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Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology

October 30, 2019

A few weeks ago, at Kenyon, I met a writer named Ira Sukrungruang and found him interesting, so I started reading some of the nonfiction he’s written, beginning with an essay in a collection he edited with Donna Jarrell entitled Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology. And then I read all the other essays, of course, because I’m always interested in what fat folks have to say about trying to fit in (“Tight Fits” is the title of Ira Sukrungruang’s essay).

A friend of mine said recently that she’d cut out snacks and alcohol for a few weeks and lost twenty pounds without feeling too deprived. This collection is not for her. It’s for people who have always been on a diet, people like Sallie Tisdale who says in her essay “Letting Myself Go” that “calorie counts and grams of fat and fiber are embedded in me. I have to work to not think of them.” It’s for people like me, and like Donna Jarrell, who often think to themselves:
“I hate this body. I hate it. I am not a fat person. I am not. I am smart and funny and pretty and likeable. I am competent and hardworking. This body, this fat bitch of a body, betrays me. Lies about me. I hate it. Like I hate these diets. Like I hate little frozen boxed desserts and perfectly rounded half cups of rice. Like I hate tuna fish, like I hate all kinds of fish. Like I hate scales and plus sizes and protein exchanges and exercise journals. Like I hate this body.”

Ira and Natalie Kusz both write about an experience I’ve often had, which is flying on airplanes without being able to wear the seatbelt. Natalie says that “in the last ten years I have accumulated maybe 80,000 frequent-flyer miles, and almost never have I worn a seat belt, or been reprimanded by a flight attendant.” Ira recounts a time he showed a flight attendant that the ends of the seat belt wouldn’t connect and her reaction: “Oh,” she says, smiles and moves on. What about federal regulations? What about airplane safety? What about my safety?” As Ira points out in his “travel tip for the overweight traveler,” you can ask for a seat belt extender. But if there aren’t enough of them on the flight, you could be asked to get off. I’m among the ranks of those who aren’t going to risk that, especially since it’s rare that anyone seems to care as long as you make yourself as inconspicuous as possible.

There are horrifying essays in this collection, about people who have had weight-loss surgery, men who seek out fat women for sex, and even a fat person who chose a psychiatrist who had a phobia of fat people. One of the most horrifying is about a woman who falls in love with a man before she finds out he is fat and then can’t stand to be around him:
“Tim used food the way I had as an anorexic. Except that when I was feeling unloved and empty, I made myself feel emptier. It was masochistic, really. Tim, on the other hand, did the more logical thing. When he felt empty, he tried to fill himself up. To the tune of an extra 150 pounds. Love all of me, or don’t love me at all, he seemed to be saying. And no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t fall in love with his fleshy jowls and his 42-inch waist and his jiggling ass.”

My favorite essay from the collection is “Out of Habit, I Start Apologizing” by Pam Houston, who recounts lots of moments like ones I’ve experienced. For instance:
“I am sitting at my parents’ dinner table in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years. I have brought the first boy I have ever really cared about home from college, and we are making vaguely interesting small talk while my mother portions out the food.
I have been at college so long I have forgotten the rules by which my family eats dinner. I am not allowed to have bread, dessert, or seconds, ever.”
Sometimes I tell people that my parents’ rule was that if you were overweight, you were not allowed to be hungry. I was never allowed to be hungry. In fact, when I was six months old my pediatrician told my mother to feed me only 2% milk because I was already too fat.

There’s nothing funny or uplifting in this collection, despite the fact that it includes a David Sedaris essay, “A Shiner Like a Diamond” in which he says that when his father harassed his sisters about their weight “he honestly thought he was doing his girls a favor, and it confused him when the thanks never came,” a point of view that reminds me of my paternal grandmother, a small woman who never weighed more than a hundred pounds and would sometimes put a cautionary hand on my arm to call attention to what she referred to delicately as my “avoirdupois.” I was out of balance, she thought.

If you’re a person who can’t ignore the issue of weight in daily life, this is a collection for you.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2019 4:36 pm

    I don’t know why we can’t all accept that every body is different and every body is beautiful. (By the way, I won’t drink beer from a certain brewery because they told a female employee she needed to lose weight. A male employee weighed as much as she did but was never told he needed to diet.)

    • October 31, 2019 8:59 am

      It does seem that some, like you, are starting to see some of the size coerciveness as arbitrary. Still, there are places where people as big as I am simply don’t fit. Airplane seats are the biggest problem. Seats in older theaters are sometimes a problem for me (although not for most of the biggest men I see, because they don’t carry so much of their weight on their hips).

  2. October 31, 2019 4:05 pm

    No snacks and alcohol = 20 pounds lost? I hate those people. (Kidding. Sort of.)

    The more I read the more I am convinced that body size is way more complicated than science/weight loss industry has led us to believe thus far. I feel heartened by all the wonderful, kind, body-positive activists, therapists, and authors I follow on Instagram who are truly leading the way to body acceptance of all sizes. We are so much more than a number on a scale or a size tag. This sounds like a good essay collection.

    • November 1, 2019 2:32 pm

      Well, it’s a sobering collection.
      At the same time there’s a lot of talk about body positivity there’s also a lot of backlash from people who think they know what is “healthy” for another person.
      In that way, I see this issue as related to women’s reproductive health. No one should be making decisions about it except the individual involved.

      • November 2, 2019 11:11 am

        I and the ladies I follow would totally agree with you. There is a lot of fake body “positivity” that is just diet culture in disguise.

  3. November 3, 2019 1:38 pm

    Wait, your friend lost 20 pounds in a few weeks? That seems — incredibly unhealthy, no? I really hate how our culture makes “weight loss” an inherent good, to the point that it doesn’t matter how it happens (abusive diets like Mama Cass kept going on, serious medical problems that aren’t under control, etc.) as long as it happens. I hate it, and I hope there’s growing awareness that it’s okay for bodies to be different.

    • November 3, 2019 2:26 pm

      I don’t think the way she lost the weight was too fast/unhealthy, but it was the kind of weight loss that only people who aren’t always thinking about weight loss can experience.
      And yes, I think there is a bit of growing awareness, but there is also the issue of places fat bodies can’t fit.
      I managed to sit okay in the front row of the festival theater at Stratford (Ontario) for the 6-hour performance of Man and Superman last month, despite fairly narrow armrests, but then I could hardly make it to intermission when we had seats in the fifth row because there were cupholders on that row and my hips pressed into them. I had to ask to sit in the seats for the handicapped in the very back of the theater for the last act, away from the rest of my party.

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