Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living
I was really hoping that by the end of the writing process, my editor would have suggested some really clever way to open this book since I’m at a complete loss as to how to do this myself. But alas, no cigar. So you’re stuck with me, and this is what I came up with: Hey there! I’m Jes Baker and if you’ve heard of me, I’m really glad you’re here. And if you haven’t heard of me? That’s cool, too. Given that you just picked up a book with the words “fat” and “unapologetic” (two of my favorites), there’s a good chance that this could be the start of a beautiful new friendship.
Yep. That’s all I got.
After that informationless opening you might be wondering if this book is for you, and I want to save you time, so lemme break it down for ya: if you are a person who has spent your entire life feeling horrible about your body and you think that self-hatred kinda sucks, this book is for you. If you’re interested in this totally bizarre concept called body love that you keep hearing about on Upworthy and BuzzFeed and you wanna know what it’s all about, this book is for you. If you’re intimidated by academic texts but still want to have a conversation about body acceptance, this book is for you. If you feel the need to hold something that says you’re a valuable person (just as you are, right now) and reading websites just doesn’t cut it, this book is for you. If you need a refresher course on why loving your body is not only possible, but critical, this book is for you. If you’re a “fat” chick (who might be scared of that word) and you’re convinced that your body is bad and holding you back from living an amazing life, this book is for you. If you’re looking for a book that might offend your sensitivities at some point and has more italicized and capitalized words than you know what to do with . . . this book is SO for you.
If you are a person with a body who is tired of being shamed and told to shape up, slim down, camouflage, alter against your will, or make apologies for your body . . . THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU.
If you’re still here, welcome. I’ve got a lot of important shit to share with you. But first, a few things about me, because we’ve established that we’re about to become friends, after all.
Things you can find if you Google me:
1.I write a blog called The Militant Baker, and it’s about body image, feminism, “fatshion,” and mental health.
2.I wore badass saddle shoes when I was six.
3.I did a really famous photo campaign and challenged Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO to do a shirtless photo shoot with a fat chick. (Yep, I did that. He never responded, but he expressed that he was sorry he said rude things about fat girls, and to now make up for it the company will take your money if you want them to. See Chapter 10 for more dirty details.)
4.I have three cats and I love them more than almost anything.
5.I swear. A LOT.
6.I founded a conference once, for body love discussions to happen IRL (in real life).
Things that actually matter here and now:
No really, that’s the most important thing.
Yes, I am also intelligent, snarky, kind, radical, compassionate, self-starting, outgoing, funny, opinionated, cheerful, loud, and a million other things. But here and now, I want to talk about the thing that strangers see first, the thing that I’m judged on the most. The reason I’m here writing this book right now: I’m pretty damn fat.
I know what you’re thinking. But Jes, don’t call yourself fat! You’re just chubby. Fluffy. Curvy. Chunky. Plus-size. (Insert additional euphemisms here.)
Naw girl, I’m Fat.
Here’s why I use the “f-word” ALL THE TIME: the word “fat” is not inherently bad. It’s an adjective. It’s a benign descriptor of size. As Marianne Kirby explains, “‘Fat’ means adipose tissue. ‘Fat’ means ‘having a lot of adipose tissue.’ There are no other words that mean precisely those things in precisely those ways.”1 Saying “I’m fat” is (and should be) the same as saying my shoes are black, the clouds are fluffy, and Bob Saget is tall. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is. The only negativity that this word carries is that which has been socially constructed around it; our aversion is completely learned. It’s our association that is disparaging, and this is what we must change. We don’t need to stop using the word “fat,” we need to stop the hatred that our world connects with the word “fat.” So I use it (often—you’ll read it over 370 times in this book), because I have decided that it’s my word now. And the more I use it positively, the more stigma I smash.
Now, I don’t ever walk up to strangers and say “Hey Fatty!” Because, we haven’t found a way to normalize it in the mainstream, there is a really good chance that the word is still offensive to them. But me calling myself fat? Ain’t no thang. I even find the word empowering. Someone tries to insult me by calling me “fat”? I just say, “Yep. And?”
I have a fat body, and I think it’s quite lovely.
But because our society still thinks that fat bodies are especially vile, I’m automatically put into several kinds of “boxes.” Boxes with darling labels like cultural deviant—a freak of physical nature. Or embarrassment to society—when strangers or extended family moan and groan about the horrific obesity crisis in America? Yeah, they are talking about me. I’m also your worst nightmare. I’m the reason you diet. I’m the reason you go to the gym. I’m your “thinspiration” . . . because, god knows, you do not want to end up like me.
If you’re fat too, you probably know what I’m talking about.
A few years ago I decided I would no longer accept these negative labels. After a breakup for which my body was blamed, I found myself at a critical impasse, a metaphorical fork in the road. I knew that I needed to carefully choose, right then and there, which path I was going to take: continue to hate my body, or learn to love my body.
It really was that black and white. I wasn’t (and still am not) going to lose 110 pounds overnight and suddenly be “okay.” So I made the best decision of my life: I decided to love my body. And then I decided to write about it online. These decisions instigated a transformation for me and (as a result) for the millions of people that have read the ridiculous shit I post. Since then, I’ve become completely enveloped in the world of body activism, and, as it turns out . . . that world is one I very much need.
The Militant Baker was not my first attempt at blogging. A year before that, I was posting weekly under a page titled The Kitschen. A small, vintage-inspired “lifestyle blog,” nothing special, nothing new, one in a sea of similar concepts. This trite blog may have been insignificant in terms of its content, but it led me into the world of blogging, and eventually, to a discovery that changed everything.
Long before making the radical decision to love my body, I often spent nights tirelessly blog hopping, following one sidebar recommendation after another, enjoying the polished images and content that reminded me of magazines, only way cooler. I will never forget the night that I stumbled across The Nearsighted Owl, written by Rachele. This blog baffled me. It had all the components I loved—recipes, owls, polka dots, and purple beehives—but with one difference. Rachele was fat. She was not only fat: She was fat, confident, and happy. How. The. Fuck. Does. That. Happen? Scrolling through her posts, my mind was momentarily broken, trying to wrap itself around the fact that there was a woman in the world who looked nothing like the “ideal,” but who was living a full and joyous life. No shame, no apologies, only confident posts about her favorite books, her art projects, her marriage (this is where I discovered that fat people get married too!), and her heroes. I continued to visit the page out of genuine curiosity, and soon I was hit with the most revolutionary thought: Maybe I don’t have to loathe myself for the rest of my life.
Maybe I don’t have to loathe myself for the rest of my life!
Maybe I can even sort of . . . like myself! Could it be true?!? Well, if Rachele can do it, perhaps . . . yeah. Maybe I can too! It’s astounding to me that I hadn’t realized this before. But, fuck. I’m glad that I did at age 26. Better late than never, right?
After discovering Rachele, I dove headfirst into the body positive community. I sought out photos of all kinds of women, I followed progressive Tumblr accounts, and I read every fat acceptance book I could get my chubby hands on. I read all the body love blogs I could find, researched the history of body image, and started to talk about all of this with people around me.
As I learned more about body love, I started to notice something interesting: The way I perceived the world shifted considerably. I quickly became less judgmental, not only of others, but also of myself! I was reformatting my reality. I was rewiring my belief in beauty. I was teaching myself the truth.
I also started to realize perfection isn’t always what it seems in other areas of life, either. In a pivotal article I read in Bitch Magazine, called “Better Homes and Bloggers,” Holly Hilgenberg calls out lifestyle blogs and how they tend to gloss over domestic life, often portraying a perfected world that’s very different from reality.2 Seeing depictions of this unrealistic world in a medium like blogging—that we tend to consider more realistic than other media—Hilgenberg notes, is damaging to readers who see these perfect families, homes, and art projects and think, “Jesus H. Christ, why isn’t my life like that?” Hilgenberg compares these websites to photoshopped images in magazines and asks how helpful and different from magazines and television these blogs really are. When I read that, I thought . . . well, fuck. I’m gonna create something representational of real life.
And then I did.
I transitioned The Kitschen to The Militant Baker, which debuted as an honest (and poorly written) look at my life. It was “amateur hour” for at least a year when I started that blog, but I stuck to my guns and portrayed my real life. While other bloggers were publishing “a-photo-an-hour” posts and displaying pictures of their kitschy mug of coffee next to their cat bathing in the sun snuggled against their new cross-stitch projects, I was posting pictures of my sink full of dirty dishes and my shampoo mohawk creations in the shower. I wrote about tough topics like self-care, nighttime depression, emotional “first aid kits,” and why leaving the house without makeup was radical. I made a point to write about the things that were raw and relevant in my very imperfect life.
To be clear: There’s nothing wrong with writing about Samsonite luggage and vinyl records, but the obvious contrast between my blog posts and others’ made me feel like I was saying what needed to be said while also getting away with something. And I loved it. The ability to be down-and-dirty honest in the digital world of sparkling houses and perfect “Friendsgivings” was intoxicating. I loved the thrill of reckless transparency. Fortunately, that thrill has never faded.
As I explored the concept of body acceptance, it started to overtake my thoughts, actions, and consequently, my blog. I started participating in body love challenges, posting full-body pictures with my dress size showing loud and proud on the images. I started writing about painful memories in posts like “Mental Souvenirs from the Life of a Fat Girl.” I started to reclaim the word “fat,” using it with carefree abandon and reveling in the fact that I was getting away with loving myself just as I was. My journey toward loving all of me (appearance included) started to take over, and I was thrilled to have such liberating content to share. The Militant Baker quickly became the body positive blog it’s known as today.
As I continued to read, write, and research over the last few years, I began to realize that my entire life up until that point had been spent listening to do’s and do not’s created by selfish, money-lovin’ companies and reinforced by people who believed them. They created and then sold the concept that conforming and constantly trying to change your body to become “better” was an applaudable life goal. It seems ridiculous to me now, but we’ve all believed those same companies and people at some point in our lives. It took me a while, but eventually I found the nerve to say NO MORE, MOTHERFUCKERS!, and I started to actually live life according to a new rule I made up, which basically went like this: RULES ARE FOR CHUMPS AND I’M GONNA DO WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT. That non-rule “rule” led to so many epiphanies and revelations that a blog started to seem insufficient, and I realized I needed a book to contain them all. This is that book.
So, why is the fact that I’m fat the most important thing for you to know about me? Well, because as far as body shapes go, it’s the most reviled in our society. Because my journey toward learning to love a body that I have been told is unworthy has been life changing. Because learning to love my body as it is has convinced me that not only is it possible, but it’s necessary to living a truly happy and fulfilling life. Because I want you to have the opportunity to hear these revelations too. Because being fat and learning how to accept it has defined my mission as a body activist.
You may think this is just another self-help book penned by another smart-aleck chick with another inspirational message (and you’d be right), but it’s more than that.
This is also a compilation of the shit no one talks about. A collection of the hardest lessons I’ve ever learned. A literary homage to my triumph over shame, self-harm, depression, guilt, and self-sabotage. This is what the sound of the “Hallelujah Chorus” would look like if we were forced to see it through little letters on a page. This is a book about things that I wish I knew earlier. Things I’ve learned in real life. Things people really need to talk about more. This is a book full of things no one will ever tell fat girls . . . but shit. I will.
So hold onto your knickers, y’all. Because if you play your cards right, this book could change your goddamn life.