Fat Phobia and Activism: Six Memoirs by Women

Below are six memoirs by women who are fat activists. They address issues of fat phobia and fat acceptance and the various feelings and attitudes they engender. “Fat,” by the way, in the parlance of fat activists, is meant to be a relatively neutral word. It replaces such words as “overweight,” which carries more judgment.

I. Roxane Gay, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (2017)

Gay self-describes as “super morbidly obese.” In Hunger she makes connections between being gang raped at 12 and her ensuing desire to build a body that would avert further assault.

But, as with most childhood defense mechanisms having origins in trauma, it no longer serves her so well. Not exactly at peace, Gay 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).

Actress Melissa McCarthy is just one of the featured subjects in this essay collection. 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. Gabourey Sidibe, This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare (2017)

Sidibe is another actress who’s been targeted with fat phobia. One notable quote: “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!”

IV. Lindy West, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (2016)

West, whose memoir was adapted into the series Shrill, states: “To be shrill is to reach above your station; to abandon your duty to soothe and please; in short, to be heard.”

“For me, the process of embodying confidence was less about convincing myself of my own worth and more about rejecting and unlearning what society had hammered into me.”

V. Jes Baker, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living (2015)

In the following book description the publisher challenges fat phobia. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is “…an invitation to reject fat prejudice, fight body-shaming at the hands of the media, and join this life-changing movement with one step: change the world by loving your body.”

“We don’t need to stop using the word ‘fat,’ states the author in The Huffington Post, “we need to stop the hatred that our world connects with the word ‘fat.’ So I use it, because I have decided that it’s my word now. And the more I use it positively, the more stigma I smash.”

VI. Lesley Kinzel, Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body (2012)

States the book’s publisher: “…Lesley Kinzel tells stories, gives advice, and challenges stereotypes about being and feeling fat. Kinzel says no to diet fads and pills, shows by example how to stop hating your body, celebrates self-acceptance at any size, and urges you to finally accept the truth: your body is not a tragedy!

One of the myths that fat activists face is that they disapprove of people trying to lose weight. On the contrary, Kinzel, for example, just wants people’s decisions, whatever they are, “to come from a place of self-love, and not self-loathing.”

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