Nov 22

Fat Phobia and Activism: Seven Memoirs by Women

Below are seven memoirs by women who address issues of fat phobia and fat acceptance and the various feelings and attitudes they engender. “Fat,” by the way, in the parlance of most 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)

“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. Mika Brzezinski, Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction–and My Own (2013)

Brzezinski made a deal with her best friend Diane Smith. The latter, perceived as “fat” and unhealthy by Brzezinski, would strive to lose a desired goal of 75 pounds; the former, who has struggled with eating disorders and has been perceived as “skinny” and unhealthy by Smith, would try to gain 10. And they would write this book about their experiences.

While Smith is against shaming people by calling them “fat,” Brzezinski is an advocate for naming it more often. Controversial!

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

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.”