Review: Moose: A Memoir of Fat Camp by Stephanie Klein

small-book-coverAs 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.

The author, then and now

The author, then and now

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.

13 Responses

  1. Wow, great review. Adding it to my tbr list!

  2. I haven’t decided if this is a memoir I want to read. One of the things I enjoy most about a memoir is seeing the personal growth of the author–how he or she came to terms with the past. There’s something to be said for some sort of resolution and change for the better. I don’t expect everything to be perfect in the end–obviously life doesn’t end with the end of a book. And growing and learning is a lifetime process.

    The topic interests me though. I’ve struggled with my weight all of my life.

    Thanks for the great review, Lisa.

  3. Like Wendy, I’m not sure I want to read this memoir. It sounds interesting, but also a bit disturbing and sad. Great review, though!

  4. Great review. I don’t think I want to read this one either. It’s too bad writing the book didn’t help her come to terms with some of her issues.

  5. Thanks for the great review. I think I’ll gve this one a miss. I’m looking for motivation myself. I started reading The Adventures of Diet Girl, and I think I’m going to give up on that one too.

  6. What an honest and thoughtful review!

    It is so sad to me that very young girls start to struggle with body image issues, which they then often carry throughout life. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to this problem, which is very complex.

  7. I’m a huge fan of Stephanie Klein’s blog. I read Straight Up and Dirty some time back and I thought it was nice. I can read anything she writes 🙂 I think what sets her apart is her honesty and her ability to get everything out there. Thats what I love most about her which could explain your TMI line 🙂

    Thanks for the review though. I’m looking forward to get my hands on this one.

  8. Good review! It’s terrible how easy it is to get obsessed about weight. This sounds like an important cautionary tale.

  9. Great review! I am not sure I would want to read this book, but you do make it sound interesting.I find it a bit sad that she has spent her whole life focusing on food and body image. It doesn’t sound like she is a terribly fulfilled or happy person.

  10. great review, even though I know I will probably not want to read it. It deals with a deep issue of body image and I think from what you wrote it would make me depressed that it doesn’t have a happy ending, or at least a contenment message.

  11. Great review. The title had me, but I think I’ll pass because of the vulgarity.

  12. I agree with Literary Feline’s thoughts above — one of my favorite things about memoirs is seeing the change and growth of the author. If it seems that individual is still struggling with the same heart-breaking issues with no end in sight, that just depresses me!

    Even though the topic is sad, I really enjoyed reading your review. Thanks for the caution on crude material… I always appreciate info on that sort of thing!

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