Category: Self-Help

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls

Cover image for Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls by Jes Baker

ISBN 978-1-58005-582-6

“So a majority of fat people are being told they’re not okay when they are, and ‘straight-size’ bodies are automatically assumed to be up to snuff and don’t receive proper medical attention. This simply goes to show that medical weight bias affects us all.”

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is a mix of self-help ideas and basic education about the body positive movement. Jes Baker is a blogger at The Militant Baker, and her book uses the same colloquial and humourous tone as her site to fight back against size prejudice. In fact, her blog readers will definitely find some familiar material and stories here. Baker not only tries to be inclusive of other perspectives (men, trans people, black women) but actually invites them onto her platform with guest essays that specifically address their own perspectives on body image, giving this book a broad reach. As Baker put it in an interview, “if body positivity isn’t intersectional, it’s not really body positivity.”

What I know of the body positive movement has always made sense to me from a mental health perspective. I could never see the benefit in shaming people for their bodies, destroying their mental health and self-confidence in the name of physical health. But I didn’t know enough about the movement to understand how it reconciles the physical health aspect, because surely our bodies deserve to be taken care of? So for me, the most useful parts of the book were chapters three and five, which show how health has become the last shield fat discrimination can hide behind. This ignores the fact that fat is not a good measurement of health, and that thin people can be in poor metabolic health, too. Health can also be a stand-in for traditional beauty standards, a code word for thin. The core principle is that you should treat your body well because you love it, not because you want to change it. Yo-yo dieting is known to be extremely hard on the body, and some people are now so militant about “clean” or “healthy” eating, that experts had to coin a new term, “orthorexia,” to describe to condition of those who have become so obsessed that they can’t travel or eat out, or otherwise go about their life, for fear that the food will not meet their standards. This was the most useful information for me, but Baker also covers everything from mental health, to the importance of language, to fat fashion.

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls is packed with further reading recommendations, and a ton of suggested blogs, Tumblrs, and Facebook pages. The only thing that was missing for me was a good Twitter list. This is part of Baker’s philosophy of conscious media curation, or trying to take back control of our media feeds so that they better “represent real life.” I don’t dismiss for a minute the idea that our social media can be a powerful influence, and Baker shares some science that backs it up.  I know I have to limit my exposure when celebrities die, mass shootings occur, and during election season—so basically all the time—because too much quickly becomes toxic to my mental well-being. But beauty images and products are so pervasive that we often don’t even think about it, let alone question it.

Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls asks the reader to question what you have been taught about beauty and self-worth. Baker references professional organizer Marie Kondo’s popular clutter reduction method, which asks people to determine what to keep by only holding onto items that “spark joy.” For me, this concept is a little bit fey when applied to objects, but suddenly resonates as a way to sort harmless beauty practices from those that are toxic to your well-being. Love lipstick? Carry on. Hate tottering around in high heels? Quit that shit.

Baker is definitely a cheerful, look-on-the-bright-side type. As she puts it herself, “Okay, fine. I’m a little bit of an idealist.” No doubt some readers will take issue with her tendency to applaud small steps in the right direction where more radical action is needed. But crucially, she does so while also calling for continued progress, and most movements need cheerleaders as well as unapologetic radicals. She also puts a big burden of educating others on her readers, encouraging them to speak up if they feel excluded in the body positive movement. This section could have used a carve-out that acknowledges the courage and energy those conversations take. Baker does touch on the importance of putting self-care first elsewhere in the book, but misses its relationship to that instance.

Overall, Things No One Tells Fat Girls was fun and informative read that helped me understand the body positive perspective on how ‘health’ gets abused to perpetuate the same old beauty stands, while also ignoring other real health metrics. I am also looking forward to exploring the work of some of the other advocates Baker spotlights.

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The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure

Cover Image for The Art of Conversation by Catherine Blythby Catherine Blyth

ISBN 978-1592404971

British journalist Catherine Blyth’s book is premised on the idea that our interest in technology has caused us to neglect personal communication and, in doing so, we have forgotten how to converse properly with one another. This is a fascinating topic and would merit a book-length discussion on its own. However, The Art of Conversation is, as the subtitle hints, a self-help book which focuses on how to refurbish those neglected conversational skills. Readers expecting a sociological treatise will be disappointed, as the interesting nuggets of information are scattered throughout the advice portions of the book. Other promising sociological angles, such as Blyth’s observation that conversation is the ultimate anti-consumerist activity because it is free, remain sadly unexplored.

Unfortunately, even as an advice book or instruction manual, this title has a number of drawbacks and weaknesses. The book is crammed with lists, equations and subheadings which fail to confer order or accessibility to the content. Additionally, Blyth’s efforts to adopt a chatty and humourous tone sometimes result in confusing word plays that disrupt the flow of the text. By the time you figure out the pun in “monologue-asteries,” for example, the joke is no longer funny. “Window-shop-portunities” is perhaps slightly clearer. These attempts at humour are spread throughout the book, but are often insufficient to carry the dragging weight of the instructional sections.

Blyth’s book does offer readers the opportunity to consider their own conversational style and skills, and reflect on how they can improve. They may recognize some of their own bad habits in Blyth’s entertaining anecdotes or the “typology of bores, chores and other conversational beasts.” However, even the shyest wallflower or the most dedicated technophile may find much of her advice to be simple common sense.