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Susan Stinson

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12:20 am: The cover of Fat Girl Dances with Rocks and People magazine

Today I remembered to walk my trike down the sidewalk instead of taking the Pomeroy Terrace loop that lets me keep riding on my way downtown to write. (The Pomeroys were eighteenth century Northampton people -- Seth Pomeroy was a blacksmith and, eventually, a general, who got seasick on campaigns a lot. Died in his seventies of pleurisy fighting in the Revolutionary War). So I stopped at CVS and found a rumpled copy of People out of place in the magazine section (later saw the neat little rack of them next to the cash register). It opened right to the page I wanted, so I wondered if one of my friends had been in there, checking it out without shelling out for the magazine.

Sure enough, page 166, in the article, "Exercise Almost Killed Her," the bottom third of the page is a section with pictures of the journal Peach Friedman (who lives in Palo Alto, now works as a personal trainer and is getting her MFA in writing) kept when she was recovering from exercise bulimia. Next to an article about the Atkins Diet, near photos of thin women (at least one of which, I think, is of Peach -- there are other quite warm and radiant pictures of her now by Mary Ellen Mark with the article), and a calendar page that's printed with the words "lighten up," and facing what looks like a wrapping for a Kraft Free fat free singles slice of american cheese, there's a black and white copy of the dancing, serene fat nude that artist Jody Kim painted for the cover of my novel Fat Girl Dances with Rocks. It's just the image, taped in place. If you didn't know it was from a book, you couldn't tell.

I always loved that cover, despite the fact that I had to have numerous conversations with people about whether or not the body as drawn had nipples. (If you look hard, they're subtly suggested, says me.) The publisher told me that they asked the artist to redo the original to portray a fatter figure, more appropriate for the character in the story, and it is, it's a rare --more rare at the time it was published twelve years ago -- and lovely image, with a touch of magic realism, of a fat woman reveling in her body. The only time I've ever read at a chain bookstore was at a Barnes and Noble in NYC with that book (I read at Judith's Room, a women's bookstore, first), and they had fancy posters up in their window with stacks of the books (I snagged one and gave it to my parents, who framed it and hung it in their bedroom, which meant they had to talk about the book with people who went in there to use the bathroom), and the day before the reading, I stood outside the store, and watched people stop and look at the image, watched them react. Sometimes, I talked to them. It was my first novel, and I was so full just from the sheer existence of it. Agents (who didn't choose to represent me) came to hear me read that night. So did women from the Fat Feminist Caucus, although it was on the second floor and there were problems with stairs. It was such an intense moment for me.

So, now, all these years later, with the book out of print (but not hard to get, through NAAFA, for instance, if you want a copy), I have a few feelings about seeing the image from the cover in People. It means a lot to me that an image that the book inspired mattered to a young woman who was struggling hard with her relationship with her body. That's part of the work that the book was meant to do, and if, even very indirectly, even as a very tiny rivulet in the cultural river, it's still doing it, that's a gorgeous thing to me. And it's also tantalizing, because none of my books, all four of which to this point have centered on complex, sensual fat lesbian characters, have ever been reviewed in the mainstream press in this country (Martha Moody, my second novel, published in the UK by The Women's Press, did get well reviewed there), and so this brings one of the books so close to something that has completely eluded my work, the kind of media attention that would bring more readers -- and so more life -- to the books. Close, but, since it's just the image without any reference to the book, not there. Not yet.

I just wrote that in an email to Peach, and she, a poet herself and also working on a memoir about her recovery from eating disorders, wrote back. She hasn't read the book, so I'm going to send it to her. I've been buying used copies from Amazon, so that I'll have at least a few around, for times like these, when I need them.

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[User Picture]
From:susanstinson
Date:May 12th, 2006 02:42 am (UTC)
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It's true, ripples are good. And maybe I'm not quite cut out to be notorious.
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