Review by Meghan Phillips
“It was not the love of a man that drove me to finally confront my growing waistline;” Amye Archer writes, “rather, it was the leaving of one. Six weeks ago my husband Jack walked out of our two bedroom apartment. He would not be coming back.”
At the start of her first memoir Fat Girl, Skinny (Big Table Publishing, 2016), Archer is 26 years old, in the process of getting divorced, and weighs 265 pounds. She and her husband Jack have been together since they were sixteen years old. Jack suffers from extreme anxiety, so Archer carried him—emotionally and financially—through much of their relationship. She describes their marriage as “a pattern of codependency… I resented his disease. I resented him. Yet I loved him and stayed with him because he needed me.” After he leaves her for his manager at Radio Shack, “a blonde Republican,” Archer must discover who she is outside of the role of Jack’s caregiver.
Fat Girl, Skinny is divided into three parts with a prologue and an afterward called “8 Months Later.” The prologue introduces the reader to the “super-secret system” of Weight Watchers—everything from standing in line to be weighed to the points system that dictates how much food a dieter can consume. She also introduces the reader to the women of her Weight Watchers group. Tough women, who “look harmless… [but] [i]f you cross us… we will cut you.” The prologue also introduces the reader to Archer’s voice, which is simultaneously witty, even sarcastic at times, and deadly earnest. Reading Archer is kind of like huddling in a corner booth at the local bar with your best girlfriend and drinking and talking until last call. One minute, you’re laughing your face off; the next, you’re crying big, sloppy, make-up wrecking tears.
Reading Archer is kind of like huddling in a corner booth at the local bar with your best girlfriend and drinking and talking until last call. One minute, you’re laughing your face off; the next, you’re crying big, sloppy, make-up wrecking tears.
In the three parts that comprise the meat of her memoir, Archer uses her stellar voice to weave together her current struggles with weight loss and relationships with the instances from her past. For example, in the first part, a chapter that starts at a Weight Watchers meeting ends with Archer reminiscing about her first real boyfriend Ollie. The next chapter focuses on her sister Jennie’s impending move to New York City. This braided format is a little jarring, at first, but as the memoir progresses, each of the threads that Archer introduces in the first part combine to create a complex and honest story of a woman struggling to find herself and ultimately succeeding.
Fat Girl, Skinny is not just a story about weight loss. Near the middle of her memoir Archer declares “Skinny was always the answer to my problems, the one thing that would make everything better. It was everything I ever wanted.” As the pounds drop, though, Archer realizes that losing weight isn’t solving her problems. It isn’t until she is able to accept herself for the “fat girl” that she is that she really takes control of her own story. With encouragement from her friends, she starts writing again, and opens herself to a relationship with the man who eventually becomes her husband and the father of her twin daughters.
At its core, Archer’s story is about relationships—her relationship with her family, her friends, food, men, and most importantly, her relationship with herself. And that’s a story that anyone, regardless of their body type, can relate to.