Wednesday, June 7, 2017

!4 Paragraphs about 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

This part doesn't count--it's just where I explain that this is not a review so much as a reflection on what the book got me thinking about.  Hence no summary or rating and very little analysis of the writing.

13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl was a complicated, thought-provoking read for me.  I feel like my life has the opposite trajectory of Lizzie/Beth/Liz/Elizabeth's. There are areas where we intersect, areas where we are fun-house reflections of each other, and areas where I don't recognize myself in her at all.

I was never a fat girl.  I was what I then thought of as "normal" and now think of as "thin."  I wore size ten clothes, but bought tops in small because I was so flat.  I never dieted, and although I was active--hiking, dancing, swimming--it was only for fun, not for exercise.  My mom and three sisters were the same.  If Mom put on a couple of pounds, she'd cut back on sugar in her coffee, and that would do the trick.  The rest of us basically didn't worry about it.  

But bodies change as they age.  I remember Mom having a soft, rounded tummy when she was in her 40s, although she became a stringy old lady later on, whittled thin by a season of training to walk a marathon and kept that way by daily brisk walks with her dog.  Two of my sisters, the ones who had babies, also put on some pounds in their 40s.  One got  really sick and lost a bunch of weight, then kept it off by dint of active living--still not going so far as to "work out," but making conscious choices about walking more, gardening more, and generally moving her body daily.  The other eventually went on one of those serious diets that require specific meal plans, and it seems to be working for her.  Our oldest sister, the tallest one, has always stayed thin, always been disciplined in her eating habits.  Still not a dieter or gym rat, although she went through a stage where she and her husband were going dancing 6 nights a week, and they are still stay active with dance.

In my 30s, I put on some 15-20 pounds over time, went up a size, lost most of the weight while living overseas for a year, then put all of it back on within months of returning, back to driving instead of walking everywhere.  Size 12 correlates to Large in most sizing, but I still didn't think of myself as a large woman.  Larger than some, sure, but not objectively LARGE.

Then, three years ago, I went up from a size 12 to a size 20 in about eight months, and I've only gained since then--more slowly, but still.  I'm not thin.  I'm not average.  I'm not even large.  I am XXL, a fat American woman.   Obese.  

And it means something, to be fat.  But it doesn't mean the same thing that it would have meant to grow up fat.  I am constantly surprised to see photos of myself--is that what I look like?--because I still haven't internalized the reality of my appearance.  I hit middle age before I got fat, so I'd already lost whatever amount of male gaze I attracted, which honestly was never all that much in the first place.  I'm married to someone who thinks I'm wonderful, and we've been together long enough that "hotness" isn't something we evaluate each other on.  I don't need to be convinced that I am worthwhile at any size, because--duh.  I know  There are things I like better about myself at this point in my life than even five years ago, and my weight has no bearing on that.  Colleagues and friends don't treat me any differently.  I look different, but that's the only change.

And yet.

Somehow growing up, I was taught that women who work out are trying to hard, that women who diet don't know how to enjoy life, AND that women who are fat are lazy slobs.  This obviously makes no sense, on top of being misogynistic and judgmental.  But you see my quandary, right?  I'm a lazy slob but it's beneath me to diet or work out.  I'm pretty sure that I could just bury this in another bowl of ice cream and live in denial, but it turns out there are down sides to being fat besides self-image and cultural shaming.  

It's hard to tie my shoes, clip my toenails, pick up what I dropped, and anything else that requires bending over my copious midsection.

I'm tired all the time, so I don't do even "my" forms of exercising, which means I'm getting weaker and weaker, which I'm pretty sure is why I'm tired all the time.

Bras suck.  I went a good 15-20 years braless, because there was no need.  Now there's a need, and I hate wearing bras.  

Chub rub is real, and it hurts a lot more than you'd think.  

My kids totally notice my weight, and I feel like I'm being a poor role model for them.

So to read a book like this, in which the main character has such a complicated relationship to her fatness, and in which she gives up so much in her pursuit of thinness, gives me pause.  I can't see myself going to the extremes of diet or exercise the main character does--is it worth it?  Why do other people get so invested in her weight or weight loss?  Is it harder to be the recently slimmed down daughter of a fat mother, or the recently obese daughter of a thin mother?   Was her husband attracted to her because of or despite her bulk, and does their relationship falter because of her internal or external changes?  The author has a lot to say about female friendship and weight, and this is an area where I feel like I was on the opposite side of the equation for the stages of life covered here.  But now, a colleague says, "You know how it is when you're heavy" as she's telling her story of being dragged along on a hike, and I wonder what to make of that.  


  1. Sounds like an interesting book. My weight seems to be connected to depression. I was a chubby, depressed teenager. Then I lost a bunch of weight in college. Then I slowly started gaining weight in grad school. Then I went on new antidepressant medicine and gained a ton of weight quickly. I’ve gone from a size 4 to a size 10 in the last few years. I exercise almost every day, but I’m terrible at controlling my eating because I love food too much.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. I've meant to tackle this one. I was a normal size until depression hit in my early adulthood. I'm a 16-20 depending on the brand. It sucks. I got 70 lbs off at about 40 by running. That isn't possible anymore due to my knees. With menopause it's even harder. My daughter was a cheerleader, is gorgeous. I think we both accept each other and cope because she is adopted and knows she'll never deal with the body I have, that is just like my mother's. Good post.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I've gained 60+ pounds in the last couple of years, and I am struggling more than ever before trying to take it off - which I know I need to do to feel better physically and mentally. I'm definitely going to pick this book up!


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