Reading While Fat

It’s been some time, Gentle Reader, since I’ve blogged, but this book I’m reading has had an effect on me and it’s one that I need to talk about, to think about, for a while. I’ve not finished the book; I’m about 60% through. But that’s significant because I’ve thought about NOT finishing the book, because it’s been so difficult to read. It’s because it’s a fatpos novel about a fat protagonist who agrees to go on a Bachelorette-style reality show, and the absolute inhumanity and cruelty she faces has curdled my stomach.

The novel is One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London.

Some background as to why I’m reading this novel.

  1. It’s fatpos (i.e. fat positive) or billed as such, and I try to read, and buy, every fatpos book on the market because
  2. After my current academic book is done, my next project is fat girls in YA lit, or fat girls/women in popular lit. I originally conceived of the project as just YA novels, but I might be expanding so
  3. I am reading this novel because I am a fat woman, and I like seeing myself represented in pop culture.

I have been fat all my life. I’m a size 18 (I have varied between a 12-24 over my adult life) now, and a thing you should know about me, if you don’t know already, is that I love clothes. My academic work is on fashion and material culture–it’s also how my fat girls project began, with looking at Fatshion in YA novels–and I also embody this love. I LOVE CLOTHES. I LOVE MAKEUP. I LOVE JEWELRY. The only thing I don’t really love are shoes, because I have big feet and it’s hard to find cute shoes in my size. But I manage to have cute books and Mary Janes and trainers.

I have been told a number of things about my love of fashion. So many of my friends and family and colleagues and students 100% support me and often comment on my clothes or makeup or jewelry or bags. My friends and family and colleagues and students contribute to my love, gifting me shawls or handmade bracelets. Fun things. I share my love with them by posting pictures on Facebook of me wearing fun outfits or makeup, or, as I did this semester, the lipstick of the day, as I went every day with a different lipstick on (I have about 40). They are all supportive and say kind things, sweet things, and maybe truthful things.

Another thing you should know: all my life I’ve been told I have “such a pretty face.” See, the body and the face don’t match. Fat does not equal pretty. I heard this from my mom, from strangers, from family, from teachers, from people I had never met to the people who should have protected me the most. I started dieting before puberty and tried every fad diet on the market.

So all of THAT to say, I have pretty severe body dysmorphia.

Reading fatpos novels is so invigorating for me because I’m seeing these women who have the same concerns as myself overcoming their fears, being confident and loved. Take Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade, for example. April is fragile but so very strong. She knows what she wants and fights for it. This is what we need from fatpos novels. We need to see strength, and integrity, and women finding love while fat, not in spite of fat.

I have been reading One to Watch for a few months now, because I can only read a few pages before I am overwhelmed. The protagonist, Bea, begins the book so confident and so beautiful. She’s a fashion blogger! She’s Insta famous! She writes a review of a reality show that goes viral, and she is secretly chosen to be the new bachelorette.

Unfortunately, all of Bea’s worst concerns about herself are brought to life by the absolute cruelty of the bachelors. Even though she finds out it was staged, one man walks off the show when he sees her. Other men openly make fun of her, referring to “whale watching” when she comes aboard a yacht and wears a bikini. Nowhere in any of these moments is the confident fashion blogger who begins the novel, and now, over 60% in, I have yet to see her again.

But oh God, is this a triggering novel. Every worst fear I have about myself, have had about myself for 35+ years, despite a loving husband and a decent dating record and friends telling me nice things about myself, comes forward in this novel. And it’s absolutely painful. Indescribably painful. Friends have told me to stop reading it, but like a car wreck, I can’t stop.

See, Reading While Fat is a difficult and dangerous thing to do. Because while I want more fatpos novels about girls and women who have difficulties and insecurities but overcome these through acts of faith and defiance and love, I secretly can’t relate to them. I’m not strong. I’m not defiant. I’m a fat activist who supports everyone’s body but her own. I’m fat positive for every fat person out there, except myself. And reading this book confirms my worst fears about myself.

That they’re all, to paraphrase Stephen King’s Carrie, laughing at me.

I challenge myself every day. I wake up in the morning and put on cute clothes (or PJs, let’s be honest, it’s a pandemic) and makeup and jewelry and take selfies and post them to Facebook because I’m excited by how I look. I like dressing up. I always have, as a three year old constantly wearing what I called my “Snow White Dress” (it had a corsety tie in the front) to my teenage goth days dressing up for the clubs to now, when students say, somewhat in awe, “I’ve never seen someone like you dress the way you do.” They mean fat. They mean a fat woman dress with confidence.

I am not confident. I am a ball of shame and hatred and anger. At myself. At the people who were “just trying to help.” At the absolute cruelty of the world around me.

But I get up. Every day. I put on cute clothes or PJs and lippies and take my selfies and the Earth revolves and sometimes, I cry. Sometimes I ask my husband, “Am I pretty or am I pretty for a fat woman?” Sometimes, I hate myself so profoundly that I have a litany that repeats and my OCD brain latches on to. “You’re fat and ugly. No one loves you. You’ll never be successful.”

I am challenging myself to do two things:

  1. Finish this book, and
  2. Write my own fatpos book (currently 80 pages in).

I want my heroine to love herself, fat and all. I want to see her strength and take it as my strength.

I want to change the fatphobic world.

Won’t you help me?

2 thoughts on “Reading While Fat”

  1. I had the experience One to Watch as you. I am quite confident in my body at the moment and am able to let most comments go. But this book just brought everything to the forefront. It was like the book was trying to show how strong Bea was by making her face such cruelty and making her pick herself up again and again. It is marketed as fat positive but it was just.. not it for me.

    1. Yes I agree!! I’ve finished the book now and I don’t think the happy ending at all makes up for the constant cruelty Bea experienced, and my own reaction to that.

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