When it comes to receiving soul-crushing messages about weight, most women are pretty well covered, thanks. But in 1979, Charlton Comics decided that some of us weren’t paying attention. Described as the low-rent district of comics publishing, Charlton packed so much sexist, body-shaming hostility into a single story in Secret Romance #44 that it made even the most regressive women’s magazine look like Ms.
The story’s title is simply: “Fat!” Yes, with an exclamation point.
I’ve been on a romance comics kick lately because of the retro art and often unintentionally hilarious stories. They’re also a reminder that, for all of the ooze that women have to wade through, 2013 America is still preferable to its 1952 counterpart. The urban-legend absurdity of “Fat!” made it irresistible, so off I went to eBay.
Say hello to Miriam Cronin, a single, 22-year-old secretary whose daily ritual of self-loathing includes crying in front of the mirror, weighing herself obsessively and bemoaning (her words) a lack of willpower. By Miriam’s calculations, she should weigh about as much as a female Olympic gymnast. All of her thin girlfriends, even the “skags,” are married. “There’s no hope for you,” Miriam thinks as she walks around her apartment, looking perfectly fine.
Enter Gordon Williams, the
misogynistic douche straight-shooting regional sales manager at Miriam’s workplace. Miriam has high hopes of becoming his secretary, but faster than you can say “human resources violation,” Gordon tells her that even though she’s qualified in every way, her weight is unacceptable. He says this.
Miriam does not take this well, so Gordon cranks up the humiliation. “Would you like it better if we pretended you aren’t fat?” Hey, Gordon, would you like it better if we pretended you weren’t a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal?
Even if the story had ended there, “Fat!” would be a contender for a WTF? gold medal. However, the creative team – and I use that term very loosely — had more to say about the relationship between BMI and self-actualization. Gordon is such a good guy that he not only sends Miriam to a weight-loss doctor, but also springs for exercise equipment so she can burn calories while hating herself and worrying about being fired.
Soon, it’s goodbye, pounds and hello, sexual harassment! Noticing Miriam’s shrinking waistline, Gordon begins invading her personal space and creepily asking about her dating status. She finds this hot.
You want a fairy-tale ending? After five weeks of admittedly starving herself, Miriam gets the body and Gordon, the
psychologically abusive boyfriend man of her dreams. Because nothing says “soul mate” like a man who uses his authority to force you onto a strict diet and exercise program. For your own good. As long as Miriam never gets pregnant or turns 30, they’ll live happily ever after!
All jokes aside, it sucks to think that some 14-year-old girl in 1979 read this and was wounded by the message. As someone who spent my entire adolescence obsessing about the numbers on the scale, I know that even a ridiculous story like this can make a girl feel like shit.
Interestingly enough, “Fat!” was published the same year that Nick Lowe’s awesomely biting single “Cruel to Be Kind” hit the top 40. Gordon obviously interpreted the refrain literally.