English, Please!: In the Clothes Named Fat
December 2, 2011
Moyoco Anno – Bunshun / Shodensha / Shufu to Seikatsusha – 1997 – 1 volume
I know I shouldn’t cover two Moyoco Anno series in a row, but I read something today that made me remember this story, and it’s worth talking about. While Sakuran is my favorite series by her, I feel like I appreciate her work more when she’s offering sharp commentary on modern society. Happy Mania and Flowers and Bees both work that way, and so does this one. Except, unlike Happy Mania and Flowers and Bees, she isn’t really… out to entertain this time.
I’ve never been able to come up with a good English title for this series. I gave the literal translation of 脂肪と言う名の服を着て above, but it’s super-awkward. I’ve been trying for years to think of a better one, but anything that holds the original meaning sounds just as awkward (Wearing Fat as Clothes?), and others don’t make sense (Fatware?). You get the idea, though.
If the title or some of my suggestions sound a little insensitive, that’s because this is a very brutal story. It’s one of only two very good body image manga I’ve ever read. The main character, Noko, is an overweight and very introverted office lady. She puts up with sarcastic commentary from her beautiful coworkers along with getting dumped on by her bosses for absolutely everything that goes wrong. The only good thing in her life is her boyfriend, who she’s been dating for eight years. But when she begins to realize that not even he finds her attractive anymore, she decides to make a positive life change.
Except there’s absolutely nothing positive on any page of this story.
There’s some NSFW images after the cut.
Noko’s life isn’t pretty. She doesn’t stand up for herself, and she internalizes everything. When her relationship with her boyfriend sours, she no longer has any friends to talk to, either. Noko deals with stress by binging. The binging scenes are brutal. Rock bottom kinda stuff. We see her binge several times before she finally decides to change herself for the better.
The enabler of this change is a creepy old man who tells Noko that being thin will not make her happy. Several other people offer this advice as well. But Noko is miserable, and decides that being thin and attractive to others will make her feel better about herself, and she might win her boyfriend back, too.
Oddly, Noko decides to lose weight by signing up for “spa treatments.” When told that she would have to diet in order to lose weight in conjunction with these treatments, she resolves to do it, but stress makes her binge again and shames her in front of the beautician. Since she can’t stop binging, she begins purging so that she won’t incur the wrath of the beautician. The purging is not shown, and I get the feeling that it’s because it’s a much more shameful act in the context of the series.
Meanwhile, things only get worse in her life. Her boyfriend won’t come back, her work problems escalate until a major incident is blamed on her and she’s punished worse than if she had been fired, and only the most awful people talk to her, saying terrible things about her appearance. But to Noko, being thin will solve all these problems.
Except it doesn’t. Most stories about body image are fairly positive, featuring a main character that loses weight through hard work, has a support network to get them through the tough times, and they feel better about themselves in the end. Noko has an eating disorder, and assumes that her life will change because she’s thin, rather than trying to make any positive changes in her lifestyle and attitude. It’s a look at all the bad things that go along with weight issues, things that never come up in manga when they even bother to address such problems.
The title of the series is one of the first lines, with the main character saying that being fat was like wearing clothes that you just can’t take off. Later, one of the characters refers to her unhappiness as “having a fat heart,” with the meaning that her personality will never change, even if her appearance does.
Noko’s self-destructive behaviors don’t end well, and as I said, there’s not a whole lot of nice things in this series. But it’s one of the most frank looks at body image I’ve ever seen. Noko is an overweight woman, and she has a lot of problems with those around her as well as her own insecurity and self-esteem issues. The series doesn’t solve these problems. Rather than a trip down feel-good lane, it shows the darker side of all that. It’s similar to Anno’s Happy Mania in that way, since both series end with the main character seemingly about to repeat their bad behavior indefinitely. In the Clothes Named Fat is more than a little depressing and unsympathetic, and difficult to read, but it’s worth a look for sure.
There are three different editions of this book. The original Saikatsusha edition is incomplete, but it is out of print. I believe the Shodensha edition and the Bunshun bunkouban edition are both still available, though. The bunkouban doesn’t have a naked woman on the cover, if you were considering importing it.