A new book aims to help you love your body-or at least declare a truce with it-one step at a time.
Wed Jun 3 2009
Illustration: Emily Flake
Marianne Kirby and Kate Harding are two of the best-known writers in the “fat-o-sphere,” a collection of blogs that advocate for fat acceptance, or the idea that a person’s size does not determine his or her health or worth. After several years of blogging at their respective sites—Kirby maintains the Rotund (therotund.com), while Harding is the founder of Shapely Prose (kateharding.net)—the pair are bringing the idea that you can accept your body, no matter its size, to the masses in a new book, Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body. “There’s a reason why the subhead says 'Declare a truce with your body,’ instead of 'love your body’—we know the latter is hardly a realistic short-term goal,” says Harding. “But a truce just might be doable.”
How did you get involved in the fat acceptance (FA) movement?
Marianne Kirby: It wasn’t until 2007—I’d hit a point a few years earlier where hating my body and myself just seemed like the most counterproductive thing I could possibly be doing.
Kate Harding: My interest was sparked by reading Paul Campos’s The Obesity Myth in 2004, but it took a few years before my emotions caught up with my intellect. At first, it was just like, Fat acceptance is a brilliant concept—for everyone except me.
Have you faced opposition from friends and family?
MK: I’ve lost a few casual friends over it, actually. And, really, if you’re going to stop being my friend because I think dieting is ridiculous, I guess we weren’t such good friends anyway!
KH: I’ve faced far less opposition from friends and family than I expected. About 99 percent of my loved ones were like, “Wait, you don’t hate yourself anymore? Halle-frickin’-lujah.”
The book is less political than your blogs—was this a conscious choice?
MK: I think of the book as stealth body politics. We’ve presented a lot of really practical steps for people to take to help them reach a better place with their body—that’s internal body politics.
KH: Let’s face it—it’s a self-help book. We both realized how much our younger selves would have loved to have had a book that not only said, “Yes, it’s okay to love your fat body,” but also, “Here are some practical suggestions for pulling off that seemingly impossible task.”
Can you explain the concept of Health at Every Size (HAES)?
MK: It’s the idea that everyone, no matter what their body size and shape, can pursue an individual idea of health. Health isn’t a moral obligation, but if you’re interested in being healthy, weight isn’t a barrier.
KH: The point is to feel as healthy and balanced as possible, mentally and physically, even if it doesn’t make you thinner (which it probably won’t).
How has HAES helped you?
MK: HAES has really helped separate fitness from the pursuit of weight loss for me.
KH: I think the biggest single positive change for me has been dropping the idea that there are “good” foods and “bad” foods.
What advice do you have for people who want to embrace HAES?
MK: Take the time to find a doctor who embraces HAES as well. It’s a lot easier to care for yourself when your health-care provider is on the same page.
KH: Give it time and be patient with yourself. The reality often involves undoing a whole lot of emotional baggage, and that’s not always an easy process.
What would you ultimately like readers to gain from the book?
MK: A lot of diets are positioned as finally taking control of your body, but it really is the opposite. When I stopped [dieting], when I started listening to my body and reengaging with it, that’s when I really took control of my own life. And I want that for people.
KH: If they can walk away from it thinking, Holy crap, there might be another way besides hating myself and periodically starving to atone for my fat, I figure we’ve done our jobs.
Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body ($13.95) is out now.
MEET ’EM Harding and Kirby will be at a book launch/shopping party at plus-size vintage shop Re/Dress (redressnyc.com) on Fri 5 at 6:30pm.
On the other hand...
Meme Roth is the president of National Action Against Obesity, a nonprofit organization that has gained notoriety for its campaigns against obesity and junk food (including a recent boycott of Girl Scout cookies). Roth shares her views on the fat acceptance movement below.
“I grew up with obesity and saw firsthand the hopes, dreams and health robbed from the people I love most. Saying we eat healthfully and exercise properly means very little when our bodies confess otherwise. Nine times out of ten, overweight and obesity are due to lifestyle choices. Every reputable doctor in the country will tell you that obesity increases your risk for disease and premature death—if you are overweight or obese, you’re already sick. Anyone who is overweight or obese should focus on reducing his or her risk for disease and premature death—that means eating mostly plant-based foods, drinking water and exercising an hour a day, every day. These behaviors will not only improve a person’s odds for better health, but likely will result in some loss of extra fat. Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size are reckless and misleading messages; the message we should be spreading is to eat properly, drink water and exercise daily.”