"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Fat Sister

My older sister was fat. It was one of the common topics of conversation around the house, especially as she entered her teen years.

“Are you sure you want seconds on spaghetti, Julie?”

“But I love spaghetti, Mom. It’s my favorite food. Spaghetti isn’t very fattening, is it?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“How about if I eat seconds on spaghetti instead of finishing my salad?”

I grew up hearing about calories, sit-ups, and the latest diet. All my sister’s friends were skinny and pretty and popular. Julie had soft white-blond hair, round blue eyes and a friendly smile. Everyone liked her. But she wasn’t thin. And at 13, 16 and 18 having a trim figure seemed like the answer to all her problems and the most important goal one could hope to reach.

When she didn’t make the swim team, it was because she was too fat. When she didn’t go to Junior Prom, it was because boys don’t date fat girls. When she didn’t get the part-time job she wanted, it was because of the excess weight.

She would try to diet, cutting out seconds and passing by the candy stand at school. After several weeks of such discipline, a two or three pound loss would be her reward. Oh, joy! She was getting there at last. She felt thin and self-disciplined. And then she’d go back to eating mashed potatoes and Snickers until the discouraging cycle would begin again.

In those days I had no weight problem, so I couldn’t really understand my sister’s obsession with her figure. (Although if I had really thought about it, I might have seen a parallel in my own tendency to stand forever in front of a two-way mirror agonizing over my big nose.) I’m afraid she didn’t find me a very sympathetic audience as she stood each morning before the full-length mirror.

“Karen, does this skirt and blouse make me look fat?”

“Well, maybe a little.”

“How about with the blouse out? Is that better?”

“I’m not sure.”

“But look at it from the back. Fat?”

“Uh, no. I think it’s better with the blouse in. Definitely.”

“Are you sure? How about if I wear a sweater?”

“Julie! I’m gonna be late for school. Yes, it looks fine.”

“No, it doesn’t. You’re just saying that so you can go. You don’t even care about me.”

“Yes, I do! Wear the blouse tucked in and the sweater.”

“How about the blouse out and the sweater out? Doesn’t that cover more?”

“No. It looks sloppy. Now I’ve got to get to school. Bye.”

“Mo-ther!” The tears start. “Why am I so FAT?"

Eventually Julie learned why she was fat. It had to do with eating too much and exercising too little. Somewhere along the line, when she was in college, she got it all together and lost her excess weight.

Now she’s ten pounds lighter than me, jogs two miles a day and, although she still loves food, she rarely overeats. My sister who was a teenager with a matronly, frumpy shape is now the mother of two and has the figure of a nineteen-year-old.

And no one deserves it more than my fat sister.

(Note from author: This essay was written 25 years ago, when I only weighed 10 lbs. more than her. Now it's more like 50. Not something I'm real proud of, but just thought I should let you all know LOL.)


  1. Oh your poor sister!

    Body issues when growing up and during teenage years are the worse EVER!!

    But look at her now though - gorgeous and healthy and so over this. Good luck to her!

    And thanks for sharing this essay - it brought back memories of my own conversations with my sister (I was the fat kid, she was the willowy one everyone and their brother fancied!).

    Take care

  2. Those teenage years put years on you. I have never had to worry about weight or watch what I eat in my life, that is until now. Could use a few tips from your sister.

  3. That must have been hard on her...

  4. Great essay! I laughed and cried a little.

  5. It's wonderful that she seemed to turn it all around with such vigor and grace. Now -- if I could somehow turn it around and drop some pounds...

  6. I love that your sister got her "happy ending."

  7. That is a lively, well-written story. It brings back memories of my own sister, although neither one of us ever had a weight problem! Your sister figured it out - exercise and diet. Well done on her part, and yours for an excellent essay. Great dialogue!

  8. This is so poignant, Karen. I wasn't fat as a teenager, but hated my body nonetheless. I was overweight most of my adult life, but now am a good, healthy weight. No matter where we are in life or what weight we are, we need to learn to love ourselves no matter how we appear on the outside. It's the insides that matter. And being healthy. That's my goal, anyway. Thanks for sharing this.


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