The name Rabia Chaudry is back in the news following the September 2022 release of Adnan Syed, the subject of 2014’s “Serial” podcast, from prison. Syed had been imprisoned since 2000 for the alleged murder of his ex-girlfriend, and Chaudry is a family friend who has long maintained his innocence. She even published a book in 2016 about it called Adnan’s Story. But Chaudry’s second book, Fatty Fatty Boom Boom: A Memoir of Food, Fat, and Family, is about a more private pain: her lifelong struggle with overeating and fluctuating weight.
Chaudry unabashedly relishes food. Over many chapters detailing favorite meals enjoyed by her extended family in Pakistan (recipes are included at the end of the book), as well as her favorite American fast foods, the reader will understand why. But this isn’t a simplistic narrative in which the narrator loves to eat and just won’t, or can’t, stop. Much of the memoir explores how colorism and sexism—specifically the fear that Chaudry, born dark-skinned and scrawny, would never attract a husband—put her under the microscope for constant improvement, beginning when her mother put her on a super-high-calorie diet as a newborn. Raw buffalo milk and bottles of half-and-half caused Chaudry’s body to grow at a rapid rate, but once she reached a size that her family deemed unacceptable, their relentless psychological abuse (the book’s title is a nickname her relatives taunted her with) and the accessibility of America’s tastiest junk food ensured that her weight continued to increase.
Chaudry skillfully narrates how overeating was a savior and a curse. Greasy, salty, fatty food made her feel good when nothing else did. Her skill at describing flavors and mouthfeel, and the intricacies of food preparation, suggest that if Chaudry weren’t an attorney, she might be a food writer. She also captures the exquisite pain of being treated as a disappointment by her family and the lifelong fight for their love.
Fatty Fatty Boom Boom never reaches an “and then I loved my body!” resolution, and that is the point. That particular happy ending was never coming, and only in adulthood did Chaudry understand that “it’s normal not to love your body. It is also healthy not to hate your body.”