Carol Lay, the author of the memoir The Big Skinny: How I Changed my Fattitude is a long-time cartoonist who always struggled to maintain a healthy weight. In her memoir she explains her family history that led her to gain weight, the battle with dieting on and off, how certain experiences in her life altered her weight, and when the light switch finally turned on that she wanted to lose the excess weight, for good.
Carol includes her day to day lifestyle changes, sample menu’s and recipe’s of what helped her along the way, and of course, what to avoid altogether! Carol takes the reader through an emotional, yet light-hearted story of her struggles, all while keeping in tune with the comic book theme.
We all adored reading Carol’s personal story, and would like to share it with you through a biography and brief history of her life, an analysis of the memoir itself, and finally providing information in the genre of the graphic memoir. Enjoy!
Carol learned how to do story boards for rock video’s, feature films and commercials.
She worked in animation as a storyboard artist on several different shows.
In 1990, was invited to contribute a short serialized story in LA weekly.
She had a large audience and her comic strip lasted 18 years in publications in the U.S and abroad, including www.salon.com
Carol lived in New York for several years.
Recently in the last 5 years, Carol has lost 125 lbs and has been able to keep it off.
She has written her memoir The Big Skinny to convey how she successfully lost weight.
She currently resides in Los Angeles.
Historical Context of Carol’s Childhood & Carol’s Influences
Carol started off as a normal kid, then as she grew into her teens, she got lost in the crowd and felt somewhat invisible. This is the period she started to gain weight. At seventeen her mother sent her to Weight Watchers, that didn’t work.
At nineteen Carol was obese, weighing 206 pounds. She was sent to a doctor instead of a psychologist and it was recommended she take diet pills. The pills worked, she lost a total of 40 pounds but she quickly became addicted to them.
When she was a kid, she was fascinated by Science Fiction Theatre, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Red Skelton, Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. She read a lot of books and watched a lot of TV.
Youtube Video of LA STRIPS interview with Carol where she discusses how she started into the world of comics, her inspirations, and some of her work to date. (Webstories, 2008)
Carol talks to Judy Berman of salon.com in an interview entitled This comic book can make you thin! Here they discuss her memoir The Big Skinny, what inspired Carol to write it, what she hopes the readers will take from the memoir, and what pushed her to lose the weight in the first place. (salon.com, 2009)
This is an e-mail interview with Carol from Robot 6/Comic Book Resources about The Big Skinny entitled Talking Comics with Tim: Carol Lay. Tim and Carol discuss how her idea of writing about her wight-loss journey came about, hardships she had to deal with that she included in the memoir, what type of influence Carol thinks The Big Skinny had on the comic book and memoir genre’s, and what else is in store for Carol and her comics in the future. (robot6.comicbookresources.com, 2009)
No Flying, No Tights is a graphic novel and comic book review website that has read and commented on Carol’s memoir The Big Skinny. They enjoyed the respectable depiction of Carol’s weight loss journey, and how she showed that it was a lifestyle change opposed to a one step process. They give a brief description of the memoir itself, and certain pivotal sections of the story that Carol tells. They recognize how well Carol tries to use all the tool possible to inspire the reader that they can be successful, and that weight loss is a journey of self-discovery, and determination.
Weight Loss at suite101.com reviews Carol’s memoir The Big Skinny in a piece entitled How To Lose Weight by Changing Your Lifestyle. The website introduces the topic of weight loss, and continues to tell Carol’s story of her struggles from her childhood with her weight. They continue to take tips from the memoir of how Carol achieved her personal weight loss goal, and finish the review with notes of how The Big Skinny is an honest, and inspiring way to influence a change in lifestyle.
seriouseats.com introduces Carol’s memoir The Big Skinny in a small article entitled The First Diet Book Graphic Memoir to it’s own health enthusiasts, and links the reader to her interview with salon.com about the memoir.
In October 2008, The Big Skinny was featured on the cover of Publishers Weekly. (Carol Lay, 2008)
Carol attended a book discussion for Authors@Google on January 16th, 2009 in Santa Monica, California. Carol discussed her memoir The Big Skinny and how it came to be. She also offered a Q&A period. It is a 55 minute interview, and can be viewed if you follow the link provided above. (AtGoogleTalks, 2009)
July 23rd, 2011 Carol appeared on the Quick Draw Panel at the San Diego Comic Con. (Carol Lay, 2008)
Carol has attended Burning Man in the past. It is a large outdoor, week-long art show held in the desert. This photo is of Carol at Burning Man .
For a good part of Carol’s life she tried to lose weight, and was unsuccessful. In The Big Skinny , Carol tells the world how she figured out how to lose her excess weight and used her cartoon illustrations to depict this. Carol describes how she was always overweight, and tried out many different ways such as dieting pills, hypnosis, low carbs, weight watchers etc. but was never successful and now in her book The Big Skinny , she tells the world how she lost it and how she had several problems to overcome along the way.
The Big Skinny is a very original concept for a diet book that combines a mini- autobiography (memoir), and advice from her own learning and miscellaneous anecdotes in a cartoon format. The memoir has the concepts of a weight loss book but is disguised as a graphic novel. Carol wrote the graphic memoir because she felt she lives in a world where no one wants to hear that she lost weight by proper nutrition, and exercise, and this way she is able to express this to an audience who is genuinely interested in her accomplishment. The Big Skinny is written as a diet book, but to keep it fun and interesting Carol adds humour through jokes and entertaining stories to keep her readers interested all while encouraging the reader to make healthier lifestyle for themselves.
To understand the themes of Carol Lay’s memoir, we first must define what the term “theme” means. As per the New Oxford American Dictionary, “theme” is defined as follows:
the first major constituent of a clause, indicating the subject-matter, typically being the subject
an idea that recurs in or pervades a work of art or literature.
Within the memoir The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude, some of the main themes that are evident are that of determination, personal achievement, and specific subject matter concerned with health, nutrition, and exercise. Carol displays her keen sense of determination in the memoir by realizing how unhappy she is with her yo-yo dieting, and her weight hovering around 160 lbs. Carol decided that with some basic knowledge of nutrition, and exercise, more specifically pertaining to counting calories, she is able to fight her life-long battle with being overweight. Keeping a daily record of the calories she intakes, and making sure she exerts at least 20 minutes of exercise each day allows her to take her weight loss journey one step at a time without becoming discouraged. Carol’s determination was to take things slow and steady, consequently her weight loss was gradual over the course of about a year and a half, but in the end she was a happier and healthy Carol weighing in at 125 lbs.
The second theme that is apparent within Carol’s memoir, is that of personal achievement. Carol had a life-long struggle with maintaining a healthily appropriate weight, and eventually found the courage and determination to change her lifestyle. Through a year and a half of adhering to regular exercise and calorie counting her diet, Carol was able to achieve weight loss. The Big Skinny offers a large helping of personal achievement and therefore inspires its readers’ to make healthy changes to their own lifestyle.
Finally, we have health, nutrition, and exercise as being main themes within the memoir. Each one of these aspects plays an integral role in Carol’s life, and is depicted in the memoir in various ways. Through her comic strips, she shows how unhealthy she felt with characterization when she was eating poorly, and at the 160 lb mark. Carol then shifted her lifestyle to a healthier routine, and she found she had more energy, and looked better. The comic strips show Carol’s typical day as far as exercise, and nutrition are concerned which shows how important a role they played in the overall theme of this memoir.
Within Carol Lay’s memoir The Big Skinny , it is easy to see that it is one of a kind, and a first in it’s genre. Within the category of memoirs, we have yet to see a comic book and memoir hybrid. Carol, being a cartoonist, wanted to tell her story of how she lost her weight, and so she decided that the template of her memoir would be in comic book form. The memoir is mostly images that Carol has drawn to depict key moments in her weight loss journey, characterizing herself accordingly from unhealthy to healthy. Carol also uses menu templates in comic book writing, as well as images. She also provides the reader with an alphabetized section of food into categories of fruits, vegetables, dairy, grains, meat, poultry, and fish etc. with measurements and calorie information. Carol also provides the reader with some of her favourite recipes that helped in her healthy lifestyle change.
Carol takes the reader through a bit of her past, linking some of her family background, and struggles to fit in and find her way with her trouble to lose weight.
Once Carol’s weight loss journey is on it’s way, she takes the reader through some of her day to day routine of her meals, and exercise. How she learned to educate herself, and grocery shop with a healthy lifestyle in mind.
As a cartoonist, Carol often writes the memoir with humour in mind, and draws the cartoon accordingly .
The Big Skinny: Structure AM
The Big Skinny: Structure AM (The Big Skinny, 2008) (The Big Skinny, 2008)
Throughout the memoir, Carol’s voice is friendly. Her sentences are structured with immense details regarding every aspect she talks about to give the reader a sense that we know her personally. This allows readers to relate to her stories as she tries to encourage others to seek their weight loss goals.
She uses humour as a way to make weight loss seem more attainable.
She is very candid about her struggles throughout life and associates these problems with her desire to overeat.
She writes: “For overeaters like myself, managing weight requires absolute honesty and acceptance of responsibility-no buts about it. I hope everyone who reads this can make the decision...because the reward for flipping the switch is better health, better looks, and that wonderful feeling of being your own best thing” (Lay, 110).
Interview with Carol Lay from Newsarama.com http://www.newsarama.com/comics/120826-Carol-Lay.html
Carol Lay’s memoir title can be broken down into two parts:
The first part being The Big Skinny: The word ‘big’ in the title insinuates that it is something grand. We later learn while reading the memoir that being overweight and struggling with weight loss is something that Carol struggles with most of her life. Once she found a weight loss method that worked for her and she was able to obtain her goal she was able to make a big reveal about her body finally being at a weight she was content with.
The second part of the title being, How I Changed my Fattitude:
This is significant as it pertains to Carol’s views on weight loss and her body. She reveals that she has tried a number of weight loss methods and has never been successful for very long. She finally finds a method that ‘clicked’ and throughout the memoir she explains how she was able to lose weight through counting calories and exercising. The success of this method allowed Carol to change her view on weight loss and her body or as she writes how she changed her fattitude
This youtube video reiterates the points Carol used to lose weight. http://youtube/z26UhNQCn80
Carol includes a cartoon of the evolution of humans in the memoir, showing how throughout evolution, the human species has become more overweight.
We no longer have to work for our food by hunting and gathering making the process of getting our food all that much easier. Carol illustrates this point by showing our ancestors running from predators, or chasing their game. Our ancestors children were that much more active than we were as well, allowing for more calories to burn throughout the day.
Food has become extremely convenient through a variety of fast food joints, that once upon a time never existed. Much of this food is heavily processed decreasing the nutritional value. Carol shows the reader an entire page of yummy, but incredibly unhealthy options at some of these fast food restaurants.
The evolution of bottled milk from natural breast milk may play a role in the early childhood obesity. Carol shows us this in The Big Skinny, and illustrates that there is a calorie difference in bottled milk vs. breast milk, bottled being higher. Babies also don’t have to work as hard at drinking their milk from a bottle, making it more sedentary for the baby.
Because parents force their children to finish their bottles, they have altered children’s natural appetite control, and forcing the baby to eat even when perhaps the baby is full.
The Definition of Social Context: The social environment of an individual, also called social context or milieu, is the culture that he or she was educated and/or lives and the people and institutions with whom the person interacts. The interaction may be in person or through communication media, even anonymous or one-way, and may not imply equality of social status. (Wikipedia, 2001)
Carol grew up surrounded by a family. Her mother thought that it was time for her to lose weight, so she sent her to the doctor who suggested she use diet pills. Carol became addicted to them, and had to stop even though she lost 40 lbs.
Western society has a variety of consumer weight loss products that generally do not work. Carol tried hypnotherapy to help her curve her weight loss struggles.
Carol uses George Clooney as a media influence to persuade her to lose weight by illustrating him showing up at her door with sausage biscuits needing her to “help” him eat the breakfast. She discusses how no one, not even George Clooney could tempt her to eat food. Carol jokes that living in Hollywood is the cause for temptations.
Carol does not avoid over weight people, she just refuses to changer her lifestyle in the moment to eating poorly and will say “no thank- you” in that situation.
Carol was raised in large family and became lost in the large number of people surrounding her.
Her mother sent her to the doctor who put her on diet pills at a young age, where she then became addicted to them, even though she lost 40 lbs.
Carol’s family did not eat healthy, nor did they teach her healthy eating habits.
Her parents passed away in their late 60’s and Carol felt that they would have lived longer if they had learned to eat healthier and exercise.
Carol illustrates in The Big Skinny that she had positive feedback from friends and family to change her lifestyle to a healthier one, and win the battle against her weight struggles.
Carol shows us that she was able to encourage others to eat healthy and learn from her changes.
The Big Skinny Carol illustrating how she looked and felt when she was younger (The Big Skinny, 2008) Carol illustrating that not even George Clooney could change her mind to lose weight this time, and giving us an idea of the types of food she used to eat before she decided to finally keep the weight off for good. (The Big Skinny, 2008)
Carol makes references to George Clooney in the memoir. She illustrates him coming to her door and trying to lure her to eat an unhealthy meal and beverage with him. Carol then slams the door in his face, and says “that’s what I get for living in Hollywood!”
Carol illustrates a scene where she talks about evolution, family trees, and goes back to cave men in order to show the evolution of how humans and how we became accustomed to gaining weight.
Carol shows herself attending Burning man , which she also talks about in her biography on her website (Carol Lay, 2008
Carol illustrates herself exactly the way she looks like in real life – even at her lows in life when she didn’t feel attractive because of her struggles with weight. Carol illustrates how she used to cover up with over-alls to hide her weight, and then she illustrates herself wearing dresses, and workout clothing once she starts on her weight loss journey.
Carol illustrates herself with her black framed glasses that she is often seen wearing in real life, this gives the memoir a real-life dependability.
When Carol is trying to explain her methods of losing weight, she characterizes herself in either a chef’s outfit or a graduation outfit. She often illustrates herself in a lab coat teaching the reader certain aspects of weight loss.
When Carol is chasing away the girl guide selling cookies, she portrays herself as Jason from the horror movie with a chainsaw to over emphasize her point but still keeping her lighthearted humour.
In the memoir The Big Skinny, Carol includes some of her friends: roommate Derek (who also hops on the health wagon and enjoys counting calories), and her parents. Carol includes some of her family history in this part as she tells the reader that her family grew up on a farm and ate very hearty meat and potatoes type meals.
The Big Skinny is a memoir I can relate to because I have recently adopted a healthier lifestyle compared to before where I would often be sedentary and enjoyed eating unhealthy food. Now I live a more active life and eat healthier. I watch what I eat and my daily intake making sure I’m having enough of everything and not too much of certain things. I still treat myself to unhealthier options now and then, but I have learned to control the amount I eat and keep everything in moderation.
My whole life I have found it to be challenging to maintain a healthy weight and body image, and it has certainly been more difficult once I retired from my large athletic commitments. The Big Skinny is very relatable to my life as I find that many of the nutrition and exercise concerns that Carol touches on in the memoir, are concerns that I share every day as well. I have to work hard to make conscious nutrition decisions, and I often have to motivate myself to exercise and have the mentally that I “get to” work out, opposed to I “have to” work out. Having a positive outlook has made all the difference in my success with maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I also feel as though it is important to be more aware of my nutrition and exercise needs in order to ensure long-term health. The choices and lifestyle changes I make now will only benefit me in the future in regards to how I feel and look, and it will also be crucial in preventing the onset of health issues later in life. It is important to recognize that I am fortunate enough to be able to make these lifestyle changes, and that I should strive to be the healthiest I can while I’m able to.
I personally, can relate to this book as it is based on the foundation of one living an active and healthy lifestyle and the field in which I am studying (Athletic Therapy) is also based on that. It is an important aspect of my life, just as it was to Carol Lay. Like Carol, I would sometimes find myself eating unhealthier options in times of stress or when I simply did not have enough time. She learned, and teaches throughout her book how to prioritize time and meals allowing those unhealthy options to no longer be available. This is something I have been working on as well. In today’s society especially, it was refreshing to read about someone who struggled with weight loss, but owned up to it and made a change for the better. There are too many people making excuses for leading an unhealthy life and Carol Lay taught me that it can be easy and enjoyable to change your bad habits and more importantly, that anyone is able to change them.
When I was reading The Big Skinny, I felt that I could relate to Carol Lay and her transformation. In the last 3 years I have gone through lifestyle changes that have led to weight loss and over all better health. One day I woke up and I wanted to change my habits, and I decided that no one could persuade me out of this change I wanted to make. I was always an active individual, but it was the calories and food consumption that I was not watching. Much like Carol, I started calorie counting and stopped eating processed foods. I would try to only eat fruits and vegetables and whole grains. I also committed to a gym routine that I took very seriously and never missed. Overall I feel that much like Carol, I want to help educate others on my healthy lifestyle changes and would love to help many just like she has with her inspirational graphic memoir.
I have always been health conscious and it has taken me many years to understand and know what is healthy and what is not. I have in the past become a vegetarian, and also tried to eat only raw food. I never go with out though and know how to portion. Even now during the Christmas and Thanksgiving seasons, I never over-indulge like I used to. I have learned to gain more self control around friends, and they have learned that I am health conscious and no longer offer me sweets. I drink only on special occasions or enjoy red wine here and there, and now I am not asked out to go party all the time so there is no pressure. Also surrounding myself with other people who are active and health conscious helps with staying on track.
Key concepts are the writer’s poignant ideas and important information about the main characters, and events that they are including in their memoir.
When looking to create a comic book the author must take into consideration the art form, how they want their comic to be defined. They need to make sure the main idea is being expressed properly with the images. The flow of the comic needs to be organized in a way that the reader can understand, because with a comic it is not a flow of reading, but it consists of breaking of panels. Also the wording must depict what the picture is trying to explain (Wiki, 2011)
The actions in a comic book are very step-by-step. Each movement is in separate frames, which make the characters actions more realistic and the story more alive. It puts the action inside a comic book. (Wiki, 2011)
Comic books are generally printed in the Four colour method which means when the book was printed out they used only four colours within the illustrations. These four colours include cyan, magenta, yellow and black (or abbreviated as CMYK). These four colours are mixed together at different intensities to create variations to depict the contrasts in colours. Dell Comics created this method of printing in 1939, and continued to use this technique until 1962. (Wiki, 2011)
The use of imagery in comic memoirs is a creative way for authors to get words that were not easy to say on paper. (Big Red Hair, N/A)
The imagery used in graphic memoirs can be comedic and provide the readers visual insight. With imagery the author is able to portray their thoughts and mental images through their art. Words are not required to tell a story, imagery alone can say a thousand words. (Big Red Hair, N/A)
The uses of graphic images have been known to work and influence viewers to change their lives for the better, whether it is an advertisement or memoir. (Big Red Hair, N/A)
The illustrator of the comic generally uses a variety of panels to show dialogue, thoughts, transitional text etc. The different lines panels and balloons used in the illustrations can evoke different effects or moods. (Big Red Hair, N/A)
Example of how images play a role in the Graphic Memoir AM All images from (The Big Skinny, 2008)
The Graphic Memoir: Outstanding Technical Scenes
Consider a scene that shows action, movement, anger (POW--CAPS--YELLING, exclamation points); consider colour---black and white shading (angry looking people with saggy faces or colourful gaiety). This is about "how" the memoirist shows emotion and/or action and/or character. (Jo-Ann Brodey)
Technical scenes allow the reader to relate to the emotions that are being evoked by a character.
The use of words in caps and exclamation marks allow the reader to understand when the character may be angry or excited.
The use of bold lettering and different font sizes places emphasis on the point that the author may be trying to get across
The use of colours and shading often display emotions. The use of bright colours may be used to show happiness and excitement. The use of dark shades makes the reader feel a sense of dark, sadness or anger.
Technical scenes are very effective in displaying a series of reactions, emotions, and character development.
Carol Lay has had a successful career as a cartoonist with having her work published in various papers, magazines and even having her own comic strip. Her book, The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude, details Carol’s personal struggle with weight loss. She uses her skills and background as a cartoonist to clearly display to the reader her failed attempts at dieting as well as the rewards she gained when she began counting calories and exercising regularly. Not only does Carol use this memoir to detail her fight to lose weight, but she includes calorie charts, menu plans and recipes for others who are looking to lose weight too. Her humour and imagination makes her story not only fun to read, but insightful as well.