A story that wonderfully depicts the emotions of a overweight woman with low self-esteem surrounded within the harsh environment of slim and good-looking women. She then decides to lose weight after getting dumped by her lover. The consequences and side-effects are explored further after the "achievement." Is it what she really wished for?
Shibou to Iu Na no Fuku wo Kite was published in English as In Clothes Called Fat by Vertical Inc. on July 22, 2014. The English version was nominated for the 2015 Eisner Award for Best U.S. Edition of International Material—Asia. It was also published in Spanish by Ponent Mon in February 2017.
It seems that today’s society is obsessed with physical appearance and self-indulgence. People often judge others on their appearance; basing their treatment of others on attraction rather than a standard of human decency. Likewise, people are obsessed with the pursuit of their own happiness, to the point that they disregard the happiness of others and ignore the ugly realities of their situation in order to preserve their own self-satisfaction. This is the viewpoint taken by Moyoco Anno’s manga In Clothes Called Fat, the story of a fat woman living in modern Japan and her attempt at weight loss. It is an unflinching and harsh examination
of the superficiality of physical appearance, and the extents of what a person is willing to put themselves through to attain even a semblance of happiness.
The story follows Noko Hanazawa, a plump office worker who eats away her anxiety. She binge eats whenever the stress in her life becomes too much for her to handle; a coping mechanism of sorts. “Eat to become stronger” she tells herself as she munches all her problems to the back of her mind. She’s self-conscious about her girth, but she isn’t too bothered by it. She’s satisfied with the few friends she has at work and her boyfriend of 8 years. However, things start to fall apart when she finds out that her boyfriend is sleeping with one of her co-workers, and a sequence of unfortunate events turn her personal and professional life upside down. What follows is a rollercoaster of misguided determination and insecurity, as Noko struggles to lose weight and get her life back in order.
In Clothes Called Fat is not a comfortable read, largely because the subject matter will hit close to home for a lot of readers. Like Noko, most people have their self-image connected to their physical appearance, at least to a certain extent. People have low self-confidence if they are constantly being told that they are fat or ugly or in some way physically undesirable, or if they perceive themselves in such a manner. This makes Noko very easy to sympathize with; especially when her life really goes south, dragging her deeper into a pit of insecurity and dissatisfaction. Her negative evaluation of herself and her constant need for the approval of others, namely her boyfriend, are as heartbreaking and relatable as they are self-destructive. In her desperate attempt to lose weight and win back her boyfriend, Noko overlooks or ignores the harm she is doing to herself. She even turns a blind-eye to the fact that her boyfriend is cheating on her until it becomes too apparent to ignore. By mid-way through the book Noko has lost a substantial amount of weight, but she’s no better off for it; ultimately trading one eating disorder for another.
However, Noko is not the only character that gets attention in the story, nor is she the only one with issues. Noko’s boyfriend, Saitou, has a rather unhealthy relationship with women. He seeks out beautiful and self-assured women whom he cheats on Noko with, but he’s also intimidated by such women and always comes back to Noko, whom he believes will love him unconditionally. Essentially, he is using his relationship with Noko to avoid confronting his own insecurities. The clear antagonist of the story, Noko’s co-worker Mayumi, is a manipulative sadist. Not only does she harass Noko for being overweight, she abuses Saitou when they have sex. Yet it is implied that even her actions stem from some sort of dissatisfaction; a compulsory need to put down others in order to feel superior. Two other girls who work with Noko seem to be friendly with her at times, but more often than not follow Mayumi in order to keep their own social standing. Later in the story, there are a few of Noko’s male colleagues who lament their place in society and pointlessly waste their days away. Every character in the story is dissatisfied about something in their lives, and Anno uses them to deliver broad, open-ended statements on society which don’t put the blame in any one place.
The art of In Clothes Called Fat is distinctive and attractive, and Anno doesn’t hold back depicting the human physique, making the manga decidedly for older readers. The art is somewhat similar to that of Kyoko Okazaki, whom Anno worked under for a time, and other Josei manga yet has a distinct flavor of its own. Most female leads in manga are drawn attractively, so the atypically fat and only marginally attractive Noko makes for a unique heroine. The images of Noko observing herself in the nude and her alarming change in appearance as she loses weight are the manga’s most striking images, along with the graphic sex scenes.
In Clothes Called Fat is not something everyone will want to read, but it absolutely deserves to be read. Admittedly, the story is not flawless, there are some extraneous plot threads and some characters that are frankly unnecessary. It also isn’t a very comforting read; even though Noko comes to a conclusion about her body by the end, it isn’t necessarily an affirming one. That said, this is a maturely told story which covers a very serious and very real issue. It examines eating disorders not only through a physical standpoint, but a through a psychological and a sociological angle as well. It is a painfully human tale of personal perception, and a disarmingly sharp critique of society’s superficial standard of beauty.
In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno
Long-Winded Review #8 (Thicc edition)
In Clothes Called Fat, by Hideaki Anno's wife Moyoco Anno, is a very solid josei manga about the insecurities we face every day, whether that has to do with our personal appearance or our psychological hangups.
For the most part, we follow an overweight girl, Noko Hanazawa, who is the constant target of workplace bullying and social ostracization. She blames all of her problems on her weight and thinks that once she's skinny, everything will fall into place. So she seeks help to get thin, but of course things don't quite go as expected. The manga
also puts some focus on a few other characters, namely Noko's boyfriend, who is intimidated by pretty, confident girls, so he encourages and even forces Noko to remain fat, despite not being attracted to her, because he feels like she won't leave him if she stays overweight. It goes into his mindset even deeper, to the point of revealing that him staying with her makes him feel like a good person, for staying with her despite her looks. It's a bit fucked up, but I have known many a relationship like that and this is the first time I've seen it explored, albeit not too deeply. Another character of focus is Noko's co-worker, who constantly bullies her and others, manipulating the workplace to like her, while stepping on "ugly people" because she hates "hideous things", all for an ego boost. So when she runs out of people to step on, she finds a deep dissatisfaction with her life, much like Noko and her boyfriend, who think changing singular things about themselves will make them fulfilled and content. That is the central theme of the story - a pervasive dissatisfaction with life that most of us have, that we think will go away if we fix a few things. But of course, it's never that simple.
Anno does a great job exploring the psychology of an addict, in this case a food addict, but it feels a lot more universal that that. The ups and downs Noko goes through are highly relatable, whether you're addicted to food, drugs, shopping, or whatever else. For the most part, these themes have been endlessly explored in media, and Anno doesn't really stray from the beaten path, but sometimes she'll hit a subtle note of insight that elevates this manga above other similar works. Anno never really leans one way or another with her commentary, touching on several aspects of the issue. She acknowledges how part of of the problem is society for shunning outcasts, but also criticizes the blame-shifting some people will make for their problems. I honestly don't know how someone with Noko's problems would react to this manga; they might find it very insightful and encouraging, or they might find it critical and discouraging. At the root of it, the main motif of the manga is contentedness. Fat, skinny, pretty, ugly, confident, shy, strong, weak; none of those qualities are inherent sources of happiness or sorrow. The main message of this manga is that contentedness comes from within, and unless you get to the root of the problem, you will always be dissatisfied with life.
The art is pretty solid. Nothing amazing at the surface level, just your usual josei art style. It's fairly minimalist, but with a slightly messy flair about it. It's very similar to Kyoko Okazaki's style, which makes a lot of sense considering Anno used to work for Okazaki. I do find Anno's style more appealing personally. Where I think Anno shines is in her portrayal of Noko's face and body over the course of her weight loss and weight gain. She really captures that dead, weak, look that anorexic people often have, where they might be smiling but look like they're about to pass out any moment. Her portrayal of Noko's overweight body is equally as good, and very realistic. Anno doesn't shy away from nudity at all, and I think it really helps drive home the themes of the manga. Noko's body is never drawn to look inherently repulsive. In fact, for the most part I found chubby Noko to be pretty cute. On the other side of the coin, Noko's abusive co-worker, who's supposed to be extremely beautiful, is often be drawn to look somewhat unattractive, in part due to her nasty personality, and in part due to the subtle expressions Anno is able to convey.
All in all, I liked this manga a lot. I couldn't help but compare it to Okazaki's Helter Skelter as that deals with plastic surgery addiction and touches on similar themes. I think that this manga is more coherent and solid overall, but Helter Skelter had a bit more charm. That said, I think they're of similar quality. But I'm not here to compare, I'm here to review this book on its own virtues and flaws. I think Anno accomplishes what she set out to accomplish. She had some very good insights on the psychological profiles of archetypes of people we meet every day (or may very well ourselves be). She often hit some subtle notes, but sometimes felt a little too on-rails. I think some aspects of the manga could have been developed further, or more efficiently, but overall there is sufficient depth to be found for a one-shot volume.
Noko is a binge-eater, she suffers from major depression due to crippling insecurity issues and the stress of being bullied at work. To cope with her depressive episodes she eats and eats and continues to eat until she can forget everything. As Noko’s binge eating spirals out of control so too does her weight, which makes her feel even more insecure about her body. Noko is trapped in a vicious cycle of shame over her body and gorging herself. She is emotionally dependent on her boyfriend, Saitou.
In order to solve her problems with other people Noko decides to lose weight, but in her frenzy she
develops an eating disorder. In Clothes Called Fat is by no means an easy read – it tackles an extremely difficult topic with brutal honesty. It shows that eating disorders aren’t simply dieting, but are actually a severe mental illness that can quickly turn deadly and destroy the lives of those suffering from them.
I think I would have liked this manga more if certain characters and plot points weren’t so absurd. There is a clear antagonist that’s just out to make the main character’s life miserable and the plot with her is just so over the top it borders on not being believable. I understand why some of these characters were introduced, as anyone losing weight will know there will always be mixed reactions from other people. There are those that will be discouraging of a person’s weight loss for various selfish reasons such as insecurity or because of a fetish, and in worse cases to keep someone down so that they can feel superior.
If the story had focused more on Noko’s private inner journey and less on the drama of these other characters this would have been better. This manga is definitely not a feel good weight loss and redemption story, it is startlingly honest, dark, cynical, and quite frankly a wake up call for young people that weigh their happiness and self worth by how they look.