A railway line ran a few hundred yards past the bottom of their garden, far enough away for the family to ignore it. Nevertheless, Nia said she could hear people talking about her inside the painted steel carriages. In the clank of heavy rolling stock she could pick out snatches of conversations about her—derogatory insinuations that crept into her room through the plastic veneer of the double-glazing. She also told him that she had seen things on television. The newsreaders had begun looking at her. In the corners of their eyes she began to read signs. They were sending her messages; messages that linked up with the voices on the trains…Does that madness sound “beautiful” to you?
On the day before her admission to hospital, Nia had stood at her parents’ front door, unmoving, for five hours.
Of course, the whole point of the story is not that Nia’s madness was beautiful; it’s that she was. And that when the effective antipsychotic drug with which she was treated made her gain weight, she suddenly wasn’t beautiful anymore. Nia didn’t care; she was just happy to be well again. But everyone else around her, including her doctors, were fretting endlessly about her having to give up her beauty for her sanity. So much so, that they took her off the drug and replaced it with a different one that didn’t have weight gain as a side effect. When she slipped back into psychosis, only reluctantly did they put her back on the original drug.
The treatment had reversed a Faustian pact in which Nia had been beautiful and mad, and replaced it with another—in which she was fat and sane.Give me a fucking break. The girl went from standing for five hours, not moving a muscle, to mental healthfulness. Perhaps the most devastating part of this article is the final salvo, in which her newfound sanity is actually questioned because she doesn’t care that she’s fat.
But was it really a blessing that Nia seemed to have no conception of what she had lost?I suppose the notion that Nia maybe managed to have a modicum of perspective and felt that extra weight was a small price to pay for a normal life is just too outrageous to consider—that maybe her priorities aren’t the ones that need questioning.
Twisty, Angelica, Amanda, and Zuzu all have more—great pieces each.
I just want to take a moment to address something I found particularly distressing in the piece—the notion that “fat” and “beautiful” are mutually exclusive. My entire life I was teased for being fat. Even when I was thin, I had large breasts, which got translated into being fat by my pre-teen peers. I was 12 years old, and not a pound overweight but already sporting D-cups the first time I got called “a fat cow.” I’ve spent my whole life feeling fat, whether I was or not. And consequently, I never felt beautiful, because there’s no such thing in our culture as being both fat and beautiful.
I’ve been told, “You’d be so pretty if only you lost weight,” I’ve been mooed at by cars of passing teenage boys, I’ve been called ugly more times than I can count.
I’ve also been called sexy, cute, and, yes, even beautiful. But those words don’t ring the loudest in my ears when I look in the mirror, because I have an entire culture telling me that you can’t be both fat and beautiful—and even trying to feel that way is of questionable sanity.
I never suffered from a dearth of potential partners, even those who had never dated a fat girl before, or never thought they would, and I’ve never felt that regarding weight as a preference, when it comes to attraction, isn’t legitimate; preferring someone thin is no different than preferring someone blonde. But I remember having a conversation with Mr. Curious once, before he lost some weight, during which he said, “You and I are both attractive, but most people don’t see it, because we’re fat.” And I was reminded of that as I read “Beautiful Madness,” in which Nia, so beautiful at first that she was considered “too beautiful to be in a psychiatric ward,” but stripped of her beauty, in the eyes of others, as she gained weight. You can be fat or you can be beautiful, but you can’t be both.
Or so goes the conventional wisdom.
But I know women who are fat and beautiful. I see famous women—Queen Latifah, Mia Tyler, Emme, Dawn French, Kathleen Turner, Kathy Najimy, Liza Tarbuck, Kathy Bates—who defy the conventional body shape and are stunning to boot. Are they crazy, or wrong, for feeling beautiful? Am I, when I manage it?
Are we crazier than those who value beauty over sanity?