So, I understand you’ve written a book.
I have! It’s still sort of magical and bizarre to me. Before I wrote the book, I was a blogger, and there are two really sweet things about blogging. The first is that you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself, so the field is wide open for topics. The second is that blogs are by their nature a little ephemeral, so if I write something that years later I realize is absurd, odds are good that nobody else is going to find it.
Writing a book is a whole different deal. These are words that go on paper, and that means they have a certain longevity. The other thing about a book is that it lacks the instant-audience-reaction of blogging, which is both a good thing and a bad thing: good because it’s nice to write something without wondering how my inbox is going to blow up over it, and bad because I am, like many writers, secretly a performer at heart, and I love getting feedback, even when it’s critical.
Since finishing the book, I now have a full-time gig writing for a living—I’m an associate editor at xoJane.com—which is a whole other pile of surreality.
Why did you write this book?
I’ve been referring to it as a manifesto-memoir—memoirifesto? manifestmoir?—because that’s really how it works: as a combination of my own personal experiences, mixed with some fun critical analysis of the broader culture in which I spend my time.
I’ve spent years now telling my stories and having people tell me in return that reading them has been helpful, that knowing someone else can speak to an experience which is largely invisible and alienating (in this case, the experience of being fat, specifically a fat woman) in a way that is familiar and even empowering has been instrumental in combating the internalized self-loathing so many of us live with every day. That’s a really powerful and humbling thing to hear. So I wanted to keep doing it. A book seemed the natural next step.
So what is it all about?
CATS AND DOGS, LIVING TOGETHER . . . well, in a manner of speaking. It’s about being fat and being okay with that; it’s also about being fat and not constantly living with an apology on the tip of your tongue for it. It’s about the ways in which our culture has built a world in which fat bodies are thought of as temporary, or aberrations, or problems to be solved, and how we can break out of that thinking—if we want to. It’s also about me, and my life as a self-accepting fat person.
Is it cool if I call you a fat activist?
Yeah, that’s cool. I initially wanted to title this book “Fat and Fuck You,” but then I reconsidered, for reasons that may be obvious.
Awesome. What made you become a fat activist?
Oh, lots of things. I started dieting when I was eight or nine years old, you know; I have diaries from those years and every entry begins with my current weight, like some terribly sad pint-sized Bridget Jones. I dieted compulsively until I was about 19, and developed a really adversarial relationship with food. I never lost enough weight to be average sized, let alone thin, and I only ever felt progressively worse about myself.
Eventually I decided there had to be another way, and I started tracking down the few books that existed on the subject of body acceptance. I thought, I KNEW IT! I knew I didn’t have to live like this forever. I re-learned how to eat and started giving a crap about myself as a whole person. It all flowed from there.
You must have been on a lot of diets. What was your worst diet ever?
Jenny Craig, specifically mid-90s Jenny Craig. The program required you to buy all your food from Jenny, and it was ghastly. Inedible. I think I would have preferred astronaut food. It might be better now but I doubt it. Even worse than the terrible food was the “counselor” I had to see every week, who seemed to have two settings: patronizing or ineffectually scolding. It was awful but I stuck with it for awhile because I believed it could “work.” It didn’t work. I tell the story in far more detail in the book itself.
It seems like it might be difficult to be fat. Is it?
Sometimes, but not for the reasons you might think. It’s not physically difficult, at least not for me, although that varies from person to person. What makes it occasionally difficult is the outside world; it’s incredibly stressful to have to go about one’s life constantly feeling judged or literally attacked. I still get harassed on a regular basis, simply for having the gall to be fat and publicly visible.
Culturally we’ve developed this idea that fat bodies are public property—that by virtue of being fat, one becomes a target for intrusive comments (and/or well-meaning “advice”) which would be considered seriously inappropriate in other circumstances. So, the most difficult thing about being fat is having to deal with other people’s assumptions and unwelcome criticism. Aside from that, it’s pretty rad.
How do you respond to people who suggest your advocacy for self-acceptance is irresponsible and/or offensive?
Frankly, for many people the pressure to lose weight and look a certain way can be extremely toxic. I am one of them. Losing weight never made me happy, nor did it improve my self-esteem or my health—in fact it damaged both far more than being fat ever did. I decided on a self-acceptance path because it was right for me, and I share my experiences because I know there are other folks out there feeling the same way, and wondering how other people have done it.
We live in an aspirational culture; being happy with oneself without constantly striving to “improve” is anathema to lots of people. This is as true of the conventional wisdom about appearance as it is anything else. Now I’m not opposed to improvement, nor am I interested in prescribing behavior. I just think it’s important to note that you have a choice: you can choose to follow the popular approach of trying to find happiness and contentment by making yourself fit the norms society has laid out for you, or you can choose to defy those norms and go your own way. You get to decide.
But why “Two Whole Cakes”?
Because cake is AWESOME, and two cakes are TWICE AS AWESOME. No, really, there’s another story behind that, but I’m not giving everything away here.