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Friday, September 21

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Detour

Before I decided to start keeping a journal of my own, I read a lot of online diaries, blogs and websites of personal interest. Among them were Television Without Pity -- a site dedicated to the love and criticism of popular television shows -- and the online journals of many of the site's writers. The pieces posted to the site were witty and astute and it was easy to tell that the writers were wholly involved in providing their readers with coherent recaps of their favorite shows. Simply put, TWoP offered an abundance of good writing and that quality carried over to the writers' personal sites. This is how I was first introduced to Wendy McClure and her website, Pound, the inspiration for the new memoir, I'm Not the New Me.

I'm Not the New Me can be described simply as a weight-loss story, one in which the narrator goes on soul-searching trials to try to fit into a size six, realizes that she'll never fit into a size six, and finally come to terms with not being a size six. But to call the story that is to cut it very short. Through the book we witness the birth of Pound, the growth of Wendy's fame both online and off, and the relationships that result, all in addition to her musings about weight. And it is with the same acerbic wit fans of her website have come to expect that Wendy skillfully fills the physical page.

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"You need to be brave to tell it," Wendy writes in her prologue. "Very brave! You're fat, after all. Everybody can see that. It's assumed that your ability to recognize fat must be impaired for you to have become so damn fat in the first place." Wendy's descriptions of her weight may be brutal, but it's a necessary brutality that lends the story its authenticity. A flip through pictures taken at a TWoP event makes her realize how much she can fool her eyes when looking in the mirror, she admits that while any number of reasons could account for her being overweight -- genetics, large restaurant portions -- none of them really mean anything, and she details her visits to Weight Watchers, admitting to how something so benign as a magnet can end up really meaning something. What she writes is likely what we've thought of ourselves at one time, but she's been bold enough to write it down.

It's when Wendy decides to put some of her weight-loss thoughts online that things begin to take an interesting turn. Although many online diarists, myself included, harbor a secret wish that hundreds of people will flock to their websites to consume whatever wisdom they're sure to dole out, it's always with a bit of hesitancy and a firm belief that no one will ever find the site that most start actually posting. Rarely does it happen, but for Wendy, her musings on fatness and her struggle to lose it became daily reading for countless people. If there's such a thing as an internet star, Wendy was it and she found herself both annoyed and mystified at the absurdity of it all. At one point she is irritated by people confusing her with her site. At another, when a fan with whom she's been conversing through instant messenger relates how much Wendy helped her gain control over her weight and ultimately her life, she is forced to contemplate herself as an inspiration. It's not something many writers experience, and Wendy, with humility, does her best to understand why it happened to her.

My favorite chapter, though, is the one titled "Princess Shit," in which she reflects on the proliferation of princess-themed stories submitted to her job with a children's book publisher. "Single is a princess word," she thinks. "What a pretty face you have is a princess phrase. Being fat is bad enough without it being a stupid princess predicament where I'm supposed to bust out of my pumpkin shell one day and break my own stupid spell and be pretty and happy ever after -- and really, fuck that, I think, all the way home." Wendy may be writing for the fat girl, but these thoughts apply to any number of traits. This is for the girl who was of a different religion. This is for the girl who moved every few years. This is for the girl who was too smart. This is for the girl whose breasts were too big. Or too small. This is for every girl who was every different in any way. And that means all of us. Wendy may have been writing only about herself, but she manages to hit a universal nerve without even trying. That's what makes Pound so enticing to read and I'm Not the New Me such an inspired follow-up.

Might this be the new trend in novels? Will the translation of online writing to the printed book one day seem commonplace? Will this be where the Internet meets real life? For those of us already familiar with Wendy's work, it may seem like that day is already here, but for others I'm Not the New Me will prove to be an introduction to the kind of quality writing that can occur on a computer screen. For Wendy, the two worlds meet when a potential book deal forces her to reveal the site to her mother, whom she's written about in not always flattering ways. They come apart again when the publishing agent, whom she ultimately turns down, tries to dictate her "story":

"Yeah, but you know, there's that thing about how I'm not perfect, so if I don't [lose the weight] maybe that'll be okay?" "Don't you think people are motivated by you?" she asks. Maybe, but that's their problem, I think.

The memoir ends just as Wendy finds her mother's now-infamous old Weight Watchers cards and is considering posting them online. Fortunately, several of those cards are included in a color section of the book, complete with Wendy's wonderfully sarcastic commentary. They're a humorous center to a poignant story about finding oneself -- under the weight, in and out of relationships, online and off. It's a satisfying benchmark for longtime fans of her website and it's an inspiration, not just to those struggling with weight issues, but to those who ever decided to write because of people like her. We're all lucky that she tells the story so well.

And, really, fuck that princess shit.

 

About the Author(s)

Veronica Bond is one of Gapers Block's Slowdown editors and a writer living in Chicago.

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