I started two other books this month. Both were excellent, but nothing screamed “July book review.” In honor of rising temperatures, teeny tiny bikinis and beach vacations, I selected Rita Just Wants to be Thin by Mary W. Walters.
Walters, an award winning Canadian author, has written four other works of fiction and non-fiction, several short stores and articles for magazines and literary journals in Canada and around the world.
I decided to feature this book not only because of Mary W. Walter’s outstanding writing credentials, but I was also impressed with her topic and her treatment of the subject of weight loss.
Most of us have our own horror stories about weight loss and the desire to be thin. My dad and his relatives were thin and wiry. My mom, her mother and her grandmother struggled with obesity. After the age of nine, my sister always had weight issues. My brother and I took after my dad, but there was always the presumption that I would eventually gain weight because I was female. Every pound became an issue, and I found myself counting calories, charting my weight, and living with a measuring tape and a notebook in my underwear drawer by age 11. After some yo-yoing in high school and college, at 23, I hit rock bottom weighing in at 85 pounds.
After getting a handle on a healthy body image, having three kids and hitting my 40’s, I discovered comfort foods and had my first real taste of extra pounds…pounds that didn’t go away as soon as I changed my diet. For the last 15 years, I’ve struggled to get back in balance and stay there, so Rita, the heroine of this book intrigued me.
Rita is in her mid-twenties, married to a widower with two young children (Ida and Simon). She is struggling to find her way and usually only gets as far as the refrigerator and the green sofa in the family room.
We first meet Rita in an exam room waiting for her doctor. She has every intention of enlisting his help to lose weight, but when a new doctor walks through the door, Rita becomes tongue tied. To make matters worse, the doctor yells at Rita about her blood pressure, weight and sedentary lifestyle. Trigger anger, embarrassment, more denial, and that magic fixer of all wrongs, comfort food.
We learn Rita’s mom is a successful real estate agent - a perfect size 6 with iron will and perfect fashion sense. She’s not shy about pointing out Rita’s ever increasing waistline and limited wardrobe choices. Add Graham’s parents and his late wife Rosa’s parents ready with advice or a deprecating look and you have a full plate of misery for Rita.
Rita’s husband Graham seems more interested in having a mother for his two children and a helpmate than actually helping his mate. To his credit, Graham never criticizes Rita’s weight, but he wants her to get pregnant because he believes having her own child will make it easier for her to be a mother to Ida and Simon.
Rita is a chain smoker who starts and quits a dozen or more of the latest diets. Always looking for the quick fix, she follows weight loss tips from every imaginable source only to see the scale go down slightly then shoot up higher than ever.
When Rita finally begins to focus on the reasons for her actions instead of making excuses, she can see how other people are connected to her life choices. When she begins taking walks to escape her unpleasant home life, she uncovers a path back to herself and receives help from an unexpected source.
Rita, despite her great size, is remarkably fragile and her pain is real. Kudos to Mary W. Walters for showing us we sometimes laugh at incredibly painful things. She does an amazing job of helping the reader feel Rita’s sense of hopelessness and shame about her weight and her inability to stop bingeing.
Walters does not gift wrap the ending for us. We don’t know if Rita will actually achieve all her weight loss goals or effect all the changes she wants in her life, but we do know she is capable of success. For the first time in her life, Rita is accountable for her own happiness and the lessons she’s learning are equally valuable for anyone who reads this book.
Mary W. Walters other works include The Woman Upstairs, Cool, The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid (co-authored with John A. Aragon), and Write an Effective Funding Application: A Guide for Researchers and Scholars (non-fiction).
Walter’s blog, The Militant Writer, features topics related to writing, reading and publishing. She also writes about traveling and other life adventures in a blog titled, I’m All Write. Her works are available on amazon.com and at book stores in Canada and the United States. She has also created a series of podcasts to aid researchers who are preparing funding applications in all disciplines.