This is not like my typical I’m Reading This So Hard Right Now posts, because this book hit my brain like a ton of bricks. I have a lot to say as a formerly skinny person. I’m not sure it’s all going to make sense, but my overall goal is to let you know this book is here. You might need it. I did. I do.

Warning: This is long-winded as hay-ell.

Like a fancy librarian in an old movie, I was tidying up the shelves the other day. I was probably trying to get away from the stifling smell of the YA room. Anyway, I came across a copy of Fat!So?: Because You Don’t Have to Apologize for Your Size!  by Marilyn Wann in YA Non-Fic and I decided to read it as I bopped home on the subway.

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It takes me an hour and fifteen minutes to get home, but this book made the trip go very fast. My eyes were glued to the page as I was admittedly trying to hide the book’s cover (though I couldn’t stop the man next to me from reading over my shoulder, looking at the pictures of naked butts, and giving me fucked up looks). This book has helped me  cement some of my ideas about weight and body image and all that crap that consumes the minds of American women day in and day out.

Always: It’s just a number

I don’t weigh myself. Ever. When I go to the doctor, I ask that they not tell me how much I weigh. I’ve been this way since I was a teen. At the times when they do tell me (even though I request that they don’t), I get very upset. Why do I need to know this number? How’s it going to help me? Why is this nurse SO insistent on telling me something that I specifically asked not to know? Even as a teen, I knew that how much I weighed was totally meaningless and that it might end up being something I fixate on for no reason. I figure, if something’s wrong, they’ll tell me it’s wrong. But why bop around with this dumb number in my head?

As a kid: Big butts

Nearly since the beginning of Ingrid-time, I have had a big old butt. It just showed up one day. I was a pretty scrawny kid, kinda like a stick figure with glasses, but all of a sudden, this giant bubble butt just got tagged on the back of my body. Boom. There is was.

My mother sent  me to ballet classes with this super strict Russian woman whom I called Malaria. Her named sounded something like that. She was known to hit us (not hard, but still) with a cane and yell G-d knows what at us in Russian. I’m dancing at the barre one day and she hits my butt with the cane, “SUCK IN YOUR BUTT!” she yelled. Ten year old me, “My butt doesn’t have lungs, so I can’t.”

High School: Little red pills of death

My friend works at a drug store, and I ask her to get me diet pills so I can lose weight for prom. I already fit in my dress and could never be conceived as anything remotely near overweight, so why? One of the possible side effects of these drugs is death. No joke. Later on, a doctor warns me about taking diet pills, saying that sometimes they cause schizophrenia. According to Fat!So? on pages 71-73, most of the popular diet pills offer you 10% weight loss at best, so why are you going to risk your life over 10 or so pounds? 10 pounds that you might not even lose and that will almost definitely appear back on your body once you’re off the drug? How is that worth it?

Early 20s: Starving children

I worked in daycares for a long ass time. In one instance, I was the lunch monitor for a group of kindergarteners. I was explicitly told not to give second portions to this one girl, who definitely seemed bigger than the other kids, but by all means, nothing looked wrong with her. However, the girl would literally cry that she was hungry. The other kids were getting more portions, so why no her? I decided that I’d give her as many vegetables as she wanted, because I figured, what’s the harm? They’re only vegetables. Well, the mom confronted me one day, angry, saying that she knew that I was doing exactly what I was told not to do. She grabbed a chunk of her child’s stomach and said, “She’s not getting any thinner.” I think this scarred me for life. I wonder how that girl is doing sometimes.

Mid 20s: Nothing is as shitty as skinny feels

I put on some weight as a mid-20 something, but then started losing weight rapidly and unexpectedly. I was down to a size zero (which was apt, in that I felt like I had ceased to exist), I couldn’t keep food down, I couldn’t stay focused or energized enough to keep a job, I sometimes fainted, and my hair was falling out in clumps. Wann talks about how doctors dismiss the needs of and discriminate against fat people, which is probably true, but I think this could be said that this is also true of their attitudes towards women in general. I talked my doctors in the clearest terms possible:  “I can’t keep food down, even though I try. As a result of not eating, I feel dizzy and nauseous.” Their response to this was insisting on giving me numerous pregnancy tests (I wasn’t pregnant and eventually started refusing to take the test) and persistently asking me if I was bulimic (I wasn’t and after being asked this half a dozen times I told them that they needed a new theory). I switched doctors several times in hopes of finding someone who would take me seriously. It took around six months to diagnose me with post-viral gastroparesis, an uncommon condition for someone without diabetes. As a result of this diagnosis, I had an endoscopy, ate radioactive scrambled eggs so the doctor could track how my body digested food, took a medication that gave me restless-leg syndrome (which sounded like a laughable condition until I actually had it), was put on a brutal liquid diet, and lost my job.

I only write all the stupid things I went through to make it apparent that this was not fun. I was unhappy, unhealthy, I felt awful, and I certainly didn’t feel attractive. YET, people felt free to tell me all kinds of horrible crap. Several people claimed they were jealous of my weight loss. One person said, “I wish someone would put me on a liquid diet!” One assface on the street announced that he couldn’t be attracted to someone as skinny as me (as if I were offering). My boss’s husband (back when I had a job) said, “What do you think of the weight loss?” I said I felt sick all the time and wished I were well again. To this he said, “I think it looks great.” I just wanted to cry. I didn’t want this nearly toothless 60-something looking at me anyway and I was hurt that he wasn’t even concerned. One day, on the elevator, I saw one of my Bengali neighbors looking at me and whispering to her daughter. I asked the daughter what she was saying and she translated for me. The mother said, “You may have wanted to lose weight, but you need to stop now.” My eyes filled with tears. Sure, it was an intrusive statement and it was misguided, but at least someone seemed worried. I just wanted someone to be worried about me.

But people could only focus on the weight, saying things like, “Well now you just need to keep it off.” I didn’t need to be skinny. I needed to be well. This illness taught me that some people will only find me attractive if I’m of failing health and the only way to gain their approval was to literally starve. Like Colleen says on page 101, “People say I…look great, but there’s always that fear that I’m going to get fat again and people will stop praising me.”

Now

Marilyn Wann uses the word fat as a power word, reclaiming it and removing it from shame. Well, I don’t want to call myself fat. Sure, it could be that I’m too much of a puss to call myself fat.  Why do I have to call myself anything? She’s right, I am really sick of euphemisms like curvy (thin and fat women can be curvy, and some fat women aren’t curvy at all), zaftig (my name’s already Ingrid, how much German do I need to tote around?), voluptuous (most often mispronounced as volumptuous), hefty (what am I? A garbage bag?), or plus-sized. Plus-sized? Plus what? Have you seen what’s considered plus sized in the modeling world?

Whitney Thompson won America’s Next Top Model a couple of years back. She’s considered to be plus-sized. So. Yeah. Whatever on that.

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These words don’t describe me, but I don’t see why my weight has to be described in the first place. I don’t appreciate Fat!So?‘s comments about thin women– saying that Ricki Lake lost her edge when she lost weight (p. 64 and no, she lost her edge when she became a talk show host and stopped working with John Waters. Plus, if all that was edgy about her was her weight, maybe pop culture will be OK without her) or calling skinny women coat-hangers. I didn’t like comments like that when I was thin and they still ick me out now. Wann doesn’t want to us to assume that fat people are unhealthy or stupid, but I see her aim similar comments at the very skinny (though the thoughts of a skinny writer can be seen on page 96). I don’t believe this hub-bub that I occasionally see on blogs that insist skinny people are discriminated against. I mean, sure they are. But not enough that we need to get up in arms about it. I do believe, wholeheartedly, that women don’t need the general public commenting on their weight, no matter what their size is. It’s rude and 99.9% of the time, uncalled for.

But I don’t want to make it sound like I don’t love this book. I do. It’s revitalized my body acceptance much better than endless thin fashion bloggers yammering on about self-love and positive body image. One of my favorite quotes in Fat!So? is from Wann’s personal trainer: “If you could hate your body into changing, every woman in America would look like a magazine cover. Hating your body is futile” (p. 68).

I have no idea why this line stuck with me more than all the other crap I’ve heard over the years, but this makes the most sense. Why bother hating yourself? Really. What is the fucking point already? Because some magazine told you that you weren’t good enough? Bullshit. Not worth it.

So, these are my goals:

  • To not talk shit about my body, especially my weight.
  • To not participate in conversations about weight-loss diets. I don’t care if that’s the way women bond. It’s boring, tedious, and unhealthy. Can’t we like bake a cake or knit something instead? I don’t know, we can talk about 50 Shades of Cray-Cray and drink Celestial Seasonings.
  • To not let others say crappy things about my weight or the weight of others. Wann has a lot of solid comebacks on pages 54-55 and I intend to use them. Or I’ll just stick with “I like the way I look” or “Fuck off.”
  • To not let my weight make me feel invisible.
  • To not feel guilty for simply eating.
  • While eating a meal, never say, “I’m being so good/bad today!” It’s infantile and no one cares.
  • Never touch a fashion magazine again. Sometimes I mentally veg out and read a couple, usually making fun of them (Cosmo is especially good for this). But, they’re total brain poison. I don’t think they’re safe, even in jest. At least not for my delicate widdle mind.

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  • If someone says, “OMG, I’m getting soooo New York fat!” I’ll just leave the room rather than roll my eyes really hard, as that’s bad for my vision.
  • Put copies of this book on display so that girls pick it up and take it home.
  • Buy a copy of Fat!So? and keep it on my nightstand if I ever decide to apologize for my size.

My only wish for this book is for it to be re-released in a YA-friendlier format, or something more inclusive. I wonder if the bright cover scares away girls who aren’t quite so brave yet.  I feel like Wann’s message is great news for teenage girls, regardless of their weight. Actually, from what I remember from being a teen, you think you’re fat especially when you’re not. And if you are, so what? Really. SO WHAT?

~Love and Libraries, Ingrid

About magpielibrarian

Children's Librarian, Library Advocate, Mediocre Crafter, Urban Magpie, Vegetarian, Glitter Addict, Thrifter, and Worshiper of Ridiculous Outfits

21 responses »

  1. Sarah says:

    This is an issue I struggle with day in and out. Some days I’m brave and don’t give a fuck but mostly I crumble. I really appreciate that statement about not hating my body. I need to stick that on my mirror and try to live it, if even only for a day. Before I cave again. Because I will. I’m hoping it’s something I can work past in my 30s.

  2. wolfshowl says:

    I’m sorry, I’m sorry, anal me has to say this.

    “most of the popular diet pills offer you 10% weight loss at best, so why are you going to risk your life over 10 pounds”

    10% of your body weight will not be 10 pounds unless you weigh 100 pounds which almost no women do. It’s probably closer to the realm of 15 to 20 pounds. Still not worth dying over, obvs, but yeah. That math bugged me.

    • I will say that it’s hard to read your comment about shoddy math after writing such a personal article, but, OK. Let me clarify:
      I didn’t want to list every drug mentioned, but here’s a breakdown: Amphetamines: 2 to 10 pounds, Fen/Phen: 15 percent of weight, Dexefunfluramine: 6 pounds, Sibutramine: 10-14 pounds.
      So, often, often around 10 pounds at absolute best.
      My main point was that it’s a tiny amount of weight for a lot of risk, a drug that you often have to take daily, and that offers a huge chance of regaining the weight.
      But thanks for reading.

  3. Angie says:

    And here’s the other thing: accept that fat acceptance is a daily struggle. It is never over, it is a constant work in progress. Every day is a new chance to love your body!

    Here’s my favorite things I’ve written about my size-acceptance:

    http://www.fatgirlreading.com/why-i-use-the-f-word/

    http://www.fatgirlreading.com/i-hope-my-fat-body-isnt-grossing-you-out-world/

    KEEP UP THE FAT! SO STRUGGLE! :) (also, I recommend Nancy Redd’s Body Drama and Diet Drama for your shelves.)

  4. Kate says:

    Well said. I wish you could have written this 10+ years ago for me in college when I struggled with dangerous disordered eating that, if not for a timely intervention, was putting me on the fast track to an eating disorder. Thank you for this, and for being you. :-)

  5. jessamyn says:

    I remember how transformative it was for me to read that book. I think you did it justice and I think more people should emulate your goals.

  6. Kirby says:

    Great post! This is my first time visiting your blog, and a huge thank you for your candor. Going to see if my library has this book first thing tomorrow :) Are you better now from the post-viral gastroparesis?

    • You have post-viral gastroparesis for life, apparently, but I’m significantly better and only relapse when I’m stressy or run-down. Thanks for reading and I hope you like the book!

  7. johnsonkn04 says:

    This is my first time on your blog too! You articulated so much of what I’ve felt about the media’s messed-up perception of beauty in our culture. My major turning point–when I finally became conscious of how the media’s representation of beauty was seeping into my sub-conscious and influencing my relationship with food–came about during a lecture at the end of my sophomore year of college. The speaker said something like, “The only thing I regret from my undergrad years was how much energy I wasted worrying about my weight.”

    Thanks for sharing

    • You reminded me of the famous “Wear Sunscreen” speech: “Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine…Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.” Thanks for reading!

  8. Beautiful, well-done post. Thanks for your honesty. I’m going to be getting a copy of Fat!So? for my library.

  9. Leslie says:

    Hi!
    This is my first time on your blog, and the title of this one in your archives caught my eye. Well said! I am struggling right now with trying to change the way I look at my body and not allow society’s impossible standards to control how I see myself. I actually just blogged about that this week, so it was fortuitous that I saw your blog. It felt like confirmation that I am on the right path! Thanks for your words and I look forward to reading more of your posts!

    • It’s a battle, for sure. I highly recommend fat-positive, body-positive zines. They’ve really made me feel lots better.
      Would you care to share the post you mentioned? I’m interested in reading it.
      Be well. <3

  10. All of these fabulous books you mention are so hard to find in the UK! I’m going to spend my ENTIRE trip to the USA next year in your library sucking up all your amazing books before I have to leave.

  11. […] and vice versa. I think it has been most aptly discussed by Ingrid of Magpie Librarian in this really great & inspiring post. Do you have to be anything other than accepting of yourself? Just be healthy if you can, and happy […]

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