Two Book Reviews: What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk about Fat and One To Watch

Book cover of What We Don't Talk about When We Talk about Fat by Aubrey Gordon, creator of Your Fat Friend. White words on red background.

Book cover of One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London. Blue background with drawing of a woman's back. The woman is wearing a pink dress and heels and is holding a diamond ring behind her back. She is surrounded by video cameras.

Over the holidays, I read two books, one nonfiction (What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk about Fat by Aubrey Gordon), one fiction (One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London), that described the experiences of women living in larger bodies. Reading these two books back-to-back amplified their messages of inclusivity and body positivity and showed with poignant clarity the problems with fat phobia.

What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk about Fat

In What We Don’t Talk about When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon, creator of Your Fat Friend, Gordon writes a series of essays about navigating the world in her body. Her essays are both personal and academic and very readable. She writes about her experiences flying, the assumptions society at large has about her desirability, her medical-care history, and much more.

I appreciated her candor and vulnerability, and I felt like I was attending a master class in how to honor other people’s experiences without being an asshole. The chapter “On Concern and Choice” was a powerful sermon about how much harm we cause when we tell people in larger bodies that we just want them to be “healthy,” a word so loaded in this context with condescenion and righteousness that it’s a weapon.

Gordon writes, “I did not come to body positivity for self-esteem. I came to it for social justice.” And her phenomenal work makes clear why we should all look at body positivity through this lens.

One to Watch

One to Watch, Kate Stayman-London’s debut novel, invites the reader into the fictional life of Bea Shumacher, a plus-size fashion blogger. Bea is charming and smart, and she upends her life when she agrees to be the star of a reality TV show similar to The Bachelorette. Bea knows this is a brilliant career move, and she hopes to inspire women who have never seen a woman with a body similar to theirs, in the role of the romantic heroine, on TV. She’s also committed to not falling in love. Her journey is tender and funny and heartbreaking, and I was engrossed from the first page.

Read Both

When I heard echoes of Aubrey Gordon in One to Watch, I was pleasantly surprised to find that author Kate Stayman-London thanked Aubrey Gordon for her fat activism in the acknowledgments. I highly recommend both books, and if you can read them in close proximity, I think it will deepen your appreciation for both.

A Note on the Word “Fat”

Some people, like Gordon, have chosen to reclaim “fat” as a body descriptor, as an adjective for their bodies, similar to tall, brunette, or thin. You may cheer this on and encourage their empowerment. But there are also lots of folks who have been brutalized by the word and will never choose to use it. For them, that is an empowering choice. As with so many things, this is personal and individual. Let’s honor everyone’s choices. And only use “fat” to describe a body if that body is your own and you’re comfortable with the descriptor, or the person you’re describing has invited you to do so.