It was a big mistake to read In Clothes Called Fat on the train home. I was excited to read the book. I knew exactly what the book was going to talk about and I wanted to see how Moyoco Anno would pull off this fragile title about women and their body issues.
To be honest, I wanted it to fail. How could someone like Moyoco Anno understand what big women go through? When the entirety of Japan is going through a “forgiving” chubby trend, I honestly didn’t feel that Moyoco Anno, the blessedly beautiful and sexy Moyoco Anno, would ever understand how obese people think and feel. To a degree, I was the spiteful plus-sized woman who thought Moyoco Anno would treat this like one of those “fantastic” cases that was too out of this world that it would make a good story for manga. In the end, my spitefulness left me in tears. I had forgotten that Moyoco Anno was a woman and she is not privy to matters that we women go through. There’s brutal honesty In Clothes Called Fat. I wasn’t ready to see that in a manga.
In Clothes Called Fat is the story of Noko and her life on the brink of falling apart. Things haven’t been going well at work. Nor are things going well with her boyfriend of eight years either when she discovers he was cheating on her with one of her officemates. When things outside of her “control” falls apart, she finds comfort in the only thing that was always there: food. As things piled up on her, so did her consumption and her waistline. Eventually, her carelessness got the worst of her as she finally gets affected by all the things said about her and her weight. Afterwards, she started caring, making efforts to lose some weight. Towards the end, she cared too much that it left her asking “was it worth it?”
It’s easy to encapsulate In Clothes Called Fat as a story that captures current social issues that surround women’s body image and their mental health. It’s like Helter Skelter where it shows you the dark side of women’s image issues, particularly obesity and people’s reactions toward it. However, unlike Okazaki, Anno leaves no moment for discernment. Instead, she immerses you in the brutal reality of people who treat fat people like trash and the emotional turmoil a fat person goes through as she makes an effort to make herself happy. Nothing about is glamorous or dreamy and she shows no illusion of perfection or beauty. I am not sure if there’s a likelihood of having a shitty yet beautiful workmate like Mayumi and a shitty boyfriend like Saito in your life. They’re too unreal in mine but some friends have admitted to meeting Mayumis and Saitos in their lives.
There are moments in Noko’s struggles that I truly sympathise and understand what she’s going through. It’s a fucking shitty day, I’m gonna eat something. Nothing satisfies but me food so I’ll stuff my misery with something good. Fuck, nothing’s working in my life as I’m too heavy to move and too bloated to think, well, what the fuck, I’m going to eat.
I get it, Noko. I totally do.
I think my younger self will never understand Noko’s misery, but now, I find a friend in Noko. In fact, Noko’s struggle immediately connected to me when she described her fat like a leotard of flesh. Something so close and tight that it’s like second skin. Anno’s depiction of Noko’s changing body was brutal and unforgiving. To a degree, as she continues to sink in her sorrows, I realise how much her fat has become her armour and in fear of breaking apart, she’s taken measures to protect herself. And I get that. How often have I taken comfort and confidence in my fat as if it was one that identifies who I am.
Of course, I realise this was not the healthiest solution. Unfortunately, Noko doesn’t realise this. Not even with her diet.
In Clothes Called Fat does tackle the darker world of obesity and even pushes itself to capture the complexity of an eating disorder. Nothing of it was healthy nor were there people in place to “save” her. Everyone was just out there for their own selfish reasons. Even Noko’s existence rides on her own selfishness, which looks like a coping mechanism to survive her difficult life. In seeing Noko, I remember my weakest moments and my hardest times. And for a moment I wonder if I had a disorder and if my life now is actually a measure of how I’m coping.
I read and re-read In Clothes Called Fat often in reflection of my own life and my own struggles. It has left me bothered and pensive. For once, a josei manga actually caught a fraction of my life. Whoever said women’s manga was all about fantastic escapes? In Clothes Called Fat tried, yet no fantasy could save Noko from her reality. I wonder if I managed to escape mine.