Elevate Difference

Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with your Body

Quit dieting and declare a truce with your body. This seemingly straight-forward proposition functions as the springboard from which authors Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby jump into a discussion of what it means to accept one's self and how to dismantle the countless negative and judgmental messages we receive and propagate on the daily. As two of the leading bloggers in the "fatosphere"—the online fat acceptance movement—Harding and Kirby tackle issues of dieting, fat stereotypes, self-deprecation, female acrimony, socializing and much more, all from the fat perspective.

How does denigrating fatness eat away at our own self worth? Are derogatory slights against fatness and fat people considered more socially acceptable than, say, racist or sexist stereotypes? How often do we participate in diet talk (instead of meaningful conversation) in order to "bond" with other women? Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere compels readers to ask themselves these essential questions. We are challenged to examine our assumptions about fatness, and urged to reimagine a way of life founded upon self-realization and fulfillment rather than participation in an endless struggle to achieve the happiness and beauty depicted in the mass media.

There's no question that Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere is a part of the blog-to-book phenomenon. Unbound by traditional rules of grammar, formality and structure, the authors take on an informal style, making liberal use of chummy, sarcastic and intimate prose. Though I'd argue this writing style helps break down the wall between author and reader, establishing an inimitable camaraderie and trust, it also detracts from the book's authority. Time-honored writing methods can be helpful in establishing one's credibility and expertise.

At times, Harding and Kirby shortchange their arguments by over-simplifying complex issues or inserting insensitive and insulting asides. What begins as founded and constructive guidance, might end with a misguided attempt at pseudo-psychological counsel. Also problematic are the persistent contradictions that appear in the book. I was particularly disappointed with the first chapter of the "Socializing" section, entitled "Find a Good Partner." Though the authors acknowledge that "single" isn't synonymous with "unlovable," they suggest time and again that being in a committed relationship is a helpful, if not essential, step toward loving your body and your self. Unlike Kirby and Harding who write that "Life isn't fair; if it were, we'd all be in love right now," many readers might find happiness and fulfillment outside the realm of monogamy.

Yet, despite these shortcomings, Harding and Kirby get the job done. They offer a window into the fat experience and give voice to opinions and perspectives that have long been silenced. They urge us to stop thinking about our bodies as "The Enemy" and encourage practicing "Health At Every Size." They remind us that "the best we can be is not exclusively determined by physical measures," even though we've grown up believing that "our bodies [are] primarily something for other people to experience externally." Importantly, they encourage us to stop judging other women and be our own best friends. That's advice everyone should heed.

Written by: Sofia Marin, May 19th 2009

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