, eventually, I’d reach where I wanted to be, I’d be beautiful, and then I’d be happy… but once I got there, I started to realize, I’m trapped.  There’s no way out.  If I go back to where I was, so would my body.  I had gone all in, and it would all be wasted, if I gave up now, so I could only go deeper.

Eventually, I started to cry at the realization that I couldn’t see anything other than starving, exercising, until the day I died.  And I had already suffered so much to get to this point, if I went back, what would be the point?  At least I had accomplished something.  And the sad part is, being thin, controlling your food intake, being “beautiful”, is an “accomplishment” for women in our society.  And it’s what my brain latched onto.  After the trauma that happened to me half a year before, I felt like an utter and total failure as a person, and my brain latched onto a way society told me I could prove myself a success as a woman: “be size 0, be beautiful”.

When you’re fat, Thinness is seen as a place in which you’ll be happy — fatness is a moral failing and is what makes people unhappy, because it is Bad. To be thin is to access this kind of Real Life. As Lindy West said in her FemFreq interview, “I always thought of myself in the future. This was just my temporary body, and my real self would have a thin body, because that’s what real people have.” But what Ami talks about is the truth — there is no happiness, because there’s no end. I remember the first time I had that realization. People would say to me, “Wow, you’ve lost so much weight, do you think you’ll lose more?” and I realized: it will never be enough. And that realization, that this Thinness I’d been chasing didn’t exist for me, was I think the final straw between dangerous dieting and a full-blown ED, because when nothing about you is ever good enough, it’s impossible to care. My body was wrong and it had ruined me, ruined my life, so it didn’t matter if I destroyed it in return, and if I found Thinness along the way, even better.

And the worst part is the hate it makes you have for other people. No one else is in this hell. All these girls and women, they walk around, not even aware that they have the Thinness. And you find yourself hating them for it, hating them so much, because you were supposed to be happy, too. Why are they happy without you? What right do they have to be so happy without working as hard as you have? What makes them so much better than you? And there’s still this sane part that knows that they’re not better than you but it gets twisted by the ED into this resentment because if you can’t be as happy as them, they should at least be as miserable as you.

And one of the most important things this story does is recognize this.

It knows, it knows, that the women who are cruelest to other women are almost invariably the women in the most pain, because we’re all victims of this terrible system and sometimes it twists you so badly that all you want it to drag others to hell with you, and it’s not a personal failing, it’s a societal one, and it’s not your fault when you hate yourself so much, when you’re so unhappy that other people’s joy just brings you more hate.

So, so often this reality gets twisted into a more tropic “women hate women” thing that is extra cruel precisely because we essentially emotionally abuse women into that hate, and that Anno is able to illustrate that cruel people are also often miserable people is so, so important. Noko’s scene near the end in the bathroom when she calls the other women fat and ugly isn’t a sign that she’s become a monster or become the thing she always hated, it’s a sign that she’s broken in a way no one should ever have to break. And it reveals Mayumi’s seemingly psychotic hatred for the actual pitiful insanity that it is.

Anno depicts the prison of chasing Thinness with a deftness and accuracy that is, in the most complimentary way this word could be used, almost sickening. And she’s very, very good about depicting the men on the outside, looking in, pulling strings and laughing as the women tear themselves to pieces in search of comfort.

And on that note, I want to look at the utterly despicable back cover summary, because whoever wrote it should be absolutely ashamed of themselves:

It’s honestly hard to even know where to start. “Dark comedy of manners?” Whoever reads this and finds it funny should seek help — it’s a horrible, cruel tragedy (Wiki rightly called the genre “drama”). “No one comes out looking good?” As if the point of this was to look good, either literally or metaphorically? Or what about “[her] weight problems are not her true failing,” implying that her weight problems are, in fact, a personal failing? And what about this “true failing?” What the fuck “failing” did they find here? The abusive boyfriend? The mental breakdown? The eating disorder and self-harm? When she gets so sick she has to be hospitalized?

This description is so cruel it almost feels like it should be part of the story itself, something Noko sees that drives her further into despair. It’s bad enough that I kind of want to send the publisher, Vertical, a strongly worded email, because it’s just such a horrible thing to say about this story.

The reviews, both professional and amateur, are equally as horrifying for a variety of different reasons — “But if she’s thin at the end why doesn’t it get a happy ending?” is a recurring theme, as is, “Why won’t she just lose weight properly?” — but I don’t have the energy to deal with those. (Mercifully, there also seem to be a good chunk of people who actually view Noko as a human being.)

Suffice to say, if you can cope with it, I highly recommend reading this book, if not because it’s a well-told story with nice art, then because it offers a nuanced, sympathetic, and realistic perspective on an issue that’s way, way too often swept under the rug.

22 Comments

  1. I basically have no idea about any of this stuff. It’s strange and alien and would never really affect me so I doubt I’d have learned of it. This place is educational too.

    “And the worst part is the hate it makes you have for other people…”
    This is, like, literally Sakura’s pov later in HF. So Nasu got even that right?

    Also I’ve managed to extract something FSN related even from here. There might not be any hope for me.

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    1. Act says:

      RE: Sakura: Yeah, and I also really liked that he didn’t blame her for her resentment or paint it as her being hysterical. It’s a shame that her route was kind of a clusterfuck, because her overall portrayal was really sensitive (you could say the same about similar topics in Tsukihime and KnK too, so Nasu just seems like a good dude).

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      1. Spoony Viking says:
        Hm, don’t you think it seems like the characters (especially Rin) and the narrative blame Sakura for losing control at the end?
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        1. Heatth says:

          I thought the point was that Rin was wrong? That we weren’t suppose to side with her on that? That said, it have been a long time since I actually played it.

           

          (btw, just noticed the new options when commenting. Nice)

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          1. SpoonyViking says:

            If I remember it correctly, we’re not supposed to side with Rin on killing Sakura, but Shirou also chastises Sakura for giving in to her anger (although, if I recall it correctly, his tone is more like “Yes, mistakes were made, so learn from them and move on”), and Sakura also blames herself.

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        2. Act says:

          It’s been a little bit, but as I remember it, they blame her for using her anger to justify what she does, but not for having that anger in the first place. Sakura, like Noko, has broken in a really horrible way and was lashing out. Just because the brokenness isn’t their fault doesn’t make the lashing out a good thing, but it does make it an understandable thing.

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          1. SpoonyViking says:

            Hm, I see. Yes, that makes sense.

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      2. illhousen says:

        Nasu seems to me like a well-natured guy who tries to be sensitive and gets it right more often than not but occasionally horribly botches his good judgement rolls (Saber date) and is weak to the allure of money (Fate/Franchise is probably the most profitable thing he did, so his gambit of gaining mainstream appeal worked, but at a cost of, well, Saber and related issues).

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        1. Act says:

          The character design from the most recent games is basically like, porno, but I’m preeeetty sure Nasu has actual hate toward the franchise now and give no fucks, so it’s hard to put that on him. Or maybe it’s just fanwank.

          Now, if he would take his Fate-money and put it toward an English-language release of Witch on the Holy Night, then he would be officially absolved.

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          1. Heatth says:

            Yeah, one thing I noticed recently is how much better the original F/SN is with women than the rest of the franchise (even Zero). Which is kinda amusing considering it is an actual porn game. Not what I would expect.

             

            Anyway, an official Witch on the Holy Night would be awesome, but somehow not even the original Fate/stay night got ‘here’ yet. With so many VN being translated to English and on Steam nowadays you would expect F/SN to be one of them, but that doesn’t seem to be happening for some reason.

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          2. Roarke says:

            Nasu doesn’t really seem to be the driving force behind much of the Fate/ content anymore, yeah. I’m not sure what his actual role is now for all these bizzare fanservicey extended universe works.

            It’s funny though, the more heroic spirits get introduced, the more Archer sticks out as a straight-up OC. 

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            1. I think his role is rolling in the cash from idiot fleecing these days. That mobile shit is ripping off the pervs so much.

              Waifuguy’s role is obviously drawing more Saberfaces and possibly telling others their drawings aren’t Saber enough.

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          3. illhousen says:

            Hm. I wouldn’t say it’s actual hatred. He does appear to still write stuff for it (there is, for example, an intriguing short story attached to Grand Order, I believe, about a bizarre death in the Association: a magus is found with limbs cut off and brain exposed. It was ruled as a suicide because magi. Aoko was involved, apparently). But he does seem to have a “sure, whatever” attitude when it comes to letting other people play in his sandbox, even when their ideas are really stupid (really, Hans Anderson as a Servant appearing in a form of a little boy? Really?).

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            1. SpoonyViking says:

              He wrote Hans Christian Andersen, although I don’t doubt the artist participated in the process. The justification, if I recall it correctly, is that Andersen is appearing not as he really was, but as a sort of amalgam of his stories – he also has fish scales in his arms, for instance.

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              1. illhousen says:

                Still fuck him. There is Nursery Rhime for when you want a representation of stories, and she has a cool concept even if it doesn’t precisely fit into the established rules.

              2. None of the spinoffs are really worth caring overly much about. Even Zero and Ataraxia are more weirdass fanfiction than proper series material. Nasu is pretty clearly in the Lucas ethos of notfuckgiving, so I prefer to adhere to same.

                I’m also mostly commenting for more nesting. Cos nesting is cool.

              3. Heatth says:

                Even Zero and Ataraxia are more weirdass fanfiction than proper series material.

                Eh, Zero is at last really close to the source material, both in tone and story. Sure, it was written by someone else, but to me it never felt out of place when compared with F/SN, unlike things like Prisma*Illya and /Extra.

              4. SpoonyViking says:

                Be that as it may, it’s a Nasu character. He’s not as hands-off as Lucas was with the old Expanded Universe, for instance.

              5. illhousen says:

                Then I guess he does have actual hatred to Fate/Franchise.

              6. Roarke says:

                Lucas wasn’t hands-off enough if you ask me. The Star Wars EU was going places, in my opinion, before he came down on any chance at pushing the envelope.

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  2. Socordya says:

    It was a good, if depressing read. It conveyed the feeling of “no way out” you describe quite well. I was worried for a moment the old guy who gives her money was supposed to be sympathetic, despite being a complete creeper, but my worries were unfounded.

    Dark comedy of manner
    Yeah wtf. The only thing even remotely humorous was her weird friend from work.

    I took a look at some of the other things the author had written, and there were some promising things.

    Also I found out she was the wife of the Evangelion guy. Makes sense. Their marriage must be built upon a foundation of liking to write about miserable people.

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    1. Act says:

      I took a look at some of the other things the author had written, and there were some promising things.

      I liked Sakuran a lot. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was I thought there was a disconnect at the end between the message she was going for (“This world, as represented by this man, is so cruel to women a brothel is good by comparison”) and the one she got (“Because this one man didn’t love you, never mind about freedom”). But I also thought it was clear enough she was aiming for the former that it wasn’t a huge deal.

      I really want to read Sugar Sugar Rune because of the way it inverts the usual harem setup. There’s like 100 popular harem-for-dude stories that are big right now (Date A Live, Monster Musume, Monogatari…), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the “girls have to collect boys” plot before and I’m curious how it plays out.

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