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Review of “You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People by

“You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People

by Aubrey Gordon

Embodiment is so strange. We all have bodies, but we don’t all have the same body. Some bodies are judged more than others. In “You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People, Aubrey Gordon debunks twenty prevalent anti-fatness myths. Anti-fat bias is consistently the only form of discrimination that has increased over the past decades (other types have decreased or stayed roughly the same), and sometimes it is so pervasive that we don’t even realize we are engaging in it.

Gordon, a white fat woman and cohost of the podcast Maintenance Phase, organizes her myth-busting into four parts: “Being Fat Is a Choice,” “But What About Your Health?,” “Fat Acceptance Glorifies Obesity,” and “Fat People Should….” She makes it clear that this book is an introductory guide aimed at thin readers like myself and designed to get us thinking about our implicit biases and the systemic biases of society. Most chapters include calls to action at the end: concrete steps someone can take to challenge the discrimination described in that chapter.

Some of these myths I had already heard debunked, many from a longread written by Michael Hobbes, Gordon’s podcast cohost, in The Huffington Post called “Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong.”. I already knew that being fat is not a choice, that exercise is not usually an effective way to lose weight, that there are many factors—some genetic or epigenetic—that contribute to weight gain. I knew the BMI is racist and anti-fat bullshit. Nevertheless, it was good to refresh myself and to hear about more of the science (or questionable science, in the case of studies that supposedly validate anti-fatness).

I’ve long wondered how to take action against anti-fatness with what power I have as a thin person and an educator. Once upon a time, a student of mine chose to write a research essay all about the obesity epidemic. She tried to argue that fat acceptance is unhealthy. I remember being so uncomfortable reading it, but I also wasn’t sure how to challenge the student effectively. How do I speak up on an issue with which I have so little experience? Then again, I challenge students who inadvertently share racist myths all the time—why should this be different? So reading “You Just Need to Lose Weight” is important to me professionally as well as personally.

On a personal note, there are connections I made while reading between Gordon’s discussion of body acceptance and my own journey in my thirties with transition. Even as my dysphoria decreases, I find myself surprisingly vulnerable to the anti-fat messages our society targets all women with. I find myself far more concerned about, obsessing over, my weight and my body shape than I did pre-transition. I won’t equate this to the struggles of fat people (especially fat trans women), for that would put me into Myth Nineteen territory—but I wanted to share for a moment the connections I was making to my own experiences. What I took from this was how, like any liberation in our society, challenging anti-fatness “lifts all boats.” It helps thin people as well as fat people—and I am not saying that’s why we should do it; obviously we should challenge anti-fatness simply because it’s the right thing to do. But I think it is important to note that anti-fatness shares its roots with anti-transness, anti-Blackness, etc.: white supremacist and patriarchal desires to control people’s bodies, particularly the bodies of people who aren’t white men.

For that reason, I’m pleased that Gordon’s thesis trends more towards the systemic rather than the individual. Her points at the end of each chapter are individual actions (because that’s all we can do as individual readers). Yet her aims are social and systemic. This isn’t just about being “nicer” to fat people or more tolerant. This is about moving the fucking needle, about dismantling the systems that make it hard and expensive for fat people to fly or find clothing, the medical biases that prevent fat people from receiving dignified care.

This slim volume packs more of a punch than you would expect, and I highly recommend every thin person reads it. I love how careful and inclusive it is when talking about gender, race, and disability. I love how focused and organized it is. I love how Gordon doesn’t coddle the reader, challenging us while simultaneously—I hope—motivating us to do better. This is a book that should make a difference.


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