27 pages 54 minutes read

Andre Dubus II

The Fat Girl

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1977

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Gender Roles, Female Sexuality, and Motherhood

From the beginning of the story, Louise is treated differently than her brother because of her gender. Whereas her brother is allowed to eat sandwiches and chips, Louise, who is nine years old and still growing, has to eat whatever her mother prepares for the two of them. She explains to Louise, “In five years you’ll be in high school and if you’re fat the boys won’t like you; they won’t ask you out” (158). Louise thus learns from an early age that she should be thin in order to appeal to men. Just as Louise “inherits” her disordered eating and body image issues from her mother, her mother seeks to “pass on” her normative role as a wife and mother in a heterosexual relationship.

However, Louise never seems very interested in men, especially not at the age of nine. The story shares this skepticism, beginning not with eating but with a moment of sexual violence or near-violence—a drunk teenager “jamm[ing] his tongue” in Louise’s mouth (158). This sets the tone for the female characters’ experiences of heterosexual sex, which Carrie is “not sure […] she like[s]” and which Louise’s friend Joan likes (at least initially) more as a form of validation than as an expression of desire (163).