Today in fat-hating culture

Kathy Reichs is a forensic anthropologist and professor anthropology who also writes crime novels about a woman who is a forensic anthropologist. At least according to the source links on Wikipedia, there is a fair amount of autobiography going on in her books.

I was given a copy of ‘Grave Secrets’ as part of a random book sharing thing – I posted off books to people on a list and a couple of months later several books were posted to me. I’d never heard of her and had never gotten into crime novels as a genre either. But I read it and was moderately interested by the introductory explanations of forensic anthropology and of Guatemala, where part of the book was set. There was very little about Guatemala and I found that what description and explanation there was in the book, particularly of the brutal and lengthy civil war,¬† was frustratingly superficial. Not really off to a great start with this book but not that bad either, hey?

Ha, then the initially subtle body judgement escalated into full fat-hatred. Want some quotes? Page numbers are from the UK edition published by William Heinemann in 2002.

“[…] when a woman appeared in the doorway. She was overweight, with hair the color [sic] of dead leaves.” p.91

“There were two doughnuts left in the box. How many calories would that be? One million or two? By tomorrow they’d be stale.” p.145

“[…] I spotted a woman in surgical scrubs. She had long, curly hair, secured with a barette at the back of her head. Pretty and thirty-something, with a quick smile and 36Ds, Lisa was a perennial favourite with the homicide detective.” p.157

“[…] a man I assumed to be the family lawyer. He was tall, with a girth almost as great as his height. A fringe of gray hair ringed his head and curled up the collar of his two-K suit. His face and crown were high-gloss pink.” p.163

“The man’s face, once muscular, had softened by years of rich food and liquor. […] His meaty grip registered a four.” p.163

“Two girls appeared in a doorway across the hall. Both had fried blonde hair and looked like they ate a lot of potatoes. One wore jeans and a UBC sweatshirt, the other a peasant skirt that hung low on her hips. Given her poundage, it was a bad choice.” p.209

” Ryan looked at Gaudreau. ‘I don’t use e-mail that much.’ ‘And when you do?’ Gaudreau shrugged. ‘Sexychaton.’ ‘Thank you, kitten.’ Gaudreau looked as sexy as a baleen whale.” p.215-216

“A man the size of South Dakota dropped a bag on the floor and flooped into the seat to my right. A tsunami of sweat and hair oil rolled my way. Ryan’s eyes met mine, then shifted towards the windows. Wordlessly, he got up and changed location. I followed a compassionate thirty seconds later.” p.246

Most of these quotes seem innocuous at first. Just a writer trying to do short, punchy descriptions of her characters, right? The judgement of the characters’ bodies, which the reader is invited to go along with, is not simply disapproving and downright shaming of a certain type and size of body but is also mocking in tone as well. Using fat bodies as a source of humour is consistent through the story. Contempt is all fat gets in this book and that also sums up my experience with mainstream culture in my part of the world. It isn’t simply the fat jokes that are hurtful but that the readers who laugh along with them are having their own fat-hatred strengthened and normalized. In the end, that is what this book is to me: another push towards keeping the fatties down.

So, Kathy Reichs, welcome to fat-hating culture. How glad I am that you played your part.

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