My Inspiration for “Fat Girls”

Shannon Waite
5 min readJul 19, 2023

I am honored that my short story “Fat Girls” has been published on Hobart. I’ve received some curiosity surrounding the inspiration for this story, so here are the ‘behind the scenes’, so-to-speak, below.

You may have read this in some of my About Me writings, but in 2011 I was in a fatal car accident. I survived, but was in a coma for a week. When I “woke up,” I was constantly falling in and out of sleep for another week maybe. Then, when I was consistently awake, food sounded disgusting to me for some reason (which was a new experience). I would only eat to stop hunger — once the hunger was gone, my body wanted to eat no more. On top of that, the only food that sounded remotely appetizing was fruit. So for a few weeks, all I ate was fruit, and very little at that. Then I slowly started eating other food, but still, only until I was no longer feeling hunger pains. This lasted for probably three months before I returned to eating more regularly.

By the end of those few months, I ended up losing about 20 pounds.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t even feel like I had lost weight for probably the first year. I remember returning to school for the first time after my accident and a classmate had said something about me losing weight. I didn’t know what she was talking about. Eventually, I’d come to realize that I did lose weight.

Eventually, I began to think that even though everything I went through was horrific, at the very least, I was kind of grateful that I had lost weight without having to do any of the work (and that sounds so awful but think about the culture that made me feel this way).

The thing is, I was never “fat” — and saying that makes it sound like “fat” is inherently bad, which isn’t true. But my culture taught me not to be it. To be anything but it, even if I looked at other “fat” woman and thought they were beautiful. So I tried losing weight, to be “skinny”, or skinnier, by eating a little less or walking more, but nothing did much for me.

Many of the things that happen in “Fat Girls” are very real experiences that people in the world have had when existing in their body image. I actually cut some of my own experiences out because beta readers said they felt too fake/fabricated (despite having actually happened to me in real life). This includes my (now) ex telling me that I was hot, but I’d be hotter if I lost weight (and was shorter). Originally in “Fat Girls,” this is how Tony broke up with the narrator, but I changed it.

After reflecting on having lost weight from a coma and how ‘easy’ it was to do it, to not realize you’re not eating because you’re knocked out, I thought about a world in which people did that intentionally and how it could be a story. I sat on this plot for at least eight years before I finally started writing it. Then I wasn’t sure where to go with it… so it sat for a little while more. I go to the gym, and that’s where some of the plot points I needed hit me. While this is a fictional story and is not about any one person’s experience, it is made up of many real experiences.

The same day that I closed my laptop and considered the story done, I was (coincidentally) at the gym and overheard two girls in the locker room talking about their pant sizes, if they felt like they looked like what the number told them they were, and how they felt about their appearance. The same day, I overheard someone else talking about their weight.

Parts in the story about the mom questioning what the narrator eats were inspired by someone’s blog post I read.

Emmy saying “Oof, I’m full. I should stop eating” is something I accidentally do.

Being hit on at the gym is another thing I’ve seen happen.

Men making comments about women, like the narrator’s Dad at the bar.

Mothers and grandmothers making comments about women, about how much someone weighs, has happened in my own family. “Maybe she shouldn’t eat as much. It’s not the dress’s fault.”

Woman making comments about women, looking at other women and judging them happens. All the time.

Heifer/Jennifer mentions “How to Get Skinny Fast” in Women’s Health magazine. This is a real article that I saw as I was checking out at the grocery store. I wrote the name down so I could use it in this story.

The narrator says, “I heard there’s health reasons and that keeps people from losin’ weight sometimes and I wonder if that’s me. Sleep. Genetics. Thyroids?” — I’ve heard these things, read these things, looked these things up even.

Men like Zillo, sexualizing, idolizing young girls. I was 12 the first time a man honked at me while he drove past me walking up to 7–11 to get a Slurpee.

And so many other small, cultural things that happen in this story are things that I and many other people are a part of and have experienced or done.

So I thought it would be interesting, to write a story that explored the life of someone so desperate to “just be skinny”, and to get all the perks that come with being skinny, that she would put herself through a coma to accomplish it. What would happen? What does that say about her? What does it say about everyone else? I did a bunch of research on which drugs would be able to sedate and not kill to accomplish this, and how one would even get access to that drug, and came up with “Fat Girls”.

In this story I explore my experience as a woman being inundated with imagery of what bodies are considered socially acceptable and beautiful, and the kinds of culture that perpetuates this imagery.

I don’t have any answers, but my hope for you is to read “Fat Girls” and walk alongside the questions. Do you have answers?

Disclaimer: I recognize there are women who are happy with how they look, and women who want to be bigger or curvier. There are men who feel the need to look a different way. etc. These are all valid. And while the story I wrote is not the only story, it isn’t about those other stories either. (although, to be fair, most of these stories are a part of the same culture — one that puts emphasis on our looks.)

Shannon Waite has taught English and Creative Writing in Detroit. Her fiction has been published in PANK, Oakland Arts Review, and elsewhere. www.shannonwaiteauthor.com

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Shannon Waite

Shannon Waite is an author focused on transgression and social change and, largely, how to combine the two. www.shannonwaiteauthor.com