What We Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon

Oh my word, y’all! This book truly sings to me on so many levels. While reading this, I just kept thinking, “Yes, Queen!” Aubrey Gordon is venturing into a highly contentious territory and putting herself out there in defiance of the legions of fat-phobic haters and trolls who just don’t get it and, sadly, probably never will.

On a personal note, I have been dealing with my own fat-phobic beliefs against myself and others for many, many years. I’ve been giving money to the diet industry with hopes of chasing that high of losing a ton of weight and getting back into my size 8 jeans, which are still mocking me in my closet. Needless to say, I still have a lot of unpacking to do with my therapist, but I’m getting there. When she recommended this book, I knew it would be a cathartic experience, especially since I have been packing on the pounds over the years and dealing with many of the same issues Aubrey writes about in this amazing book that I’m going to call a tour de force! What issues, you ask? I will enlighten you by breaking it down like this:

Overly Praising Fat People

In Aubrey’s book, she talks about her experiences with “othering” when well-meaning people praise her for being “so brave” to wear a certain outfit in public. Mind you, the sensible belted black dress she’s wearing is far from risqué, but yet someone just had to point out that it takes “bravery” to wear it at a public event in a larger than average body. I cannot tell you how validating it felt to read about this awful experience because I’ve been there too. Just yesterday, I was pulled aside by a fellow athlete at an all-women triathlon who just had to tell me, “You did so great, and I’m truly inspired.” These are really nice words, aren’t they? I would’ve been flattered if I did something remarkable, like placing in the top three or just smoking everybody on the course. But to be honest, I did a mediocre job at best. So, what is it about my performance that “inspired” this person so much? Oh, I don’t know…is it because I’m a good 30 to 50 pounds heavier than the average triathlete? You may be thinking that I’m being overly sensitive and that her comments really were genuine, but I never received praise like this from strangers until I gained three extra dress sizes. Thanks so much, lady, for reminding me that I don’t look like I belong. Awesome.

Trauma Trolling and Food Shaming:

One of the many important lessons Aubrey points out in this book is that food- and fat-shaming people is counterproductive. All of my life, the “mother figures” have supervised my eating, telling me things like,” Honey, don’t put that much cereal in your bowl. That’s how people get fat.” I’d like to say that this is a thing of the past now that those women have been cut out of my life, but yet I still get that “concerned” friend who says at the dinner table, “So how’s Weight Watchers going?” or “You already had one mimosa, do you really want to add on more calories?” So yes, Aubrey, I see you and I hear you when you talk about those seemingly well-meaning strangers and family members who nitpick your food choices! All the while, our thin friends are eating just as much, maybe even more, without getting any heat from “concerned” friends. That must be nice, huh?

Now onto the trauma trolling. I never even thought of this concept until I read about it in this book, but it is A THING. Have you ever watched the voyeuristic fat-phobic-fueling TV show called “My 600 LB Life”? Well, if you have, you can probably recall that they make it a point to delve into a traumatic backstory that explains the person’s troubled relationship with food. Because fat people must be completely broken and shattered inside get that way, right? They couldn’t possibly have anything to do with genetics or other contributing factors.

 It’s so important for people to have all the answers as to why people are fat. It must all have to do with trauma because why else would they let it get so out of control? I found this chapter to be particularly fascinating because it unpacks the psyche of fat-phobia—and how people feel they need to have all the answers so they can judge others and, deep down, find ways to avoid their deepest fears of becoming fat themselves. And that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it? It’s about them, not the objects of their “concerns.”  Absolutely fascinating stuff, I tell you!

Being Fat = Less Than

All my life, I have been taught that thin people can have it all. My EXTREMELY fat-phobic aunt (no longer in my life, thank you very much!) would often say things like, “Oh, Jessie, if you could lose some weight, you can get a boyfriend.” When I did lose the weight—so much that I ended up losing my period—my uncle praised me for finally getting my act together and becoming a success. Let me tell you, my short-lived stint as a skinny college girl was quite nice. My coworkers wanted to hang out with me after work. I was scouted by modeling agencies at the mall. Cute boys would smile and open the door for me. I felt like I was really worth something. I was a success! If you can fit into the feminine ideal, the world is such a nice and inviting place. Why? Because the diet industry and corporate America in general has fed our beliefs into equating thinness as the pinnacle of success–a triumph, the American F*****G dream! Fat people, however, get to the butts of jokes in rom coms (even to this day), and they’re universally believed to be sexually undesirable, unless for those like “Shallow Hal” who have been hypnotized to see fat women as foxy ladies. Cringe.

“I choose to believe that fat people can be genuinely attractive, truly loved, actually lovable, sincerely wanted.”

― Aubrey Gordon

Fat-Phobic Doctors

I think a lot of people, even those who are just slightly overweight, can relate with the chapter in this book that delves into our ubiquitously fat-phobic medical industry. Back when I was just a tad over my “healthy weight” (whatever arbitrary number that is), my doctors were already pushing diets on me. Most recently, my primary care doc advised me to go on some Whole 30 diet, which I later learned is a short-term diagnostic diet not a “sustainable” weight loss program.  I use the word “sustainable” lightly because—guess what?! Just a tiny fragment of the dieters can actually sustain their goal weight for a lengthy amount of time, no matter what diet they’re on. Don’t believe me? Google it.

What bothers me the most about this is that people are not getting treated for real ailments that have nothing to do with their weight. In fact, people actually die from undetected conditions because their doctors attach all their symptoms to their “unhealthy weight.” This is some scary stuff, my friends. And good luck finding a doctor who gets it because they are few and far between.

“I’m just concerned for your health. I’m concerned for your health, so I have to tell you, again and again, that you’re going to die. I’m concerned for your health, so I have to tell you that no one will love you at your size. I’m concerned for your health, so I cannot treat you with basic respect.”

― Aubrey Gordon

The Everyday Haters and Trolls

When you’re fat, you are a member of an oppressed community. That’s just how it is. People have very, VERY strong opinions about what fat people should do, and how they should feel when they’re insulted and marginalized on a continuous basis. Guys, didn’t you know that it’s all very easy? Didn’t you know that the answer is to just get off your lazy ass and lose the weight? Didn’t you know that you are the result of your own victimhood? Didn’t you know that you’re just an annoying little snowflake? I’m being facetious here, but you get the gist, right? As an athlete, I am obsessed with cycling and love to get tips on the Bicycle World Facebook page. Unfortunately, that page is rife with fat-shamers who are enraged when they see stories about fat cyclists. They don’t bother to read the stories, but when they see images of 300-plus cyclists smiling and having fun on their bikes, they just see red! The fat acceptance movement is a very triggering subject for athletes, particularly the elite cycling community, which is comprised mostly of affluent white males. Against my better judgement, I scroll through the comments and find gems like “Oh great, we have to be woke about fat people on bikes?” or “More people finding reasons to be victims.” I’ve noticed that in a lot of people spouting their vitriol against oppressed communities often default to the word “victim.” It’s  a tried-and-true way to shut a conversation down by slapping a label on it. This is a great tactic for those who do not wish to think constructively or openly about a complex issue. Why? Well, hell, it’s just easier. Just slap a label on it, feel smug and superior, then crawl back under the rock from whence you came.

Don’t even get me started on the “biking for weight loss” success story posts that juxtapose the “before and after” shots depicting a sad, miserable fat person morphing into a “healthier” thin happy person. Heaven forbid people just bike, run and swim for fun without a means to an end.

Either way, our society has a very unhealthy aggression toward fat people that Aubrey alludes to in her book, especially in her opening chapter when she described the abject hostility she faced by her seatmate and fellow passengers on a plane. People are just furious about fat people, and they all have the answer: lose the weight and stop complaining. Well golly, I had no idea I could do that. Let me go flip the “lose weight” button on my brain and get rolling.

“I guess if you hate it that much, you should just lose weight. But despite its ubiquity in conversations about fatness and fat people, that is the logic of abuse. You made me do this. I wouldn’t hurt you if you didn’t make me.”

― Aubrey Gordon

I sure wish I could sit next to Aubrey on the plane so we could talk about this book for hours—and I would love to pick her brain on writing in general. Aside from the knowledge bombs she drops in every chapter, she is a phenomenal writer—way above my caliber.  I try to avoid using the word “brave” because it is almost always used in a backhanded way, but what she’s doing with this book and her podcast is indeed brave. She is speaking her truth—and the truths of many—knowing that she will have to face some really nasty trolls.  It’s hard for me to even write this post because it’s not easy telling the world that I’m fat. We have all been taught to be ashamed of how we look, to believe that we are less than, to apologize for inconveniencing others. This blog post is my first step to putting myself out there and speaking for my fat friends—and most of all—thanking Aubrey Gordon for writing this book and continuing this dialogue through her My Fat Friend podcast!

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