Sunday, April 27, 2008

what makes a book a big fat success?

Reflecting on my review yesterday, it strikes me that the good and helpful weight-loss memoirs I've read (Jennette's and Shauna's, for two examples, see also Wendy and Frances) have not followed the comfortable Chubby-to-Cinderella formula (Girl Eats Too Much, Girl Diets and Exercises Diligently, Girl Systematically Gets Thin and Gets Life) too closely. I'm not sure whether there is a memoir that follows that formula that wasn't forced to fit it to serve some celebrity's fat-to-fabulous-diet-spokeswoman narrative needs (Kirstie, Carnie, Valerie, yes, I'm talking to you).

There are two lessons to be learned here. The first seems to be that life doesn't work like that, which is so obvious but also somehow impossible for us to absorb. Most of us berate ourselves when our life doesn't follow a nice, linear model as we progress rapidly and flawlessly to our goal.

The other is that though the weight loss is a really important part of the self-discovery process documented in the memoirs, it's not the only point. Tackling fear, self-doubt, and excessive self-consciousness is as much a part of this process as sorting out a calorie-control and exercise plan. There is a self-centered nature to the Before lives documented in these memoirs. I'm not saying that they were egomaniacs, but they were painfully aware of their every shortcoming and seemed to think all eyes were on them, waiting for them to fail. So, basically, they were like a lot of us. Getting real and realizing that there is a big, giant world out there and that they wanted to be one of the ordinary people in it, instead of the star of a "I'm the Fattest Person in the World" psychodrama was at least as important as the actual weight loss. To some extent, the weight loss which kicks off this process becomes less central to our heroines as they start to find a purpose to their lives beyond reaching a specific number on the scale. Not one of these memoirs ends with the heroine hitting the exact weight goal she has chosen for herself, but generally she has had enough other victories to consider herself a success.

Would it be possible to jump ahead to the self-acceptance and big-picture perspective without losing the weight? That's the $10,000,000 question, I suppose, and has been the cause for a lot of debate. I think it might be hard. There is a lot of crap out there for even the moderately overweight to deal with, and the disapproving stares of strangers would be a constant rebuke if you are 100+ pounds overweight, enough to validate the internal drama surrounding your weight. Once you cross some imaginary threshold into Fat But Acceptable, you can sort of blend into the general landscape of Ordinary Overweight, and not have strangers examining your shopping cart to figure out what is to blame for your size. Even if you are determined not to care what others think, these kinds of things would tend to keep weight in the foreground, to the point of distracting from everything else, no matter how important everything else is. Some small measure of sanity about food, and activity that feels good and empowering, can also free up a lot of psychic energy.

Lots of stuff to think about here, as I try to pull these threads together and find my own balance and sanity with food and exercise, with mixed success. Also, I'm working from a limited pool of weight-loss memoirs here. So I'd be curious to hear what others would have to say about these books, and others in the genre. Am I missing anything?


  1. It seems like that was what kind the "Fat acceptance" movement (there seems to be a lot of terms for this movement) is going for, the self acceptance and feeling like a million bucks with out having to lose 100 pounds or whatever the case may be, you know, as long as the person is healthy. But I don't know if I could do that. I feel better about myself than I did forty pounds ago, but I don't know if that is because I weigh less or because I'm a healthier person and I'm dealing with my issues.

    I also think that PastaQueen hit on it in that memoirs and blogs, you get to be a part of the journey. Also, the people who wrote them are everyday sort of people, not the sort the paparazzi are swarming. As a general rule they don't have the means to have a personal trainer and a private nutritionist to help them every step of the way. Unlike J-Lo, who was expected to lose baby weight in what, two months, these people have the room to screw up without someone calling them on it.

    And my that was a long comment for my first comment on your blog, sorry. :)

  2. Hi, i just found your blog. i'm reading a book, "Slow Fat Triathlete" that's not so much a weight loss memoir as a triathlon one but it's just so well written, down to earth and has really encouraged me a lot.

    Anyway, I'm so impressed about your reaching your goal weight. I'll be following your maintenance as that's what I'm most nervous about.

  3. I've been reading your blog for the last couple of days and I had to comment on this post. First of all, thank you for the review of Jeanette's book, I'm going to have to pick it up and take a look. I like the witty comments that I've seen so far from it. As I read this post it was the part about the concern of people reviewing your shopping cart for what you're doing wrong that struck me so hard. I haven't experienced that so much as I feel like people review what is in my cart and look and me and wonder why I'm fat. I buy healthy, I purchase the right things ... and then we eat out several times a week. That is where I go wrong. But I often feel like I want to scream - "I'm trying here ok? Don't judge!" It is like ordering a whopper, fries and a DIET coke. I get laughed at for this. HELLO? My husband is diabetic we only drink diet soda and now my taste buds can't handle regular soda it is a sugar rush in a can for me. Ugh...why do we do this to ourselves? Anyway, I wanted to post a comment and say hi.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07