Are you weary of the weight-loss treadmill? Ever think, can't I just go for a run because it feels great, not because it burns 100 calories per mile? Do you question beauty standards passed down from the patriarchy which dictated the mores and manners of our mothers' mothers and wonder whether a calorie is really always just a calorie? If you've read articles like the recent New York Times piece about Biggest Loser winners' metabolisms gone haywire from extreme weight loss, you might be beginning to question the supposed infallibility of the Diet Industrial Complex. Here are a few books, straight off the Mechanics' Institute Library shelves, to get you started thinking about your own body and the bodies of others in a whole new light.
Shall we begin with the divine inspiration that is Lindy West? Jenny Lawson, author of Let's Pretend This Never Happened and Furiously Happy, calls West's book, “Required reading if you are a feminist. Recommended reading if you aren’t.”
Shrill by Lindy West
Like the best comedians, West cuts through the cultural B.S. to illuminate just how surreal certain elements of culture have become, illustrating the many intersections of absurdity, and how a feminist perspective provides a firm grounding in what makes sense, and what is ridiculous enough to be laughable. And you’ll laugh a lot, as you explore the nuances of body politics, reproductive rights, and internet trolls with your delightful guide to modern feminist thought, Lindy West!
Get thinky with a collection of pieces that'll expose you to a diversity of scholarly perspectives in the field of fat studies.
The Fat Studies Reader edited by Esther Rothblum and Sondra Solovay, with a foreword by Marilyn Wann, of the iconic zine FAT?SO!
For decades, a growing cadre of researchers has examined the role of body weight in society, critiquing underlying assumptions, prejudices, and the effects of how people perceive and interact with fat. Including forty studies spanning diverse perspectives on fatness, this book collects the essential texts of the field. Edited by two leaders in fat studies, this is an essential resource to begin exploring the key ideas and perspectives of thinkers in this field.
Now that you've got the undergirding philosophy down, get a bit of science under your belt with these books analyzing the research:
Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss and the Myths and Realities of Dieting by Gina Kolata
A New York Times science writer uses medical research and incisive reportage to show that culture’s obsession with dieting and weight loss is less about health than about money, power, fashion trends, and impossible ideals.
The Obesity Paradox by Carl Lavie, MD
The term "obesity epidemic" is a common buzz-phrase in the national conversation on health, but Dr. Lavie challenges assumptions about the relationship of weight and health in this book, which uses medical research to posit that, among other things, body mass index isn't the authoritative measure of health that we commonly believe it to be.
The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health by Paul Campos
Is your weight hazardous to your health? Campos dissects the medical studies, interrogates doctors, scientists, and psychologists, and makes a compelling argument that we safeguard our health not by focusing on the number on the scale, but by being more active, and rejecting the weight loss hysteria that feeds the diet industry's profit margins.
If you're ready to move on to personal body politics, start with the work of two writers from the front lines of the early-aughts fat-o-sphere, a community of bloggers who decided to reclaim the word "fat" as an adjective of empowerment.
Lessons From the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby
The bad news: there probably isn’t a thin person inside you waiting to get out. Good news: there just might be a happy, confident, awesome fat person in there! If the idea that “fat” is just a descriptor -- like “thin” or “tall” or "blonde” is a descriptor -- is a new concept you'd like to explore, begin here. Dig into ideas like: health includes mental well-being, physical well-being is determined by your activity level, not your BMI, oh, and one more thing: there is no moral imperative to be focused more heavily (pun intended) on one’s physical health than on other areas of one’s life. Whether couch surfer or gym rat, fat people have a right to take up space too!
It's key, at this point, to get used to looking at fat bodies, to begin "normalizing" all bodies in your mind. Check out publications like BUST, a feminist culture magazine, in our periodicals department. This magazine includes people of all sizes in their fashion layouts, and -- BONUS -- it includes interesting pieces on music, books, movies, celebrities, and current issues/events that you won't see elsewhere, from the silly to the sublime. There's also a vibrant culture of fashion blogs out there on the world wide web to explore, like French fashion model Clementine Dessaux's bonjourclem and blogger Gisella Francisca's eponymous blog. Not to leave men out of this dialogue, check out menswear designer Michael-Anthony's blog The Big Fashion Guy.
By now, I hope you're loving your body no matter what shape it's in. If you find yourself itching to get moving, check out Hanne Blank's book.
The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts by Hanne Blank
The author writes, “Exercise is not important because it’ll make you thin (it won’t necessarily do anything of the kind) or because it’ll give you perfect and enduring health (it won’t necessarily do that either)… [Exercise] is crucially important because it is something that makes it possible for you and your body to coexist in better and more integrated ways. It builds a bridge across the mind-body split.”
This guide is both philosophical and practical, including lists like “30 Things to Love about Exercise (None of Which Have Anything to Do with…What You Look Like)”, a chapter on common sports injuries and what to do about them, and mantras such as “Claim the right to be unattractive (just like anybody else).” Inspiring and useful, this book is for everyone who’d like to become more active without obsessing over the scale, and for anyone who’d like to achieve health at any size.
Whether you're "overweight", "underweight", or anywhere in between, these books might make you question the accepted dogma about weight and health, and embark on a life lived well...at every size!