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Joyce Huff's "The Hymn of a Fat Woman"

Updated on December 12, 2017
Maya Shedd Temple profile image

After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Joyce Huff


Introduction and Text of Piece, "The Hymn of a Fat Woman"

Joyce Huff's piece, “The Hymn of a Fat Woman,” relies on idiosyncratic musings and undigested bits of information. The title alerts the reader that something religious might be forthcoming; however, the religion turns out to be disjointed atheism that distorts the nature of spirituality.

The speaker sets up a dichotomy between herself, a fat woman, and her opposite, the skinny saints. She targets “saints” simply because it is safe to do so in the current anti-religious, anti-spirituality, anti-church environment of academia and mainstream culture.

In this overweight speaker's atheistic world, she knows that her like-minded readers understand as little about saints as she does; therefore, she can promote her own proclivities while denigrating those with whom she and her audience remain blissfully unacquainted.

The Hymn of a Fat Woman

All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words “deity” and “diet” must have come from the same
Latin root.

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

as pew seats. Brittle
as hair shirts. Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

Reading of Huff's "Hymn of a Fat Woman"

Saint Thérèse and Saint Teresa of Ávila


First Versagraph: “All of the saints starved themselves”

The speaker begins by making the claim, “saints starved themselves.” She has probably heard that saints and other spiritual devotees traditionally observe days of fasting as part of their spiritual routine. But to claim that they starved themselves is pants-on-fire prevarication.

The speaker then declares that there is not a single saint who is fat. Actually, there are fat saints, as exemplified by both Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint Thérèse as well as the modern day saint, Mother Angelica. Saint Thomas Aquinas is also noted for being portly.

Despite Saint Jerome's quip that, "A fat stomach never breeds fine thoughts," the saintly class does include a few heavy-set members.

The speaker then says, “The words ‘deity’ and ‘diet’ must have come from the same / Latin root.” Actually, they do not: “deity” comes from the Latin “deus,” meaning “god.” And “diet” comes from “diaeta,” meaning “mode of living.”

Anyone with the slightest understanding of linguistics could guess that a term spelled with the diphthong "ei" is not etymologically related to a term spelled with the diphthong "ie."

Mother Angelica


Saint Thomas Aquinas


Second / Third Versagraphs: “Those saints must have been thin”

In the second versagraph, the speaker begins a tirade of vilification by saying the women saints “must have been thin as knucklebones / or shards of stained / glass / or Christ carved / on his cross.” All very colorful images, but sickly derogatory in execution.

Continuing her description, the speaker claims the women saints were “Hard as pew seats. Brittle / as hair shirts.” She employs details that children and undisciplined adults find distasteful about the spiritual path.

But then the speaker declares, “Women consumed / by fervor.” Instead of consuming ample quantities of food themselves, these ghastly saint-women are themselves consumed by their religious “fervor.”

Without any notion of what the saints actually do experience, the speaker has to rely on the notion that the pleasures of the flesh are the only important pleasures, having become convinced that nothing exists beyond the physical plane of existence.

But because the speaker has identified her views as antithetical to religion and spirituality, her willful ignorance has no real locus from which to offer a useful comparison.

Fourth Versagraph: “They must have been able to walk three or four abreast”

The speaker then speculates about the ability of these skinny skeleton woman to “walk three or four abreast” “down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.” She guesses that they could easily slip through the eye of a needle.

This ludicrous speaker alludes again to biblical lore in order to disparage the lives of disciplined woman for whom she, with her own insatiable and ungoverned appetite, possesses no tolerance and about whom she has no knowledge.

Fifth Versagraph: “Within that spare city’s walls”

In the fifth versagraph, the speaker gloats, “Within that spare city’s walls, / I do not think I would find anyone like me.” She is superior to these skinny freaks because she is a fat woman; she does not partake of the “fervor” that, in her fevered mind, keeps those saintly women looking like a bags of bones.

And the speaker obviously deems her own fat body a good thing, despite recent medical evidence to the contrary. Thus, this speaker disparages science as well as religion.

Sixth Versagraph: “I imagine I will find my kind outside”

Instead of undergoing any physical discipline to bring her corpulence within the realm of moderation, the speaker asserts that she will be found “lolling in the garden / munching on the apples.”

The “apple” is a symbol of the fall of Adam and Eve after engaging in sexual experience, but literally the apple, as part of the human diet, is not notorious as a culprit in keeping the human frame covered with excess flesh.

In order to appreciate this poem, the reader must engage in some serious “willing suspension of disbelief.” Such willingness is not what Samuel Taylor Coleridge had in mind when he explained that critical concept.

Tone: "Fatism" Joins "Racism" in the Culture Wars

While the tone of this piece might seem to suggest that the speaker is whimsically and happily showing her acceptance of her fatness, the underlying assertion reveals that she is attempting to unveil a new societal norm.

However, culturally as part of the social justice movement, the premise of this piece reeks unduly of appropriation, inventing a new protected class: the fat. Yes, now fat people are staking their claim to a piece of the discriminated-against-minority pie. Fatism is the new racism.

If you cannot accuse others of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia, if you trudge about in an obese body, a condition that in most cases you all by yourself have actually caused and have within your power to change, if people do not "look like" you because you are fat, you can now begin singing hymns about being a "fat woman" standing the church of the culturally aggrieved, with what? an eye on marching on Washington.

Why not? It's much easier to lounge about in that garden munching on "apples" (right, the apples made you fat!), denigrating thin saints, and screeching about how mistreated you are in the "fatist" eyes of society than to attempt some wholesome regimen to become thin, or at least, moderately sized.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


Submit a Comment

  • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

    Linda Sue Grimes 9 months ago from Spring Hill, TN

    Yes, Mother Angelica has a fascinating story, with many miraculous events. The way she was able to establish EWTN demonstrates the extraordinary nature of her soul qualities.

    Thanks for your comment, Louise! Have a blessed day.

  • Coffeequeeen profile image

    Louise Powles 9 months ago from Norfolk, England

    Oh I liked Mother Angelica. I'll miss watching her shows.