Fat now, fat forever: Who reads weight-loss memoirs?

By | February 17, 2009

Today I was on amazon.com – this is not unusual – and upon adding one of my purchases to my shopping cart, a bunch of weight-loss memoirs popped up as “recommended items”.

Arguably the weight loss memoir is a very new genre, one that can probably be traced from the beginnings of large-scale (will these puns NEVER get old?) obesity epidemic hysteria. And I’ve talked about them before, in one of my favorite-ever rage-fueled rants. However, I had not realized there were so very many weight-loss memoirs now. I’ve noticed that most of them seem to be culled from weight loss blogs. I’ve also noticed that most of them seem to come from women who were my size or marginally bigger at the time they had their HOLY SHIT I’M FAT Wake Up CallTM. The language used in these books’ blurbs – language describing life in a body my size – is fascinating. These people were “outcasts”, they were lonely and unhappy, they hurt all over, they couldn’t do anything, they hated their lives.

It’s always: “I was miserable and alone, I hated myself, but then I lost weight and everything was better!”

Though my control over this sort of thing is pretty much nil, it’s distressing to see life in a body that weighs as much as mine (I will stop short of calling these bodies “like mine”, since clearly they’re not) so overwhelmingly represented in such unfamiliar and negative ways. I’m not calling the weight-loss memoirists liars – they are, I presume, just telling it like they see/saw it – but where’s my experience, or something at least similar to my experience, represented in print? Nowhere, man.

Probably because my story wouldn’t be nearly so compelling. My memoir – in elevator-pitch (in a very tall building) form – would go as follows:

I can document my awareness of being fat going back to when I was nine, though I’m quite sure it was present sooner – I just have it written down for the first time (in a diary) at that time. The overarching theme of my entire childhood and adolescence was my desire to be thin; I can’t remember a point at which this wasn’t a constant thrumming in my mind, when it didn’t influence every decision I made or how I saw myself. I dieted continuously – my weight going rhythmically up and down – from sixth through eleventh grade. At 18 I left Florida, moved to Boston to go to college, and due to the regional cultural differences, for the first time in my life I started to feel like I wasn’t a complete pariah just because I was fat. People liked me. People wanted to DATE me. And I was STILL FAT. I still thought they were kind of crazy but I was coming around. Eventually I started reading things (Fat Girl Dances with Rocks, Shadow on a Tightrope, eventually Fat!So?) that reinforced the idea that there were fat people out there in the world who didn’t hate themselves and who didn’t hold themselves back from achieving their dreams just because they were fat. They weren’t waiting until they were thin to perform onstage, to dress ostentatiously, to express themselves, to fall in love. They were just doing it. I started just doing it. That was twelve years ago.

Obviously, a whole lot of stuff happened in between these events, but this is supposed to be an elevator pitch, after all.

Ultimately, my fat memoir would come down to: “I was miserable and alone, I hated myself, but then I stopped and everything was better!” I’m not sure this is the kind of thing people want to read – it’s got the whole Triumph In The Face Of Adversity Angle, for sure, but there’s no neat and tidy happy ending, no measureable physical transformation, and perhaps most importantly, no tales of enduring brutal sacrifice and shame to reach an arbitrary goal. Maybe people don’t want to read about being happy with what you’ve got. Or maybe they do, but nobody’s writing it in memoir form.

Have any of you read any of these memoirs? I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on the subject.

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