Peer into any chick-lit lover’s bookshelf and you might spot the obligatory Bridget Jones’ Diary, The Devil Wears Prada and the terrifyingly titled Skinny Bitch. Page after soppy page details the travails of heroines who stumble and bumble through their diets, makeovers and professional lives—only to emerge skinny, chic, successful and finally with that job at The New Yorker.
Positive these successes could be duplicated in our dingy lives, we swear off the fudge and trash that bag of chips, convinced that a diet could help us shed a few pounds here, make us a little leaner there and hold the ticket to success. But what if it didn’t.
In her debut novel Fat Chick, columnist Lorraine Duffy Merkl holds up a mirror to the lessons of a lifetime of dieting. While every girl eager to find her prince kisses frogs called diets, it may turn out you’re wasting your time on the wrong thing. In the novel, protagonist Trish is an advertising professional who has just lost a prestigious account to a skinny colleague. Talented and on a mission to reclaim her position in the agency, Trish embarks on a vicious dieting routine with surprising consequences.
Merkl, a freelance advertising consultant whose work has been published in the New York Times and New York Post, recently sat down over breakfast to give us the skinny on Fat Chick. She is already at work on her second book.
Q: You say there is a difference between fat chick and a fat chick mentality.
A: When I tell women what the book is about, more than one person has asked, “Am I on the cover of the book?” They say it jokingly, but you know there is some truth to their saying it. If you are a size 2 and you turn around and ask your friend if you look fat in an outfit, that’s not a fat chick, but a fat chick mentality.
Q: Your protagonist Trish is similar to the pre-makeover Peggy Olson, from Mad Men. Maybe she could take a few lessons from Joan?
A: Joan is a perfect example of someone who is “stacked.” She is poised, gracious, so confident—she looks beautiful—yet she is a big woman. The de facto heroine in my book is also a big woman, a plus-size model who carries herself with great confidence and poise. People trash media images for projecting certain body types. But even if there were no models, no pictures, you would still see women in a communal changing room or in a bathing suit at the beach and compare yourself to other people. You should not be caught up in what others think. The book talks about fashion, but it doesn’t trash fashion or magazines for women’s body issues.
Q: You are 51 now and have yo-yo dieted since you were 13. Is this a memoir?
A: It’s not a memoir, it’s a novel. As with any fiction writer, I took stories from my own life. I didn’t want this story to be about a fat girl that lives happily ever after, after losing a ton of weight. If that were true, then people like Kirstie Alley wouldn’t be gaining weight.
Q: Do thin chicks get the guys, or is that a myth?
A: It’s a myth. People like [Tiger Wood’s wife] Elin Nordegren, Jennifer Aniston—people we hold up as beautiful women and think, “If only I had her hair, if I had her legs,” if that were all it took to be happy, then bad things would never happen to beautiful people. Comparing yourself to others is a waste of time. Run your own race.
Fat Chick is available exclusively at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com. Transcript has been edited for clarity.
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