Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living
by Jes Baker
Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls was a surprisingly difficult book for me. I’ve been thoroughly brainwashed by society’s messages about fat bodies. Fat people are gross, lazy, undeserving, shouldn’t do this/shouldn’t do that… and I speak as a person in that category! Consequently, I am probably the perfect audience for this book. As I intellectually understood and accepted Baker’s arguments, a voice in the back of my head still kept saying, You still need to lose weight. So, I have work to do, and this book is an excellent place to begin.
The style of the book probably is familiar to readers of Jes Baker’s blog, The Militant Baker, but I’d never read it before. Baker takes an irreverent, humorous approach–though never a belittling one–to the subject matter. Words in all caps, exclamation marks, and asides populate the book. In some contexts, I would not like the style, but here is it fitting. It feels intimate and personal.
In the book, Baker discusses the concept and need for body love and argues that embracing body love can positively impact the individual as well as society at large because it promotes empathy, acceptance, and compassion. So often, overweight people, especially women, have a litany of dreams they will accomplish–when they lose weight that is. As a result, we are often in a limbo of inaction. Baker urges readers starting to live now to not wait, even if that means becoming vulnerable. Baker traces the history of cultural meaning attached to fatness–in the past, and currently in some cultures, being fat is idolized–and explains the historical context that created the feminine mystique, the beauty myth, and today’s focus on health and wellness. She’s quick to explain that health isn’t the problem–an obsessive approach that stifles activity in other areas of life is an issue.
One of the most revealing chapters discussed the relationship between obesity and health. I’d always thought that fatness was related to diabetes, high cholesterol, stroke, and high blood pressure. I thought of an old commercial for Jenny Craig where a husband and son approach the mother–they want her to lose weight because they care about her, they want her to have a long life. It sounds reasonable. What I didn’t know was those health problems–those are more likely to be caused by yo-yo dieting than obesity. Fat and thin people can be healthy, just as fat and thin people can be unhealthy. I also really enjoyed the chapter on body currency which postulated that the vitriol from trolls against happy, visible fat women comes in part due to sexism but also because of the idea that most people have bought into society’s standards about weight and have invested in them. Women who flout those beauty standards have in effect “cut in line”–they’ve achieved happiness without the investment. Of course, they are probably not very happy themselves.
So what to do? Baker has several suggestions: takes selfies both to increase your self-esteem and to expand representation of diverse bodies. She promotes affirmations based on neuroplasticity, the science that indicates brains can be “rewired.” Her chapter on mental health has valuable information for people of all sizes and orientations. A chapter on fashion encourages readers to wear whatever the fuck they want, and it’s particularly fun because it recounts her offensive against Abercrombie and Fitch and her response to Lane Bryant’s #IMNOANGEL advertising campaign.
Baker realizes her position of privilege as a white woman who is overweight but still has the desired hourglass figure. She acknowledges and invites diverse readers to voice their experiences, and she embraces this in the book by including a number of brief guest essays from women of color, trans men, fat men, and experts in medicine and sex including Sonya Renee Taylor of the Body is Not an Apology.
My quibbles with the book are few. One thought I had was that the chapter on the history that villainized being fat could have been better documented, though given the constraints of the book, what Baker wrote–a high level introduction–isn’t unreasonable and invites further research. I also wished the book included pictures. Baker references cartoons and images, such as those she created in response to Abercrombie and Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries, who was unapologetic when criticized for not offering larger women’s sizes. Admittedly, the relevant images aren’t too difficult to find online, but I thought that including reproductions would have enhanced the book.
I think anyone and everyone who has ever felt insecure about their bodies (and who hasn’t?) should read this book and use it as a springboard for further thinking and investigation as well as inspiration to take up space, be loud, and love your body.