Rants & Raves
FIRST PERSON FAT: RECENT MEMOIRS AND GUIDES
A Roundup by Lynne Murray
It's an accomplishment for an unrepentant fat person to get a book published. Our society's current view is that anyone who is fat has nothing worth saying, unless and until that person loses weight. At that point she/he might be listened to—but only about how the weight was lost!
Most of the memoirs and guides I could find were by women who have gone through the storms of prejudice and survived with a mission to help others struggling with body issues. Some of that must be because we are more targeted on the basis of personal appearance. Maybe women have less to lose when we share our pain and brainstorm ideas to cope, or maybe we just don't mind asking for directions. I include one man's story below, but, well read on and see.
In alphabetical order, the first book is one that definitely deserves A-plus for both Accessibility and Attitude, Lara Frater's Fat Chicks Rule: How to Survive in a Thin-Centric World.
This is a bright, breezy book that I would like to give to every young woman, fat or not, who is struggling with weight issues—even if she's not much of a reader. Frater keeps the tone of her book bright and the pace brisk. In two pages, she describes her own struggle with weight and diets, and in three pages her arrival at fat acceptance and her determination:
I want to help end the cycle of destruction that dieting and lack of self-esteem leads to and help my fellow fat chicks accept two important things:
You are beautiful even if you don't measure up to the Hollywood standard of beauty.
There is no perfect number, perfect weight, perfect size or perfect body, except what is perfect for you...
I want this book to be the ultimate guide to all obstacles, both spiritual and practical that fat chicks face today!
Then she jumps right in with a little history and a lot of resources. Frater also has a great web log at http://fatchicksrule.blogs.com/.
Wendy Shanker describes a more intense journey in The Fat Girl's Guide to Life. She begins with a "a sixteen-year odyssey of self-loathing and self-doubt" which doesn't sound like much fun until you realize that your traveling companion on these adventures will be a hilarious wild woman, who has developed a keen eye for the con games suffered by consumers of diets.
Shanker describes the diets she has endured, does what so many people never do—she calculates the cost in time and money (considerable amounts of both). and balances it against the weight lost (negligible).
When she finally finds "the diet to end all diets" it means something totally different than she had originally imagined. After a hundred pages of telling her story, she turns a clear-eyed look at the society around us and offers some well-considered strategies, resources, and above all encouragement to think for oneself and live for oneself.
I loved Shanker's common sense approach in this book, and her website is also encouraging and positive at http://www.wendyshanker.com/book.html
I wasn't sure at first whether to include Wendy McClure's I'm Not the New Me because it's really about dieting. McClure's gift is to make you feel as if she's that really funny friend whose life is imperfect but who can laugh at it.
I was drawn to buy the book because I had laughed out loud at McClure's commentary on the1970s bizarre Weight Watchers recipe cards—still available online at http://www.candyboots.com/. McClure's book is more of an adventure in online diet journaling, the chronicle of a season at Weight Watchers, and a sensitive examination of her feelings about her mother's weight loss surgery.
A friend who is a fan of McClure's writing pointed out that reading her is like listening to a girlfriend telling a quirky and funny story of her misadventures. No solid answers, and lost of commiseration. I agree with that assessment. McClure is an excellent writer who can be genuinely funny without stooping to fat jokes. I certainly would read anything else she wrote.
While I didn't agree with McClure on some points, what mainly set my teeth on edge was not her doing. It was the way the book was marketed. Contrary to popular belief, few authors have enough clout to influence how their books are presented. Usually we are grateful to have the publisher get behind the book and market in any way, shape or form.
But as a reader and book buyer I like to know what I'm getting. It wasn't until I actually got the book that I realized that it was essentially a dieting experience. There was an element of bait and switch there.
You'd think I would have been on the look out for another such marketing ruse. But sure enough, it happened again not long afterward with the book below. And I'm not the only size acceptance person who fell for it.
I first heard about Living Large by Mike Berman, with Laurence Shames, when there was some buzz online that this would be the first instance of a fat man writing a self-accepting personal memoir. (As opposed to a diet memoir; many men have written those.) The language used to promote it carefully skates around the author's attitude about his size. Berman, fat since childhood, is a well-known political activist and Washington lobbyist. He is happily marriage and lives a fulfilling life, despite the prejudice he's been dealing with his whole life.
Alas, you don't have to read too far to see that the author's acceptance of his size consists of realizing that he will always be heavy and will always diet. The "coming to terms with his weight" appears to be an endless, twilight struggle. His obsession is still such that he posts his current weight and dieting tactics on his web site at http://www.mikelivinglarge.com/. The blurbs in the Praise section are mostly from people invested in the diet industry.
Berman is painfully honest about his very real suffering; no one could begrudge him whatever measure peace he has found by resourcefully building a happy and successful life despite seeing his body/mind as essentially diseased. They say you can't see your own eyebrows, and Berman (and his doctors) can't see the damaging yo-yo "starve and re-feed" process he's putting himself through. In my opinion, he's describing a life-long addiction not so much to food as to dieting. I do hope his conditional self-esteem view doesn't sway others to confuse perpetual dieting with Health at Any Size.
The book wasn't a total loss though, because there's a cute picture of a fat guy (face not shown, probably not the author) in a nice black suit on the cover.
Interesting how, at least twice this year I've bought diet memoirs disguised as body positive books. Someone in book marketing is seriously aiming to pick up some sales in the "size acceptance" market—so long as it doesn't interfere with the "dieter" market for the same book, which is much, much bigger!
But let's move on to some seriously positive books.
A refreshingly direct memoir, with some "guide" pages, is television and motion picture star Mo'nique's Skinny Women Are Evil: Notes of a Big Girl in a Small-Minded World. Mo'nique admits that not every skinny woman is evil, and she provides helpful charts and checklists to help fat girls sort out the evil thin, who pretend friendship to work their own agenda, from sincere friends who just happen to be thin.
Mo'nique and co-author Sherri A. McGee tell the story of the star's life in a way that's both funny and rabble-rousing. It's refreshing to see how Mo'nique's parents' unconditional love and confidence made it possible for her to feel, as her father said, like "the prettiest girl in the world" from infancy to the present day.
Another rare and beautiful thing about Mo'nique is how she makes it a point to share her good fortune by consciously working to build self-esteem in other women of size.
I'll have to wait till next time to review Moni'que's movie Phat Girlz, but I'm looking forward to viewing it, and investigating a little more her Fat Chance big beautiful beauty contests—which are the opposite of the usual beauty pageants in the sense of empowering everyone walks in the door to feel beautiful, strong and capable. In the meantime, more power to Mo'nique!
Last but not least, Taking Up Space: How Eating Well & Exercising Regularly Changed My Life, Pattie Thomas, Ph.D., with Carl Wilkerson, M.B.A.
In this fascinating and insightful book, sociologist Pattie Thomas and her co-author, husband Carl Wilkerson, share personal experiences and some profound insights in the way that fatness impacts daily life, health and social standing.
Ironically, Thomas was at her healthiest when both her personal physician and her therapist encouraged her to get weight loss surgery. Having recovered from several health crises—some of which were brought on by prescription diet pills—she had just completed her Ph.D. Her doctors essentially admitted recommending weight loss surgery, not because of any immediate medical condition, but so that Thomas could present a more "professional" appearance. Her M.D. suggested that no one would be able to take her seriously if she stayed fat, and the education she had struggled so hard to get would be wasted.
In recent years, Thomas has also had to deal with the effects of lupus, so she had to add the stigma of disability to the challenges she faced. Her creative response to all these obstacles was to envision herself as a fat warrior, a sumo warrior:
In feudal Japan, members of the samurai class were regarded as elite soldiers, capable of great feats in battle. Within the samurai class were the sumo, men of great weight and height who were essentially the marines of the samurai. They were the first to fight in combat. Like linemen in American football, the sumo's job was to push the combat line back and open spaces for their comrades to move through. ...
Sumo wrestling matches are a remnant of the martial art of pushing people out of the way...
I am coming to see my struggle to live as a fat person in a world that wants me to be thin in light of the sumo warrior. Fat people like me who strive to live unapologetically fat, to care for the body nature gave us, and to be comfortable within our own skins, are on the front lines of the war on all bodies. [Emphasis in original] p. 279-280, Taking Up Space.
Thomas has an excellent web site at fattypatties.blogspot.com.
Reading these stories has enriched my life and encouraged me in my own day-to-day struggles. I hope that fat people continue to speak out, tell our stories, and to live life to the fullest.
© Lynne Murray