I just finished reading Lindy West’s book . Since my mother says I was born with no thermostat and no volume control, you can see why this book would appeal to me. But mostly it appeals because she is so funny and smart and she writes a whole chapter on what is lousy about living in a world where men who desire fat women often feel such shame that they end up treating fat women like a dirty secret. Having gone out with the guy who clearly liked me but kept mentioning how hot everyone thought his ex-wife was, it was nice to hear someone else had dealt with the same thing.
The passage that she wrote that moved me in particular was this one: “Maybe you are thin. You hiked that trail and you are fit and beautiful and wanted and I am so proud of you, I am so in awe of your wiry brightness; and I’m miles behind you, my breathing ragged. But you didn’t carry this up the mountain. You only carried yourself. How hard would you breathe if you had to carry me? You couldn’t. But I can.” If you know me, you know that I go through cycles: I claim who I am, every pound of it, with pride sometimes, and with frustration at others. I sometimes say it has failed me and other times find it miraculous. I think many of us do. It’s just that the world around me confirms half of that narrative. It denies that I am more active and eat healthier than some of my thin friends; it lets me know that I should embrace privation to be less gross to other people. It pretends care about my health. But it doesn’t. It cares about my size. And as I’ve written about before, I feel caught between loving myself as I am and desiring to be my healthiest self, when that’s actually a totally false dichotomy.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about the fact that before Shrill, there was Samantha Irby’s essay collection Meaty, which was also smart and funny and poignant and made me feel a little less self-loathing and a little more solidarity. I think I discovered her two years ago. (Yeah; you’ll notice I said self-loathing. My efforts to be proud of who I am have major hurdles, hurdles which are affirmed by the fact that any time someone disagrees with me on twitter, i’m wrong because I’m fat.)
In 1999, it was Camryn Manheim’s Wake Up, I’m Fat! She wore a swimsuit on the cover. Oh my gosh: fat people didn’t have to hide themselves for other people’s comfort!
And the very first time I heard someone say that my body is not someone else’s business was two sentences long, back in 1993. Bob Greene, a Chicago Tribune columnist, took two weeks of vacation. He filled his columns with things his readers had written in that they thought were beautiful in the world, to counter all the negativity. So my favorite Tribune columnist, Mike Royko, took his revenge by filling two weeks’ of his own columns with reader submissions on things that really pissed them off. They were so funny; I still remember them. “People who get to the front on the line at McDonald’s and don’t know what to order. The menu hasn’t changed in 50 years; HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW?!” I still laugh about that one.
But that column captured the first message that if other people held my body in contempt, that was on them. A woman wrote in and said, “People who complain about fat people wearing shorts. If you don’t like my butt, look at your own!”
I got booster shots every so often, but I still think about that when I feel stares of contempt because I’ve exposed too much of myself for some onlooker’s comfort.
I write all of this to say: write things that are true. Write things that are brave. They may be about being fat. They may be about race. They may be about parenting. But someone like 17-year-old me might read that one brave sentence, and it may help them navigate the next 23 years of their lives.
Write stuff that lifts up other folks.
And if you can, be funny when you do it.