Fat Shaming, Fat Phobia: Three New Books

 It’s really challenging to write a book where you believe in fat positivity, which I absolutely do, and I think it’s very necessary corrective to the fat phobia that’s pervasive in this culture, but at the same time I’m not fully there yet in terms of feeling that for myself. Author Roxane Gay, Lambda Literary

Several new books by women address the prevalent issues of fat shaming and fat phobia and the sometimes contradictory feelings and attitudes they engender.

I. Hunger

Roxane Gay self-describes as “super morbidly obese.” Her new book Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, called “ferociously honest” by the LA Times, stands out for the connection she makes between being gang raped at 12 and her ensuing desire to build a body that would avert further assault.

As told to Terry Gross, NPR,  “I grew up in this world where fat phobia is pervasive. And I just thought, ‘Well, boys don’t like fat girls, so if I’m fat, they won’t want me and they won’t hurt me again.’ But more than that, I really wanted to just be bigger so that I could fight harder.”

But, as with most childhood defense mechanisms having origins in trauma, it no longer serves her so well.

I would definitely like to tear down this wall I’ve built around myself, because I don’t need it anymore. And I know that intellectually, and on good days, I know that emotionally. I don’t want to be thin, I want to be smaller, because I just do. I think it makes so many things easier just on a day-to-day basis, and also I have no small amount of vanity, so I just want to be able to find cuter clothes. Sometimes it’s really basic things that I would like for myself.

Not exactly at peace, Gay now states, “I’ve told my parents many times that I’m as over being raped as I’ll ever be. It’s 30 years later. It’s not fine, but I’ve dealt with it. I’ve gone to therapy, I have worked through those issues. But I don’t know if I’ll ever overcome the ways in which I was treated for daring to be fat” (Sarah Rose Etter, Vice).

To everyone’s detriment, media portrayals of large women are still sorely lacking, Gay points out. “I don’t think we have yet seen a movie where a fat woman was treated with dignity. All too often, she’s the funny woman, and her sexuality is jokey, like Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. She was sexual, but it was part of a joke” (Janelle Okwodu, Vogue).

II. Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

Melissa McCarthy is actually one of the featured subjects in Anne Helen Petersen‘s essay collection Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman. Megan Garber, The Atlantic: “…McCarthy embodies the conflicting messages American culture sends to fat people—and fat women, in particular: You’re contributing to a nationwide health epidemic, but also love yourself! Because you’re beautiful just as you are.”

III. This Is Just My Face

Another actress who’s received undue attention for her size is Gabourey Sidibe, whose new memoir is This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare. Incidentally, like McCarthy, Sidibe has recently chosen to shed weight but doesn’t want her body size to be the main thing she or others focus on.

A few notable quotes from the book:

…I thought that if I could just get the world to see me the way I saw myself, that my body wouldn’t be the thing you walked away thinking about.

It seems as though if I cured cancer and won a Nobel Prize someone would say, “Sure, cancer sucks and I’m glad there’s a cure, but her body is just disgusting. She needs to spend less time in the science lab and more time in the gym!”

My beauty doesn’t come from a mirror. Never has and never will.

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