“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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