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?