Besides the excellent You’re Wrong About, the other podcast I got super into over the summer was Maintenance Phase. The two hosts, Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon, “debunk the junk science behind health & wellness fads, and decode their cultural meaning.” They’ve taken on the body mass index, Rachel Hollis, the presidential fitness test, Weight Watchers, snake oil, even Angela Lansbury’s fitness book.
I love doing book recommendations, so I decided to put together a little readalikes list for my high school students. If you like Maintenance Phase, you’ll probably like these books, too. They talk about fatness and the sham that is diet culture. Thanks to all who replied to my twitter thread with suggestions.
Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness by Da’shaun L. Harrison
To live in a body both fat and Black is to exist at the margins of a society that creates the conditions for anti-fatness as anti-Blackness. Hyper-policed by state and society, passed over for housing and jobs, and derided and misdiagnosed by medical professionals, fat Black people in the United States are subject to sociopolitically sanctioned discrimination, abuse, condescension, and trauma.
Da’Shaun Harrison–a fat, Black, disabled, and nonbinary trans writer–offers an incisive, fresh, and precise exploration of anti-fatness as anti-Blackness, foregrounding the state-sanctioned murders of fat Black men and trans and nonbinary masculine people in historical analysis. Policing, disenfranchisement, and invisibilizing of fat Black men and trans and nonbinary masculine people are pervasive, insidious ways that anti-fat anti-Blackness shows up in everyday life. Fat people can be legally fired in 49 states for being fat; they’re more likely to be houseless. Fat people die at higher rates from misdiagnosis or nontreatment; fat women are more likely to be sexually assaulted. And at the intersections of fatness, Blackness, disability, and gender, these abuses are exacerbated.
Taking on desirability politics, the limitations of gender, the connection between anti-fatness and carcerality, and the incongruity of “health” and “healthiness” for the Black fat, Harrison viscerally and vividly illustrates the myriad harms of anti-fat anti-Blackness. They offer strategies for dismantling denial, unlearning the cultural programming that tells us “fat is bad,” and destroying the world as we know it, so the Black fat can inhabit a place not built on their subjugation.
Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight–And What We Can Do About It by Harriet Brown
Over the past twenty-five years, our quest for thinness has morphed into a relentless obsession with weight and body image. In our culture, fat has become a four-letter word. Or, as Lance Armstrong said to the wife of a former teammate, I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. But I never called you fat. How did we get to this place where the worst insult you can hurl at someone is fat? Where women and girls (and increasingly men and boys) will diet, purge, overeat, undereat, and berate themselves and others, all in the name of being thin?
As a science journalist, Harriet Brown has explored this collective longing and fixation from an objective perspective; as a mother, wife, and woman with weight issues, she has struggled to understand it on a personal level. Now, in Body of Truth, Brown systematically unpacks what’s been offered as truth about weight and health.
Starting with the four biggest lies, Brown shows how research has been manipulated; how the medical profession is complicit in keeping us in the dark; how big pharma and big, empty promises equal big, big dollars; how much of what we know (or think we know) about health and weight is wrong. And how all of those affect all of us every day, whether we know it or not.
The quest for health and wellness has never been more urgent, yet most of us continue to buy into fad diets and unattainable body ideals, unaware of the damage we’re doing to ourselves. Through interviews, research, and her own experience, Brown not only gives us the real story on weight, health, and beauty, but also offers concrete suggestions for how each of us can sort through the lies and misconceptions and make peace with and for ourselves.
Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement by Charlotte Cooper
Charlotte Cooper, a fat activist with more than 30 years experience, lifts the lid on a previously unexplored social movement and offers a fresh perspective on one of the major problems of our times. In her expansive, intelligent grassroots study she:
– Reveals details of fat activist methods and approaches
– Features extensive accounts of fat activist historical roots going back over four decades
– Explores controversies and tensions in the movement
– Shows that fat activism is an undeniably feminist and queer phenomenon
Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement is a rare instance of fat people speaking about their lives and politics on their own terms. The book is the result of Charlotte’s community-based doctoral research.
Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings
There is an obesity epidemic in this country and poor black women are particularly stigmatized as “diseased” and a burden on the public health care system. This is only the most recent incarnation of the fear of fat black women, which Sabrina Strings shows took root more than two hundred years ago.
Strings weaves together an eye-opening historical narrative ranging from the Renaissance to the current moment, analyzing important works of art, newspaper and magazine articles, and scientific literature and medical journals–where fat bodies were once praised–showing that fat phobia, as it relates to black women, did not originate with medical findings, but with the Enlightenment era belief that fatness was evidence of “savagery” and racial inferiority.
The author argues that the contemporary ideal of slenderness is, at its very core, racialized and racist. Indeed, it was not until the early twentieth century, when racialized attitudes against fatness were already entrenched in the culture, that the medical establishment began its crusade against obesity. An important and original work, Fearing the Black Body argues convincingly that fat phobia isn’t about health at all, but rather a means of using the body to validate race, class, and gender prejudice.
Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
In Heavy, Laymon writes eloquently and honestly about growing up a hard-headed black son to a complicated and brilliant black mother in Jackson, Mississippi. From his early experiences of sexual violence, to his suspension from college, to time in New York as a college professor, Laymon charts his complex relationship with his mother, grandmother, anorexia, obesity, sex, writing, and ultimately gambling. Heavy is a…memoir that combines personal stories with piercing intellect to reflect both on the strife of American society and on Laymon’s experiences with abuse. By attempting to name secrets and lies he and his mother spent a lifetime avoiding, he asks us to confront the terrifying possibility that few in this nation actually know how to responsibly love, and even fewer want to live under the weight of actually becoming free.
Shrill is an uproarious memoir, a feminist rallying cry in a world that thinks gender politics are tedious and that women, especially feminists, can’t be funny.
Coming of age in a culture that demands women be as small, quiet, and compliant as possible–like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you–writer and humorist Lindy West quickly discovered that she was anything but.
From a painfully shy childhood in which she tried, unsuccessfully, to hide her big body and even bigger opinions; to her public war with stand-up comedians over rape jokes; to her struggle to convince herself, and then the world, that fat people have value; to her accidental activism and never-ending battle royale with Internet trolls, Lindy narrates her life with a blend of humor and pathos that manages to make a trip to the abortion clinic funny and wring tears out of a story about diarrhea.
With inimitable good humor, vulnerability, and boundless charm, Lindy boldly shares how to survive in a world where not all stories are created equal and not all bodies are treated with equal respect, and how to weather hatred, loneliness, harassment, and loss, and walk away laughing. Shrill provocatively dissects what it means to become self-aware the hard way, to go from wanting to be silent and invisible to earning a living defending the silenced in all caps.
Other F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce edited by Angie Manfredi
Chubby. Curvy. Fluffy. Plus-size. Thick. Fat. The time has come for fat people to tell their own stories. The (Other) F Word combines the voices of Renée Watson, Julie Murphy, Jes Baker, Samantha Irby, Bruce Sturgell, and more in a relatable and gift-worthy guide about body image and fat acceptance. This dazzling collection of art, poetry, essays, and fashion tips is meant for people of all sizes who desire to be seen and heard in a culture consumed by a narrow definition of beauty. By combining the talents of renowned fat YA and middle-grade authors, as well as fat influencers and creators, The (Other) F Word offers teen readers and activists of all ages a tool for navigating our world with confidence and courage.
What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk about Fat by Aubrey Gordon
Anti-fatness is everywhere. In What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, Aubrey Gordon unearths the cultural attitudes and social systems that have led to people being denied basic needs because they are fat and calls for social justice movements to be inclusive of plus-sized people’s experiences. Unlike the recent wave of memoirs and quasi self-help books that encourage readers to love and accept themselves, Gordon pushes the discussion further towards authentic fat activism, which includes ending legal weight discrimination, giving equal access to health care for large people, increased access to public spaces, and ending anti-fat violence. As she argues, “I did not come to body positivity for self-esteem. I came to it for social justice.”
By sharing her experiences as well as those of others–from smaller fat to very fat people–she concludes that to be fat in our society is to be seen as an undeniable failure, unlovable, unforgivable, and morally condemnable. Fatness is an open invitation for others to express disgust, fear, and insidious concern. To be fat is to be denied humanity and empathy. Studies show that fat survivors of sexual assault are less likely to be believed and less likely than their thin counterparts to report various crimes; 27% of very fat women and 13% of very fat men attempt suicide; over 50% of doctors describe their fat patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly and noncompliant”; and in 48 states, it’s legal–even routine–to deny employment because of an applicant’s size.
Advancing fat justice and changing prejudicial structures and attitudes will require work from all people. What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat is a crucial tool to create a tectonic shift in the way we see, talk about, and treat our bodies, fat and thin alike.
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