The Round Bodies

By Jenni Bisset

My job is not what you’d expect. My name is Poppy Danther and I’ve helped fourteen people lose weight. I wouldn’t call myself an amateur in this profession. So how did I get this job and how does it work? Really, you’d have to ask my diaries that.

However, I can tell you that before anything else, I meet with my client.

She tells me her usual diet (I have worked with men, but for me, women usually produce better results), her daily routine, how to cope with a day in the life of [insert name here].

Then we take the pills and swap bodies. When the client swallows hers, she’s consuming not just the transfer pill, but a hyper strong Ambien that puts her to sleep for a month (sometimes more).

When I take my pill, the work begins.

Like I said, I’m not an amateur, so the diet part of the process is pretty easy.

It goes:

Breakfast: oatmeal, cinnamon, honey, banana, strawberries—warm, mixed together, delicious.

Lunch: spinach leaves, can of tuna, baked sweet potato, walnuts, pine nuts—really not hard to mix this salad.

Dinner: could do chicken and rice, salmon and asparagus, but notice I’m avoiding gluten and diary. No dessert.

Forgot to mention—warm cup of water every morning with a teaspoon of honey.

Now I’m not hungry.

I look down at my new stomach and see what the damage is.

It’s February and my client’s name is Penny Comfed.

She’s 24, once quite a good athlete—football player—but after an injury she’s put on a bit of weight and can’t shake her large appetite.

I’ve never had an athlete before.

Let’s see. Round belly, strong legs, small breasts, wide shoulders.

She could be skinny.

She could have a beautiful lean runner’s body.

That’s what I’m going to do for her.

I go shopping and buy a week’s worth of food. I’m shorter compared to other bodies I’ve occupied, so have to ask someone to pass me the fish sauce from the top shelf. On the other hand, I find it much easier to squat down and lift the big bag of oatmeal from the bottom.

My apartment is cute and small, a mixture of clean Scandinavian and an English cottage, where a lot of tea is consumed. I really like this apartment.

I look in the drawers and throw out half a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits—and that’s it. Compared to clients who’ve taken up to three months of my time, Penny shouldn’t be difficult at all.

I go to her desk in her bedroom and open my laptop—my own laptop that I’ve brought from my real life—and research the nearest gym. (I’ve looked at all this already, but I always triple-check.)

When I get bored, and I often do, I switch off the TV and look through people’s bedside tables. I’m curious. I want to know if they started off thin and put on weight or if they were destined for self-loathing. (I can’t think of a less harsh way to put it.)

Penny interests me because she seems like a well-put-together-girl. Some of her clothes aren’t quite her body type, but she has a nice Mazda, a job at a publishing house (hopefully she won’t lose it at my hand) and this amazing apartment. I like this girl’s taste. I just don’t like her body.

She could be so beautiful if she made a few little changes and took care of herself better. I sense that for her, the problem is moderation.

You’re given chocolate or a bag of jelly beans (somehow free sweets find their way to you), and you take one piece, and can’t stop. Maybe that’s why there was so little in Penny’s cupboards for me to throw out.

I find several photos of Penny playing football when she was about ten or eleven. She’s tiny. Board stomach, toothpick legs. I used to hate reading about slim characters in novels, like it’s so easy, so natural. I don’t know why I have this thought.

I sigh and go to bed. I’m getting paid a lot of money to look after this body, so I’d better not leave bags where they weren’t before.

At 5.30 I wake up, at 6 I make it to the local gym.

My program:

Warmup: cycling 2 min, stretch, skipping 2 min.

1st set: push ups, barbell arabesques, medicine ball wall throws.

2nd set: pull ups (assisted with TheraBand), hamstring lowers, dumbbell single arm push press.

3rd set: dead lifts, dumbbell bench press, lateral pull down.

Abs: 1 min prone hold on all sides, then 100 reps of whatever.

I cool down, surprised at how well this body handled the program.

Obviously, larger bodies take a lot more work.

With that heady tiredness, sitting on a light chest, I shower at home and go for my first day at work. I’m always nervous for this part, but it’s not like a real first day, because everyone already knows me. I’ve been there for years.

I say hi to Helen at reception and quickly find my desk. I’ve got several tasks for the day, which Penny’s written down for me and which I complete to the best of my ability. I’m a reader, so this is actually a job I’m interested in.

I get called in to a meeting, but Penny says she never speaks, so I aim not to.

But then Laine, the head editor, asks me what I think. I tell her I think readers would buy a young adult fantasy book that contained a generic romance—just disguise it behind an intriguing world idea described well in the blurb. She agrees with me. I’m really liking this job. I find myself thinking about it in a good way when I go home and cook dinner. I’m an imposter enjoying a body, a life, that isn’t my own … I’m probably enjoying it more than Penny did.

After two weeks, Penny’s metabolism has quickened and her stomach is already looking slimmer. I think she neglects abs when she does her own exercise.

I find some short stories Penny’s written, but which have never been published. They’re all surprisingly sad, though I’ve gathered that people find her to be a bright spark, always cheering others up.

Penny’s goal is to lose seven kilos. From sixty down to fifty-three is in truth tougher than my weightier clients. She’s got muscle mass and isn’t that overweight to begin with. She told me she no longer wants to be considered ‘stocky’.

I hit this goal several days before pill time. I wonder if I should celebrate how smoothly this transition has been, but then I think I’ll just do what I always do and celebrate when I’m back in my own body. It’s careless to indulge in this one.

I leave my detailed diary in the middle of Penny’s clean desk. I say goodbye to the apartment, feeling like it knows me, the real me, Poppy Danther.

When I go back to the clinic and find Penny awake and take the other pill, I feel particularly torn by my departure from this body. For the first time, I’m tempted to ask if she’d want to swap permanently. When Penny laughs at the joke, I comfort myself with that celebration I wanted and make immediate plans to visit my favourite café.

I get the chai latte, made with real spices, not from the packet. I get the caramel slice and an apple strudel, then decide I can make another dessert when I get home.

The place is just like I left it. I tiptoe through the fog that seems to have consumed this barely-used home.

The kitchen, however, I love. I bake my chocolate fudge brownies and eat them for dinner.

Then I go to my bedroom, shower in the ensuite, then stand for a while in front of the mirror.

I wish I didn’t have this body, these cankles, these great big dollops of fat protruding from the middle of my vehicle in this world.

I go to bed, so ready for another job.

Illustration by Aida Garcia

Find more of Aida’s illustrations on her blog and Facebook page:


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