“Fat” Books: Two Reviews

I’ve been on a fat spree lately. I don’t mean that I’ve been eating fat or making fat (at least no more than usual), but that I’ve been reading about it. Specifically, I’ve been reading books by women at different stages of “fathood.”

The first book, Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs in on Living Large, Losing Weight, and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help by Abby Ellin may sound like it’s only about kids, but in reality it’s about what we do to our kids to make them obsessed about their weight. Some of the kids whose stories are in the book are genuinely obese, but many of them are not even fat, or are only a little overweight. And yet they still have the same anxieties as the children who are struggling with being grossly overweight.

The author herself was probably never more than “chubby,” but that was enough for her grandmother to refuse to allow her to visit her when Ellin failed to lose the weight her grandmother thought she should lose. Ellin went to “fat” camps several summers in a row, in latter years as a counselor. She takes those experiences and adds to them from interviews she’s had with other “fatties” to flesh out a complete picture of what it’s like to be fat and fail to lose weight in this society. It’s not a pretty picture.

Ellin doesn’t end up making recommendations for how to combat childhood obesity other than that each fat person has to do it for herself. But there’s a lot of food for thought in this book and I recommend it even if you aren’t a parent with an obese child. We all need to look in the mirror when we start looking for someone to blame for the obesity crisis we have in this country.

The second book I read was by a woman who has come to terms with the fact that she’s fat. In fact, she celebrates it. In Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting, and Live Large, Kim Brittingham shares her philosophies about how people get fat, why they stay fat and why it shouldn’t matter. I loved her description of what it’s like to have a full belly:

When my belly is that full, it feels like I’m being hugged—from the inside … like someone or something else is “with” me … And being that full makes me feel anchored and substantial … Every occasion of overstuffing myself has been a subconscious tug-of-war between wanting to feel that full and dreading it.

What I like about Brittingham’s book is that it is not a book with the happy ending we’re expecting. The author doesn’t lose weight in the end. And yet it is still a success story. I don’t know if I could ever feel as comfortable about being fat as Brittingham does, but she makes a good case for accepting yourself at any weight and body-type.

I have several more “fat memoirs” on hold at the library, plus books about Overeater’s Anonymous, how French people don’t get fat and the Mayo Clinic Weight Loss Diet. Obviously I’m a little obsessed right now (can you be a “little” obsessed?). So I’m going to start a series of posts on the “fat” problem, including my own (look for the next post). Please comment from your own experiences, either as a person who also has a “fat” problem, or as someone who cares about those who do.

The Problem With Fat People

There’s been a lot of talk in the media lately about recent instances of gay teens who committed suicide after being bullied by their peers. But gay teens are not the only ones who are being bullied to the point of suicide (although they are the most at risk for it: four times as likely as straight teens to commit suicide). Salon.com recently printed Rebecca Golden’s account of the bullying she received as a fat child, of her thoughts of suicide by the age of 12 and the continuing cruelty she has had to endure into her adulthood.

The thing is, I know some people are going to read that first paragraph and think, “Big deal! How does that compare to what gay teens go through? And besides, being gay is not a choice but being fat is.” And that attitude makes me crazy. People are fat for a variety of reasons, most of them complex and, without outside help, out of their control. The jury is out on whether or not fat people are more likely to commit suicide than normal weight people. Some studies have even suggested that they are less likely to do so. I’ve even heard it said that fat people have trouble committing suicide because of their weight. (Ponder that for a moment.)

But if the link between obesity and suicide is tenuous, the link between obesity and depression is not, at least not in our society. Fat people know what “normal” people think of them and that knowledge contributes to their depression. Maura Kelly, a blogger for Marie Claire magazine, only came right out and said what most people think when she wrote:

I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.

Kelly caught a lot of flak for her comments and she later apologized in an update. But it was too late: the cat had been let out of the bag. When fat people read her words, they knew that she was speaking for most of the (non-fat) people in America. And it hurt.

It always hurts, no matter how thick your skin. Even when people are well-meaning, their remarks can cut deep. “You can do it. All you have to do is eat a healthy diet and get more exercise.” If it was that easy, there simply wouldn’t be that many fat people. Fast food and hours in front of the television or computer don’t completely explain why people are fat. It’s not that simple. But slim people don’t believe that. And the media merely reflects what most people think.

Continue reading “The Problem With Fat People”