The first time I picked up a copy of Marilyn Wann's Fat! SO?, I opened it up to a page featuring a collage of bellies. Some of the tummies were flat, others hung low, and others featured rolls and stretch marks. What struck me about the image was that none of the stomachs seemed to be framed as superior or more attractive than any other. They all simply existed: at once ordinary, and yet so extraordinary. This was the first book that helped help heal my relationship with my body.
A couple of years ago, I came across a deeply troubling statistic. In the United States, 10-year-old children are often more afraid of becoming fat than they are of getting terminal cancer, or of losing both of their parents. In retrospect, I shouldn't have been surprised. As someone who struggled with disordered eating and a fitness addiction for years, all in the aid of acquiring the elusive thing that is "ideal beauty," I'm familiar with fractured body image. I know that Western culture, by and large, practically demands self-hate, especially of women, and especially of women who do not meet the thin, white, able-bodied mold of acceptability.
Radical voices in fat liberation and positivity have been essential to my deconstruction of weight bias and body shame, both internalized and externalized forms of it. Thankfully, we live in a digital age that allows us to find these voices with relative ease. Whether you are a fan of photo activism, painting, podcasting, blogging, 'Gramming, or creative nonfiction, there are sources for inspiration everywhere. If, however, books are your preferred means of having your mind blown, then the following nine are a great starting place on the road to healing.
1. Fat! So? Because You Don't Have To Apologize For Your Size
Fat! So? Because You Don't Have To Apologize For Your Size by Marilyn Wann, $15.37, Amazon
Marilyn Wann's Fat! So?, originally published in 1998, was the first book about fat acceptance that I ever came across — and it's an excellent introduction into the simple idea that there's nothing wrong with occupying space. Although fat liberationists have been campaigning since the '60s, Wann's book is perhaps the first printed work of its kind. As the title suggests, it focuses on re-educating fat individuals who have been conditioned to hide, to feel invaluable, to accept poor treatment. In my opinion, however, there's something to be gained from delving into this one, regardless of your size.
Wann's analysis that "being fat or thin is no longer about appearance, or even about health, but [...] a question of moral, nay religious, importance" is still wholly relevant today. She walks us through the problematic nature of the intersection of religion and weight, which includes "Slim Down For Jesus" programs handed out at churches. She offers language with which to approach health practitioners who are mistreating fat patients — things like, "Doctor, I came to you with a health concern. Your suggestion that I lose weight is not a satisfactory response. If you saw a thin patient with the same complaint that I have, what treatment would you recommend?" And she includes myriad contributions from other writers and activists on topics such as navigating shopping while fat and choosing to defy "good fatty" archetypes, which basically state that all fat people should be constantly striving to — or believing they should — lose weight.
2. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook For Unapologetic Living
Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook For Unapologetic Livingby Jes Baker, $10.87, Amazon
Jes Baker is perhaps one of the most prolific and renowned voices in contemporary fat positivity and body politics. Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is a goldmine of touching personal anecdote alongside life-changing academic and medical reporting.
Baker walks readers through the radical nature of fatshion and the act of resistance that is dressing in styles culturally deemed "unsuitable" for your body. She smashes the notion that fat babes do not find wonderful partners, or have really hot sex. She deconstructs pervasive and harmful myths about health.
Thrown in throughout the book are "The Fat People: Do All The Things! Challenges," which encourage plus size readers to do all that which they've been taught is impossible at their size. These include everything from swinging on a swing set to turning your body into art, be it by painting pictures of yourself or allowing a professional to take your photograph.
Her words are accompanied by those of brilliant guest writers, including Sonya Renee Taylor, Sam Dylan Finch, and Bruce Sturgell.
If you love a book with excellent visuals, Bethany Rutter's Plus+ is a must-have. A collection of 110 plus-size street style photos alongside the influencers' quotes on style, bodies, and resistance, this one's for those who prefer to learn by looking at striking imagery.
As women and femmes, we are constantly bombarded by cultural assessments of our figures, our clothes, and our choices. Whether thin or fat, this is a universal truth. Although Plus+ is, above all, a book about style, what the imagery within it proves is that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to exist in one's body. Plus size women, in particular, are too often told that they do not "deserve" the sartorial options available to their thinner counterparts. Every individual in Plus+ has a different narrative to share.
4. Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight
Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon, $12.45, Amazon
Health researcher and professor Linda Bacon's Health At Every Size deserves a spot on the bookshelf of anyone who's ever felt duped by diet culture, the medical community, or any intersection of the two. The contents of this one will require some time to sit with, process, and maybe re-read a few times thereafter — but the end result is incredibly worthwhile.
Among the most useful topics within the book are arguably its analysis of just how very unhealthy weight loss advice and treatment can be, and has historically been, whether that's prescribed diet pills or gastric bypass procedures.
She also takes us through myths and realities surrounding supposedly "healthy" versus "unhealthy" foods, in the aid of allowing us to make decisions that actually benefit our bodies.
She deconstructs the idea of a "healthy" or "goal weight," and instead offers a picture of what might happen if we each learn to listen to our own individual bodies and impulses.
She further points out the hypocrisy of a medical industrial complex that will so readily focus on the way fatness "may lead to diseases" that it fails to mention the many ways fatness can actually protect us from other diseases, including lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis, anemia, Type 1 diabetes, premature menopause, and osteoporosis.
5. Hunger: A Memoir Of My Body
Writer Roxane Gay's memoir of her body is, at times, a challenging read, in large part because she doesn't hold back. As a plus size woman of color, her body is constantly under attack, constantly thought of as a problem to be solved. Yet in its vastness and strength, it has also protected her. It has served as her armor after trauma.
Gay tells readers pretty early on into the book that hers is not a story of success. There is no "body transformation" at the end of the narrative, nor is there a sense of newfound self-love.
Hers is a story with no concrete resolution or bright lights at the end of tunnels. It's the story of living one's life in a marginalized body, and all the harshness that comes with that. Although she grows to intellectually understand that fatness is not deplorable, ugly, nor worthless, she never claims to enjoy the way she looks or feels. Still, the former feels like a success in and of itself. An understanding that's worth pursuing.
6. Big Gal Yoga: Poses And Practices To Celebrate Your Body And Empower Your Life
Big Gal Yoga: Poses And Practices To Celebrate Your Body And Empower Your Life by Valerie Sagun, $12.91, Amazon
When you are plus size, you often exist at the center of infinite contradictions. Among them, the exercise predicament.
On the one hand, people often demand that we participate in fitness. They want proof that we are striving to be "healthy," and ideally that we'd like to drop a few dress sizes while doing so.
On the other hand, many don't want to see us participate in those physical activities. Visibly fat individuals are frequently harassed and laughed out of gyms. We're asked "why we're even bothering." Sometimes we're told outright that fat human beings are not physically capable of participating in fitness.
Of course, our ability to participate in fitness should not be a prerequisite for basic tolerance. Much like some thinner people, some of us can't work out — and that's OK.
For those who are able to and interested in working out, however, Valerie Sagun's Big Gal Yoga: Poses And Practices To Celebrate Your Body And Empower Your Life is wonderfully inspiring.
Sagun disproves any notion that one can be "too fat" to do yoga, that fat people cannot possibly be bendy, or that fat people can never participate in physical activity unless the end-goal is weight loss. The imagery is memorable, and a reminder that our figures don't always create limitations.
7. Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls On Life, Love, & Fashion
Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls On Life, Love, & Fashion by Virgie Tovar, $12.57, Amazon
Edited by Virgie Tovar, one of the most renowned voices in fat studies and body politics, Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls On Life, Love, & Fashion is dedicated "to all the fat girls who feel they must apologize. And to all of those who don't."
Published in 2012, it is a collection of essays on everything from the intersections of fatness and race, to what it's actually like to attend a BBW party, to the exploration of one's sexuality while in a fat body, to the importance of giving no f*cks when it comes to getting dressed in the morning.
Tovar brings together powerful voices like Rachel Kacenjar, Sydney Lewis, Kitty Stryker, and more to create a compilation of stories that'll embolden readers in the dressing room, boardroom, and bedroom alike.
It is almost impossible to find fictional plus size characters in books, shows, or movies whose narratives don't revolve solely around self-hate; who — shocker! — maybe even like themselves. This is precisely why Sarai Walker's Dietland is the only work of fiction on this list. Although protagonist Plum starts her journey enveloped in self-condemnation, hers is a story about the discovery of feminism, of boldness, and of living life by one's own rules.
Plum's storyline is filled with moments that many visibly fat people IRL will no doubt relate to: sh*tty dates that end up with being told "you're fatter than they thought you'd be," asshats on the street mocking your sweet outfit, or being the butt of someone's cruel prank.
Even so, Plum ends up learning that she has a right to the space to occupies; that she deserves to wear purple tights and combat boots; that she was never the problem at all.
9. Body Positive Power: How To Stop Dieting, Make Peace With Your Body, And Live
Body Positive Power: How To Stop Dieting, Make Peace With Your Body, And Live by Megan Jayne Crabbe, $16.72, Amazon
As someone who has struggled with disordered eating, it's sometimes difficult to take "tips to loving your body" on board when they are limited to cliche affirmations or "just look in the mirror and tell yourself that you're awesome" platitudes. Social media star, author, and anorexia survivor Megan Jayne Crabbe, however, regularly finds ways to discuss her journey that don't feel manufactured or flippant.
Body Positive Power delves into the transformative properties of self-love, but it also deconstructs diet culture, smashes the idea of a "bikini body," and offers personal anecdotes that end in a call to arms for us all. There is no reason that any study should be able to find that 97 percent of women dislike the way they look, and Crabbe's words — much like those of the books above — are a reminder that none of us need to fall into that category.