Please note: This review shall be discussing body image issues in detail, including the mention of eating disorders, self-hate, and depression. The review is also not intended to body-shame anyone, regardless of their shape or size. It is written with the sole purpose of examining the contents of this particular title. Additionally, this won’t be a spoiler-free review. Please, read at your own discretion. Thank you.
In Clothes Called Fat (脂肪と言う名の服を着て) by Moyoco Anno is a josei, psychological drama, single-volume manga that revolves around an overweight woman who has intense negative feelings about her identity—which are further exasperated when she’s with her super-skinny, gossip-spreading co-workers—and the different ways she deals with her insecurities, mostly in an unhealthy manner.
This was a very difficult manga for me to read. I have been struggling with self-confidence and body image problems for many years. This isn’t something I normally chat about, but I am what most people would call a fat person. I am approximately fifty to sixty pounds overweight and it can be such an intense challenge living with my appearance and how my appearance makes me feel on a day-to-day basis. My go-to clothing consists of slightly baggy chinos and long-sleeved, oversized shirts in an effort to help diminish my obviously round and plump figure. So, when this manga dove right into all of the reasons that our main character—Noko Hanazawa—feels so compelled to eat all of the time, or why she chose to resort to dangerous tactics to lose weight, I was stunned to silence. I felt like I was reading a private journal that I had written and hidden away somewhere, at least to a certain degree.
The manga begins by showing the reader a glimpse into Noko’s thought processes. She views herself as being fat and ugly and it makes her sorrowful. These toxic feelings are then validated by how other people treat her. Many people call her a “pig” or “ugly” without ever trying to be discreet about it (not that that would make it any less shitty or harmful). A lot of the comfort that she obtains to combat her inherent feelings of negativity stem from food.
When I read the first few pages, I was immediately drawn into the manga all the while wanting desperately to put it aside. My skin crawled with discomfort and recognition. I have lost count of the number of times that people have looked at me with disgust or have made rude and judgmental comments about my physical appearance to my face, let alone behind my back. It is not a good feeling. It makes you feel like you’re completely worthless and a terribly hideous thing that needs to be caged away in a room somewhere. This is one of the major reasons I’m such an agoraphobic.
In Clothes Called Fat takes these feelings and slams them onto the pages of this manga to exhibit how fat people deal with being fat (and I’m not talking about all fat people because many of them don’t have insecurities and rather they feel empowered in their bodies, which is so fucking amazing) and how social expectations of beauty are ridiculously harmful.
We have this preconceived notion of how being stunning can only be accomplished if you’re a size two and how this superficiality is rewarded time-and-time again. A good example of this is with Noko’s job. She was a co-worker who absolutely loathes her simply because Noko is a bigger girl. As such, she goes out of her way to constantly get Noko in trouble. Because Noko is so frightened of people (who can blame her really?), and she’s quiet and reserved, no one believes that this skinny and gorgeous woman could be the one at fault.
We also see how society looks at fat people, especially women, by the clothes that are (in this case, are not) available to them. In one scene, Noko’s co-workers give her a bad time because her brassiere is old and a bit tattered. She has an inner monologue about how difficult it is to find beautiful clothes when you are in the double digits of sizing. This was another portion of the book that hit me straight in the gut. Sexy lingerie was something I was really into when I was younger, but after I put on lots of weight, the sexiest thing I could come across that wouldn’t cost me a couple of hundred of bucks was a cotton nightie that looked like it was for someone much older than me. The feelings of depression and the self-deprecating thoughts that come afterwards are indescribable.
Noko’s story isn’t the only one that we get to experience in In Clothes Called Fat. While she’s the centrepiece, we also see how smaller people can feel threatened by fat people. One of the women feels so threatened by Noko that she makes it her life’s ambition to completely destroy Noko’s sense of self in every way imaginable. There is a man who is dating a fat woman for the most illogical reasons conceivable: it makes him feel safe because he knows she can’t be taken away from him and it also makes him feel like he’s doing a good deed somehow because this fat person “could only be so lucky” to have a boyfriend/significant other at all. It’s some very fascinating stuff to read because of how fucking real and close to home it can be.
There is a whole other message to In Clothes Called Fat as well: unhealthy obsession with weight loss. Noko becomes so unbelievably fixated on losing weight that she uses all of her money to join some fancy weight-loss spa and then begins her treacherous journey into bulimia.
I have never been bulimic, but I have (in the past) starved myself for weeks on end and attempted a plethora of pointless diets. I never had the money to invest in weight-loss programmes, or I may have done that as well. But if I’m to be utterly frank here, I have had thoughts of bulimia in the past. It’s one of those things that in the very back of your mind you know is an absolutely outrageous decision, yet your present feelings of inadequacy or so overpowering that you become desperate enough to do anything, more so when the voices everyone laughing at you and insulting you keep resonating within your head.
Bulimia is not healthy, in any shape of form. It’s damaging and deadly, and that’s how it’s depicted in the manga. We see how becoming bulimic affects Noko’s physical appearance and how instead of allaying her insecurities, it amps them up even further and it’s literally all she thinks about. Losing weight that quickly and in such an unhealthy fashion takes a severe toll on her physical body, making her appear quite scary and ghoulish.
I think my favourite part of the series, however, are the small portions that highlight how Noko’s body isn’t something to be shunned and stowed away within a dark room. She has a chance encounter with someone who tries to tell her that her body is beautiful with all if its curves and the shapes. While it was slightly creepy given the circumstances, I also understood what this individual was portraying. I have only ever had one person in my life share a similar opinion with me.
Everything is further intensified by the art style. The drawings take on the classic sketch type appearance and feel untidy and slightly cartoony, but this is done intentionally to showcase the messy thoughts of our main character. Her emotions and mental well-being are portrayed via the artistry in ways that help create an even more haunting and discomforting reading experience, which is perfect given the material. While it can be off-putting for many folks, it’s definitely worth taking a gander at, nonetheless.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the shallow and superficial meanings of what beauty is to the point of losing yourself entirely, whether physically or psychologically. In Clothes Called Fat is an excellent manga that truly centralises that point, and I believe that anyone—regardless of gender or body shape—should take time to read this story. The topics are some that are rarely discussed, particularly in Asian communities, and are the ones that need the most attention, especially in today’s climate where loving oneself and hating oneself seems to be a very strained balance.
If you are interested in checking out more works by this author, I recommend trying Sakuran, which is a historical manga about a young prostitute that deals with similar themes.
8 outta 10.