Let me start by saying something very, very honest: Reading books like this one make me want to claw my skin off. Not because the book is poorly done, not at all. The book is well-researched, well-written, and spot-on. That’s what agitates me so much. Because while reading all the ways in which fat folks are subject to the negative treatment all around them, I feel ever more claustrophobic. I simultaneously want to 1) smash the system into bits and burn it with fire; and 2) lose all this excess weight to escape. It’s not a comfortable feeling, but it’s definitely a necessary one. I never once considered stopping my read.
In fact, I began writing this review before I was even halfway through this book. Every few paragraphs, I had to put the book down because I had so many thoughts, so many personal stories, so many things to say. I’m not going to say them all here. This isn’t a post about my experiences. I’ll just say that I was highly affected by the book, even though my personal history isn’t similar to Gordon’s, nor do I agree with everything she wrote. She’s starting a conversation here, a conversation that we as a country desperately need to have, but one we’re ignoring – or blatantly refusing to engage in. I can’t say any of this better than she already has, so instead, I’m just going to urge people to read and learn.
I will say that, at times, Gordon falls into the same trap that she accuses others of perpetuating: she doesn’t listen to the body experiences of others. Take this example: The world of straight-size people is a reliable one. In their world, services paid for are services procured. Healthcare offered is accessed. [emphasis added] There’s more to this paragraph, which continues on about all the ways smaller folks don’t have to worry about their bodies affecting their lives. But as someone who has been every size from underweight to morbidly obese in my adult life, I can categorically say that these statements are untrue. Let me just link back to the post I wrote a few years ago about the my (very thin, straight-sized) sister and her inability to get doctors to believe that something was medically wrong because she was thin and straight-sized. This is often a problem that affects women regardless of size in the American medical community. Do heavier people have more trouble with it? Absolutely!! And the heavier you are, the worse it gets. Yes, 100% acknowledged (and experienced!). But the blanket statements that smaller bodies don’t suffer body discrimination smacks of not listening to the experiences of the other side, and that attitude comes out several times throughout this book. Considering the premise of the book is that we, as a culture, aren’t listening to the experiences of fat people…it seems a little distasteful to do the same in reverse.
But on the whole, the book resonates. It reads far more like a research paper than the nonfiction I traditionally read, which means that at times, it’s so full of facts and statistics that it becomes overwhelming. The point gets across, though: there are a LOT of studies and research in this area, and yet no one is talking about it, no one is addressing it, no one is working to change it.
I am going to talk about a few personal experiences here, because I think sometimes it’s good to hear about these things from people you know, and not just from an author. Y’all know me, y’all know the place I’m coming from, and y’all know a good bit about my body history. I could list hundreds of ways in which fat stigma has affected my life both while thin and while fat, but I’m going to pick out a small few here.
- In 2010, I attended a tattoo conference with some friends who were smaller than me. One of them convinced an artist to give her a small tattoo for about half the minimum price required at the conference. When I asked for the same, in the same conversation, I was flat-out denied and the artist refused to engage with me or meet my eye. I mentioned this on my then-blog, and a fellow blogger commented that not everything was about my size, I should stop making it all about my size, and that I probably just wasn’t projecting confidence because I was self-conscious about my size, so it was my fault, really.
- I ran a book club at my library from 2006 to 2012. When I began the group, I was officially obese, but only just. In 2009, I was morbidly obese. In 2012, I’d lost nearly 90 lbs and was lighter than when I began the club. Once I crossed up over a certain weight line, many members of my book club – who had known me for years – stopped taking me seriously and started questioning everything I brought in for discussion. I was double-checked and doubted and treated as stupid. Once I crossed that exact same line on the way down, the behavior immediately reverted to respect again. I doubt the members doing this were even aware of their actions – despite them ALL being fat themselves. (Pic from my last meeting in 2012)
- Building on this, when I mentioned the behavior to my brother, he dismissed it as if it was all in my head. A few years later – after I’d lost some weight, and after the HBO special Weight of the Nation came out – he indignantly informed me about how fatter individuals were treated as less intelligent than their thinner counterparts, and how awful this was. He didn’t remember at all that he’d dismissed that information from me, his fat sister, not long before. He wanted to teach me all about fat stigma, as if I wasn’t the only person in the family living through it.
- In 2014, when I suddenly gained 80 lbs in less than a year, it should have been a cause for alarm with my doctors. “Suddenly unexplained weight gain/loss” is a category always on those medical forms you fill out, and if you’re having sudden weight loss, they pay attention. But if it’s unexplained weight gain, they tell you that you’re just not being honest about your diet and exercise habits. I went to doctor after doctor in that year of gain. They threw random medications at me (mostly antidepressants that made things worse) and then washed their hands. To this day, not one doctor has ever taken that year of random weight gain seriously. The medical industry is absolutely the worst with fat stigma.
And, because I don’t want to end this by discussing the purely negative sides, I do want to point out one experience I had that entirely opened my eyes to what life could be like. In 2009, at my highest weight, I joined the NaNoWriMo group here in SA. There was one writer named Nate <– who was a thin, white, young college kid with just about every privilege you can imagine. I expected to see all sorts of things in his eyes when he looked at me, anything from scorn to “I’m going to politely pretend I don’t see how fat she is.” Because people do look at you differently at different sizes, and you learn to read the situation quick when you’re obese. But Nate? He treated me like a person, just like anyone else. There was no “try” aspect of it, no effort. It really was as if he saw me like anyone else, like my size wasn’t at all noteworthy, simply a part of me the same as the color of my hair. Years later, I sent him a thank you for that simple gesture, one he never even realized he’d given. Even though we haven’t seen each other in about a decade, we’ve remained distant social media friends, and I’ll always remember that act of unintentional kindness. This is what the world should be.