As I prepared to ship my daughter off to sleep-away camp, I thought it would be fun to read Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein, a memoir of the author’s childhood summers at a fat camp in the 80’s. It wasn’t exactly what I expected.
The book opens as a grown up Stephanie is being told by a doctor that she must gain 50 pounds for the health and well being of the twins she is carrying. This sends her into an emotional tailspin, bringing back a flood of childhood memories of when she was called “Moose” by her classmates and when her parents shipped her off to fat camp. Moose is actually a compilation of 5 childhood summers spent at camp.
Stephanie’s mom is concerned about her weight. Stephanie’s dad cruelly pokes fun at her chubby body. At the age of 8 they start sending her to see Fran, a woman who runs a weight loss program out of her basement in Long Island. Weigh-ins, lectures about food (never exercise), and helpful/hurtful comments turn Stephanie’s extra pounds into a lifelong obsession with weight and a distorted body image.
When meetings in Fran’s basement don’t produce the desired results, Stephanie’s parents ship her off to Yanisin, a summer camp program designed to promote weight loss through diet and exercise. Stephanie finds she is on the thinner side of fat at Yanisin; there is a hierarchy of popularity even at fat camp, where everyone is heavy, and Stephanie is thrilled to discover she’s one of the ‘hot’ girls.
Rather than learning how to have a healthy relationship with food and with her body, Stephanie picks up some really bizarre ideas from the other campers (i.e. drinking water shots before a weigh in) and some unhealthy ways of dealing with things at camp. She even learns how to self-induce vomiting from another camper, and it all gets a bit dark and disturbing. The focus is always on appearance, not health.
This book brought up a lot of memories for me. I wasn’t fat but I went through a 2 or 3 year period between about 11 and 13 where I had what my mother affectionately called a “cookie roll”.. basically a jiggly tummy. I was horribly self conscious about it, and all the pictures from those awkward years show me with my arms crossed in front of me, trying to hide my stomach. I think Klein does a good job of describing what it feels like to be self conscious about your body, about not feeling good enough, about the pain of being teased by others.
But much of her writing made me feel uncomfortable. At times she is very crude. She talks about her fascination with kinky, hardcore porn magazines (as a preteen) and her very early discovery of her sexuality (bringing herself to orgasm in 2nd grade). I kept thinking- TMI (too much information).
But at other times the writing is funny, sharp, and heartbreaking. Each chapter begins with one of Stephanie’s journal entries from that time. I think most people will relate to her complicated feelings about her body, about body image in general, and her relationships with her family and with other kids. Kids can be cruel. Even fat kids.
I was hoping that by the time Stephanie grew up she would identify less with her body- that thinness or fatness would not be her most important identifying trait. Meaning I hoped that she would think more highly of herself rather than just a person with weight issues. But by the end of the book, when she’s now a mother of 2 beautiful children, she still has a twisted body image, is still hyper-focused on her appearance, still obsessing about food and weight. I found that kind of sad.
Stephanie Klein is also the author of Straight Up and Dirty, a funny look at her life after divorce. Many thanks to HarperCollins for sending me this book for review.
Filed under: Book Reviews, books, food, kids, parenting, reading, Uncategorized Tagged: | body image, Book Reviews, books, fat, fat camp, girls, harper collins, memoir, moose, preteen, reading, stephanie klein, weight