The world is made for whores. My mum says this in Armenian when she sees Kim Kardashian featured in the entertainment report on Studio 10. She gets agitated every time Angela Bishop mentions Kim’s name and pushes harder into the dough she’s kneading on the dining room table. She’s always making nazoug, an Armenian biscuit which consists of sugar, butter, flour and sour cream.
I don’t know if I agree with Mum’s comment but I do believe that our society rewards the good-looking, and by good-looking, I mean the thin. In Kim’s case, it’s the voluptuous, but you’re kidding yourself if you think her large coconut boobs and watermelon arse accompanied by Barbie doll thighs and an iron board stomach render her fat. Fat is having spare tyres for a stomach—something I know all too well.
To say Kim Kardashian and I are worlds apart is an understatement. The only thing we have in common is that our fathers are Armenian. Kim grew up in a Beverly Hills mansion around Hollywood royalty while I grew up in a housing commission unit in the Western Sydney suburb of Villawood. There were no movies set in the suburb I came from and nobody that looked like me in the shows I watched or the books I read. This is the reason I wrote The Diet Starts on Monday, a young adult novel about an Armenian-Australian girl, Zara, from Western Sydney who struggles with obesity.
As a teenager, I thought that your weight determined whether you were in a relationship or not. After all, almost every film, TV show, magazine and music video led me to believe that skinny people were desirable and fat people were not. Then, when school was over and I entered the writing industry, I realised that weight also affected your ability to gain employment as a writer.
The first time this was brought to my attention was when I was trying to get a job in Sydney as a journalist. I was a freelance columnist for my local newspaper and a staff position opened within the office. Since I already worked for the company, and since one of the editors of my column was on the interviewing panel and regularly commented on how much he loved my writing, I thought I had a chance of at least getting an interview—which I did not.
I told a friend, named Moh, about my rejection and he said, very nonchalantly, that it was probably because of my weight. I remember feeling dumbfounded. It had never crossed my mind that my weight would be the reason I couldn’t get a job as a writer. After all, what did my weight have to do with my ability to write articles? I wasn’t aspiring to be a model, pop star or actress. I’d be sitting behind a desk tapping on a keyboard like I’m doing right now.
I spoke to a couple of other friends about Moh’s comment and each of them reluctantly told me that he might have a point. One friend, named Nairi, who took a shit in the water at Cronulla last Easter, said that her boss admitted to her after she got the job that he hired her because she was ‘hot’. It didn’t make sense to me. She gave speeches to university alumni. What did her figure have to do with her public speaking skills? Did she sound more intelligent because she was skinny? Or was she just easy on the eye? Why would that matter when you’re addressing a bunch of ex-students? It’s not like she was a retail assistant selling men’s clothes.
The final friend I spoke to, Gusia, said that at her office there were female casual employees who had been working there for years but couldn’t secure a permanent position because the manager only hired skinny new females. Perhaps this was true since Gusia herself was a size 6 who had no problem getting a job in that office even though she was on parole for stealing Kim K handbags.
After abandoning my attempts at being a journalist, I pursued a career as a creative writer. It was another bloated struggle, twelve years and sixty rejection letters. I was so beyond the margins that it started to feel like I had no chance of getting my toe in the door, let alone my stomach. Finally, in 2014, Sweatshop published The Diet Starts on Monday. My launch was a big fat party: hundreds of Armenians at the Bankstown Arts Centre eating cake and lollies and dancing and taking photos and lining up to buy books for all their friends and relatives.
Unfortunately, instead of recognising that no one in Australia holds a book launch like the wogs of Western Sydney, I overheard a White guy say that the whole event was rigged. Later I asked my friend Moh who this White guy was, and he told me, ‘Just some jealous wannabe writer from Newtown.’
I knew exactly what that wannabe meant by ‘rigged’: My event didn’t count as a real book launch. Overweight ethnic girls from Villawood and our families have nothing to contribute to Australian literature because we don’t fit the description of a literary community.
Soon after my launch, size seemed to matter once again when I attended a photo shoot with a children’s author for an article that would be published in the Sydney Morning Herald. We met the photographer, another White guy, in the middle of Hyde Park. He took a few shots of me and the other author, who looked like Rachael Finch, standing by the trunk of a big tree. After a few clicks of the camera the photographer stopped, tossed his shaggy blond hair back with his free hand and said to me, ‘This isn’t working, you need to stand behind the tree trunk.’ Then he smiled at Finch and said, ‘Darl, don’t you move, you look great as is.’
Now I know the reason why my university professor looked at me blankly when I said I wanted to become an author. Since the release of my novel I have sat on several panels and have performed my work at many writers’ festivals. He obviously knew something that I’ve just recently discovered since attending these events: Authors aren’t usually poor, fat, wog chicks.
This piece was originally published in The Lifted Brow #36. Purchase a copy here.
Tamar Chnorhokian is Associate Director of SWEATSHOP and the author of The Diet Starts on Monday.