- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Wake Up, I'm Fat is Camryn Manheim's "celebration of ass-kicking."
The Emmy-winning actress says as much in the first few pages of her terrific new memoir. It's not "the whiny lamentation of a girl who was never asked to dance" — far from it. It's a laugh-out-loud joyride on the back of Manheim's motorcycle as she rips fearlessly through the ups and downs of her life.
She wasn't always fat, she tells us, but she grew up alongside a sister who was. She began to put on weight around age 11, much to her shock as a newcomer to Southern California, where body image counted. She became, she says, "the unofficial poster child for Levi Strauss," refusing to wear the insipid sundresses her mother bought and hiding instead inside jeans and baggy shirts. What changed her life was a visit to a local Renaissance fair, where she saw women of all shapes "fabulously garbed and having the time of their lives": "Much to my surprise I wanted to shed my Levi's and don long colorful skirts and bodices that celebrated breasts.... I wanted to finally be in a world that devoured curvy women and honored them with due respect."
Doggedly determined to become an actress, Manheim auditioned for NYU's graduate drama program, a grueling curriculum from which actors who didn't make the grade were winnowed over the course of three years. Early on, Manheim felt she was falling short — or rather, falling fat. Eventually she was summoned to the chairperson's office for "a little tête-à-tête":
"Camryn, we think that you should consider losing some weight thissummer.There would be so many more opportunities afforded to you if you were thinner." I almost expected her to say "We hope to see a lot less of you in the fall."
Manheim made it through the program, but her health — after heavy amphetamine use to control her weight — and her psyche were shot. But slowly she began to build her list of credits, appearing in small parts in off-off-Broadway plays and doing a turn in the film "The Road to Wellville" as a nurse who appears naked. "I got naked," she says, "and not just me naked, by myself, all alone, nobody else. No, I got naked next to Bridget Fonda, who, if you ask me, could use a sandwich."
Manheim thought, she says, that the "Wellville" role would be a breakthrough for her. But: "Can you guess? Yep, every single role I was up for was the put-upon, ugly, butt-of-the-joke fat girl." Nevertheless, the role fueled her growing self-acceptance. As she was having difficulty finding roles that were right for her, she decided there was one role for which only she was right, and mounted a smashing one-woman show entitled "Wake Up, I'm Fat!"
When the television series "The Practice" was being cast, they were looking for a "sassy, streetwise kind of gal." Manheim responded with characteristic bravado: "Hello! Streetwise and sassy? I know where all the crack houses are, and 'fuck' is my favorite word. How much more streetwise and sassy can you be?" By beating David E. Kelley, the series' creator, in cribbage, Manheim got his attention; by acting like the "big, ballsy woman" that she is, she got the part.
Manheim believes that her family background of activism obligates her to speak out against injustice. The mistreatment and underrepresentation of fat women in the fashion and entertainment world is, she believes, just such an injustice. So it's no surprise that she's become a vocal supporter of the size acceptance movement, a crusader of sorts. "I never intended to become the spokeswoman for the fat acceptance movement," Manheim claims. "But I did want to provide an alternative role model to young girls so they wouldn't feel such pressure to emulate the unrealistic beauty standard in our society."
Manheim's committed to her mission. When she was nominated for an Emmy for her work on "The Practice," she refused to wear a gown by any designer who didn't market a line of clothing for heavy women. And when she won that Emmy, she held it high and crowed, "This is for all the fat girls!"
Manheim is not shy about discussing her defeats but she prefers to dwell on how she turned them into triumphs.Wake Up, I'm Fat!, adapted from her stage show, is a funny, intimate, and candid introduction to a talented actress and, yes, inspiring role model. This book is indeed a celebration of ass-kicking.
Camryn, we're thrilled to be invited to the party.
— Julie Robichaux