Barren Bitches Book Brigade: Moose

August 17, 2009

Barren Bitches Book Brigade Welcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring Moose by Stephanie Klein.

I wasn’t a fat kid; I was a not-skinny kid. The start of puberty was not kind to me (was it kind to anyone?), and my 8th grade yearbook picture crosses the line into chunky territory, but generally others perceived me as “normal.” However, I was often the heaviest girl around, especially because I was involved in all sorts of activities that encourage extreme thinness, like dance, gymnastics, and figure skating. Once, a skating coach said to me, “I think it’s good that you’re healthy, not so skinny like all these other girls.” And that was in the late 80s, when standards for thin were much less emaciated than today.

Still, most girls were skinny, and I was not skinny. So in my mind, I’ve always been a fat girl. I couldn’t trade clothes with other girls. I was self-conscious about wearing shorts. I consumed SlimFast — not as meal replacement shakes, but as raw powder out of the can (just like I ate Nestle Quik, Ovaltine, hot chocolate mix…).

The very first time I ever thought that I might not be a fat girl after all, I was in my mid-20s. My best friend from grad school (who, I must note, is a size 0) was talking about a woman who was a couple years ahead of me in our program. That woman is pear-shaped to the extreme: top half average, bottom half obese. My friend was explaining how the woman’s weight had grown over the past few years and said, “When she started grad school, she was normal. Like me or you.”

What?!? My size 0 friend and I (size 12-ish, consisting mostly of breasts, plus some extra tummy) were not comparable. I was closer to our pear-shaped classmate, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I?

Reading Moose has confirmed that I am closer in spirit to my size 0 friend (who maintained the 0 through Weight Watchers, having been a “heavy” size 4 before) than to the pear-shaped classmates and Mooses of the world. Many of the emotions Klein describes resonate with my adolescent self, but the desperation she describes for food is totally foreign to me. Anyone could be normal-sized with my take-it-or-leave-it desire for food, just like no one would have a drinking problem if they were as nonchalant about alcohol’s effects as I am. But, faced with what she describes as a true addiction to food, overeating and obesity seem almost like destiny.

Aside from the weight issues, I most enjoyed Moose for three things:

  1. The seamless way she integrates the main narrative with older and newer memories.
  2. The description of early adolescent sexuality, solo and partnered. Even if her desire for sex, like her desire for food, was more extreme than my own, it’s the truest depiction of young girls’ unspoken fascination with sex that I’ve ever seen.
  3. The disingenuity of adolescent emotional expressions, particularly when she starts a big fight with Adam then admits that it was all a show. I’ve seen it so many times, mostly in others but occasionally in myself: acting out a script of the way people supposedly act, as depicted in teen movies, sitcoms, books… One of my sisters-in-law, whom I have previously described as a sociopath, has done this throughout her adolescence. She punches DH on the arm because that’s what little sisters do to big brothers. When she’s away, she talks about how much she misses her friends several times a day, because that’s what people with friends are supposed to do. She temporarily breaks up with boys over minor issues because that’s what teenage relationships are right, or so she’s seen on TV. I never know when she’s feeling real emotion and when she’s acting out a scene from an after school special.

In the first chapter, Klein talks about her reluctance to gain weight during her twin pregnancy as a result of her childhood obesity. How have body image issues affected you during infertility? Pregnancy? Post-pregnancy?
During infertility treatments, FSH injections made my tummy, which has always been out of proportion with the rest of my body, bigger. The scale didn’t reflect it, but my pants were tighter and there was clearly more padding in my lower abdomen. Because I started out not-skinny, no one ever said anything and I don’t know if anyone even noticed, but I didn’t appreciate the side effect — especially when no babies were resulting from the treatments.

But, when I would pass myself in a mirror or the reflection on a window, I’d often pause and imagine my midsection much bigger from pregnancy. Finally I would have an excuse to have a big tummy! I was ready to embrace having an enormous belly, if it came with a baby inside.

Since being pregnant with twins, I’ve actually struggled to gain more weight — not a problem I ever fathomed having. Heartily convinced by the twin books that weight gain is key to preventing premature birth, I have been eating the most fattening foods I can, every couple of hours, for months — and I can barely keep up. Between being a vegetarian and having strong food aversions in the first four months to anything that might help me gain weight (particularly sweets and fatty foods), it has required enormous effort to keep up with the babies’ nutritional needs and put on the amount of weight recommended for a healthy twin pregnancy.

I haven’t stopped catching my reflection in mirrors and windows — in fact, I do it constantly now. It’s vain, really. I am so enamored with my growing belly, stretch marks and all, just as I am enamored with all that’s going on inside. Part of my joy comes from the years of infertility and finally achieving what eluded me for so long. But really, part of it is that I’ve never looked better. Later, I’ll go back to having a big blah tummy, but for now I have a big beautiful tummy!

Stephanie describes how she would picture herself slim, and how that image did not look like her at all. Did you/do you picture yourself slim and if so who do you model yourself on? Are you realistic when you imagine the slim you or do you picture someone you could never be like?
The imaginary slim Me isn’t that different from the normal version of Me wearing the right clothes, such as tailored suits. I don’t think I’ve ever, since puberty, been as slim as the imaginary Me (nor as slim as the BMI charts say I should… but BMI is bogus anyway), but ultimately I don’t know if that imaginary Me is something I even want. There was a point in my early 20s when I thought seriously about how I should approach my weight. I could work out more and watch what I ate, or I could do what I wanted and be satisfied with myself. I have chose and have stuck to the latter, in large part as a conscious feminist decision not to accept poor self-esteem as a way of life.

Stephanie Klein writes “Years later I’d feel slightly superior because I’d once been fat. That’s the thing…when asked if I’d change my past if I could, I think for a moment and always answer no. There’s something…that just makes it mildly worth it. Because a sensitivity is tattooed on a part of you no one else can see but can somehow guess is there. It’s always with you.” How do you relate to this with regards to infertility?

I do feel secretly superior for having gone through this long journey, as if I will truly love my children more than those who conceived easily. I can’t judge whether that’s really accurate (and I know that lots of fertile women — but not all — love their children plenty). I do know that infertility has made me more sensitive to all sorts of difficulties that others encounter, in family-building and in other aspects of life. I can’t say whether I’m a better person than anyone else, but I’m a better person than I was before.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: It Sucked, And Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce).

7 Responses to “Barren Bitches Book Brigade: Moose”

  1. Kristin Says:

    Great review. I agree with you about this being “the truest depiction of young girls’ unspoken fascination with sex that I’ve ever seen.”

    I’m glad you are reveling in your growing belly 🙂

  2. I loved this review. And I think you touched on an interesting phenomenon about TTC. B/c of my gymnastics, then roller-derby muscles, I’ve always considered myself pretty sporty-looking. Not thin, but perfect for me. After moving to LA, I felt really not thin, but still perfect for me.

    However, after I started TTC and it still wasn’t happening, I started hating my body. I would look in the mirror and dream about my belly getting bigger. So when I finally got pregnant, I really rocked my belly so to speak.

    But now that I’ve delivered, I’m neither muscular or perfect for me, so I’m really ready to lose this pregnancy weight — especially if I get to keep my new rack.

    It’s funny how we think of our weight at different times in our lives.

  3. loribeth Says:

    Great review. I too noticed the stuff about s*x, which you don’t normally read about in a memoir about childhood. Which doesn’t mean that young girls aren’t thinking about it. I admire her honesty in that regard. I also love your observation about adolescents acting out a script. I loved the parts about Adam — I so remember that “wow” feeling when a guy you like finally winds up liking you back!!

  4. Eve Says:

    OK, great review. I’m glad you’re keeping your mind busy!!!! Because, I just learned from LCFA that you’re on bedrest! My poor Dear! This is what happens when I go on vacation and immediately onto an IVF cycle…I get sooooo out of the loop!

    Hoping those babies are STAYING put. I had 12 1/2 weeks of bedrest with my son started at 24 weeks due to PTL. I only had some minor cervical change initially, but contracted like MAD. So I ended up wearing a terb pump and doing at-home uterine monitoring. OK, so here’s some tips I learned (which sounds like you’re figuring out anyway).

    1) Keep your mind as busy as possible! Online ( has a bedrest program, has a bedrest message board), sudoku puzzles, crosswords, books…it sounds like you can even do some work. I found I couldn’t concentrate for long periods though. And yes, the side lying for typing stinks. I generally typed with one hand.

    2) Say YES to all who offer help. People often offer a general ‘let me know what I can do’ type thing. Take them up on it!!! Say, “Well, we could use the lawn mowed on Saturdays,” or “Please come and visit me on ___ day.”

    3) Accept ALL food and freeze what you don’t eat. You’ll appreciate it once the babies arrive. Just break it into single sized portions. Plus, I could get these out of the microwave and pop them in myself when I was home by myself.

    4) Start preserving your back NOW. My back was royally screwed up after such a long bedrest. Switch your ‘resting’ surfaces a couple times a day if you can. Get a body pillow to help support you as on your side. Use a microwave-heat pad on your back and request LOTS of massages.

    5) Keep a morning routine (new clothes, wash face, etc)…it will help you feel more refreshed and like it’s the beginning of a new day — not just one loooong continuous day from week to week.

    6) Get a big calendar and mark the week milestones that are important (31 weeks, 34 weeks, 36 etc) and HAPPILY X out every day you make it further.

    7) Pack a hospital bag NOW. Change of undies, hairbrush, deoderant, socks, nightgown, magazines/books. Then take it with you to all your OB check-ups so you’re prepared just in case they send you over to L&D for a few days.

    8) I made a list of every ‘good deed’ people did for us and sent thank-you notes out as I got meals, had errands run, etc. It made me feel I was doing something worthy to be able to at least give a proper thank you.

    9) Schedule more than one visitor a day. People don’t often tend to stay long..and I got LONELY (even with dh home every evening…it still was lonely).

    10) As your due date gets closer, have a freind/family member stock your nursery with all the ‘goodies’ (guaze pads, vasoline, diapers, cream, wipes, thermometer, nasal sucky thing, etc). That way, if the babes come early, you’ll feel prepared to take them home. Even though my son came a month early, he was healthy as a horse and came home with me from the hospital. I was so glad that my sis had stocked my nursery for me. I was set!

    GL!!!! Sorry such a book here. I just have such a heart for those on bedrest since it shocked the HECK out of me when I ended up there myself!!!

  5. Lavender Luz Says:

    I can attest to this, at least the now part: “But really, part of it is that I’ve never looked better.”

    I, too, think that going through IF makes me more appreciative of what I have, and that I’m a better person than I was before.

  6. Jules Says:

    I was in a bit different situation – I’m sure most would throw me in the “thin” category but I’ve never had a great body image. I’m not sure if we had tried TTC earlier if that may have helped us not need assistance but I’m not sure I would have been as “ready” for dealing with the pregnancy. Even thought it had been years since the worst stage, I was worried pregancy weight gain would throw everything off-balance.

    Sort of kept the “do what I have to so we have healthy little girls.” Like you I had major food adversions and was really sick in the beginning so had to play catch-up later on. Also wasn’t too keen on the couch-bedrest and did not take it as seriously as maybe I should have at times (long story but not convinced at a time I needed to be on it)

    Guess I’m a bit odd – I was thrilled we got pregnant – wasn’t a great “pregnant” person and kind of glad since we did have twins (and only wanted 2) I’m done with that. But to me the IF part of my life pales in comparison to what I feel about the body image part in terms of sensitivity.

  7. Nic Says:

    Thanks for stopping by. I think you could be right, it is not only my co-workers body I envy, it appears on the outside she has a perfect life and appears happy, but who knows what goes on between closed doors! I know it is wrong to model myself on somebody else, it is just an image I keep in my head of how I want my body to look. It def helps and drives me to lose the wieght and it is working!

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