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lip lit: the fictional women

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Tara Moss’ first venture into non-fiction, The Fictional Woman, opens with the day she chose to undergo a polygraph test to prove that she does, in fact, write her own crime novels. The writer has been marred for years by rumours that as a former model she couldn’t possibly write her own books, so when a journalist asked if she’d undergo a lie detector test, she jumped at the chance.

But despite polygraphic proof of her capability, the media still can’t unite her roles as a model and an intelligent writer – she continues to be defined by dualistic cultural labels. This introduction sets the tone for the autobiographical, critical and analytical look at what it means to be a woman in the world today.

Divided into chapters of fictionalised archetypes, Moss examines roles such as ‘The Survivor’, ‘The Body’, and ‘The Femme Fatale’, and selflessly shares emotional stories from her life. This adds weight to the statistics and research she quotes, particularly in relation to violence against women.

Despite Moss’ successful career and high profile, she has not been immune to acts of violence against her, as one journalist had suggested to her in an interview in 2009. ‘I was completely taken aback. She seemed to think my life had been a breeze. I knew I was lucky, but how could anyone think that no horrors had ever visited me?’. Moss uses this experience to reveal that there are assumptions that violence against women only happens to a certain kind of woman.

While Moss hates the model angle in articles about her work, I feel it is important for me to mention it, given the impact she had on me as a girl about to become a teenager. We live in a world where girls with long legs and slim physiques will be told they should be a model. When I was young, Moss’ dual careers as model and writer taught me that despite appearances, at the end of the day what matters is what you want, and don’t be afraid to be whoever the hell you want to be. This is a theme which reverberates through the entire book, as Moss fights a never-ending battle to be taken seriously as a writer.

The Fictional Woman strikes the perfect balance between autobiography, research and opinion, all of which combine to make a solid argument for the trials of a woman today. For example, Moss writes of an encounter she had with a woman at a festival while she was pregnant with her first child. The woman told Moss that she wouldn’t be writing books anymore. Moss explained that actually, she wasn’t planning on quitting her job once the baby was born, and the woman subsequently wrote on her blog that Moss didn’t know it yet, but her career was over, ‘the poor thing’.

Moss uses this experience as a starting point to explore the judgement women place on each other about their choices around birth, parenting and work. She also attempts to squash the belief that home births are unsafe. The writer shares the personal choices she made when giving birth, and the reasons her choices were right for her:

‘Whether or not a woman wants to “climb her own Everest” (or whichever analogy you wish to use) is up to her. Some women want to birth at home and many do not. And some women would rather skip the process of birth altogether if they could, while others cling to a kind of ‘just survive the experience’ mentality- just get it over with, and come out alive.’

It is Moss’ non-judgemental tone throughout the book which makes it impossible to put down. The writing is exceptional and is all about facts, giving the reader a chance to to develop their own informed opinion.

I found myself relating to several ideas explored in the book; Moss looks at everything from sexuality, to the career woman, to motherhood, to being a wife, to being judged by appearances and so much more in between.  Everyone who reads the book, woman or man, would find something within which resonates deeply with them.

The Fictional Woman is testament to not only Moss’ writing skills, but to her strength and compassion. This is a book everyone should read. Not everyone will agree with her arguments, but at the end of the book it is hard to dispute the fact that women are still discriminated against. It is also hard to not leap off the couch and start making change.

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