There are few people who believe their body is perfect. Self-image doesn’t always have to do with how healthy a person is or how they’re perceived by others—the key word here being self. The way a person sees themselves is encouraged by the way society views them, with that shaping beginning at a young age. Cannie Shapiro, the main character and narrator of Good in Bed, knows this fact all too well.
Cannie lives her life unapologetically—at least, on the surface. She portrays a mask of confidence because it’s better than casting what she’s truly feeling. Her size is a factor, being that it’s on her mind with nearly everything she does. And if it wasn’t before her ex-boyfriend, Bruce, wrote a column titled “Loving a Larger Woman,” it is now.
Bruce’s written words cause Cannie to second-guess everything about herself. The fact that he had her size in mind wrecks Cannie, because he had never mentioned it while they were together nor did she think he had reason to. She hadn’t thought it was a big deal, but Bruce evidently did, being as one of his lines was “Loving a larger woman is an act of courage in our world.”
Cannie’s world is turned upside down after the article comes out. Her friends know she was the subject, because Bruce names her as “C.” She feels exposed in every sense of the word, and the self-esteem she once had so much confidence in begins to falter.
Cannie is at an all-time low, but she still manages to find humor in dark places. Judging from personal experience, her humor not only comes naturally, but from a point of necessity. Cannie’s father emotionally abused her from a young age about her weight, and when you feel you won’t ever be the pretty girl, you turn into a funny girl. Cannie relied on self-deprecating humor to climb out of situations she had no other escape from, including the abandonment of her father and Bruce, and the fact that, post-divorce, a gruff, oversharing lesbian named Tanya became her mother’s life partner.
For a good chunk of the story, Cannie believes that being skinny will improve her self-image. It’s a mindset that many, many women (and men) can relate to. We don’t consider the body we have now, we consider the one we could have if we went to the gym a few times more, ate ice cream a few times less. She joins a weight-loss group and meets Dr. K, the leader, who takes to her immediately. The only one who doesn’t notice this is Cannie—as a reader, it’s impossible to miss. But standing in Cannie’s shoes, after bearing the brunt of Bruce’s words, she is now impossible to find attractive. Her size matters. Though she’s hilarious, caring, quick-witted, and warmhearted, those things don’t count because she wears a size 16.
Good in Bed wouldn’t be a Jennifer Weiner book if there wasn’t a turnaround, though. Cannie runs into bumps in the road that she never could have seen coming; good bumps and bad bumps. During parts of her journey, she’s positive. And during other times, she finds it hard to lift her head out of a negative mindset. But as she finds her way through the storm, she realizes that both outlooks are okay, because that’s part of the human condition.
“I've learned a lot this year.. I learned that things don't always turn out the way you planned, or the way you think they should. And I've learned that there are things that go wrong that don't always get fixed or get put back together the way they were before. I've learned that some broken things stay broken, and I've learned that you can get through bad times and keep looking for better ones, as long as you have people who love you.”
Living in a world obsessed with appearances isn’t easy for anyone. Personally, I would be lying by saying thoughts like Cannie’s never crossed my mind. The thought that “if I were skinny, X” or “I wish I was skinny, so Y,” etc. But people (women, men, and everyone in between) can learn from Cannie’s journey as they take their own. Being plus-sized doesn’t mean you’re not pretty. You don’t have to be the funny one. You can be plus-sized and the most unfunny person in the room; there’s no need to be anything you aren’t. It comes with age and experience, but acceptance will come. Don’t wait for the world to give it to you, because it won’t come until you find it yourself. Cannie Shapiro would tell you as much, too.
Good in Bed
By Jennifer Weiner
376 pages. 2002.
Buy it here.