Review from Fat Studies Journal

This is a Review from Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society To see more reviews just click here!


Megan Dean
University of King’s College
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Fat: The Owner’s Manual is written by Dances with Fat blogger, activist,
and professional dancer and choreographer Ragen Chastain. As she explains
in her prologue, Chastain wrote Fat as a way to answer her own questions
about common beliefs, misconceptions, and myths about fat. Nonetheless,
an explanatory or critical account of contemporary attitudes about fat is not
the focus of the book. Rather, Chastain’s focus is on her readers. One of
the basic premises of Fat is that many fat people hate their bodies because
they are unaware that there is an alternative; that is, there is a viable way to
appreciate, respect, and even love one’s body as it is. Accordingly, Chastain
aims to provide her “fellow fatties” with resources to make their lives more
liveable and joyful given the current “thin-centric” state of society. As she
explains: “At this point in time I’m much less concerned that other people
figure out that fat people deserve respect and much more concerned that fat
people know they deserve respect”

Toward this end, Fat offers a variety of critical tools, practical strategies,
and forms of support that address the complexities of contemporary fat life.
Chastain moves deftly between critical analyses of scientific research, media
(she dedicates the section “Is Jillian Michaels an Abusive Idiot?” to evaluating
The Biggest Loser trainer’s behaviour according to Domestic Abuse Project
criteria for emotional abuse; the answer is “yes”), and the spurious logic supporting
common beliefs about fatness. These cutting critiques work to reduce
the influence of these negative voices on readers’ self-understandings, and
to model critical tools that readers may adopt for personal use.

Chastain’s friendly but frank advice for negotiating everyday life in a fatphobic society
will be useful for any “fatty”—or anyone who suffers the effects of fat
oppression. As Chastain notes, “this isn’t just a fat girl story” (112). Her offerings
include lists of possible responses to nosy relatives and strangers (a
recommended response to a comment about being “too fat”: “I didn’t know
you were appointed as a special body judge. Was there a ceremony? Was it
nice?” [53]), “fatty fashion” tips, and an entire chapter dedicated to strategies
for keeping one’s “dignity, sanity, and sense of humor intact” (122) while
flying. In addition to these practical concerns, Chastain is attentive to the
psychic life of fat oppression (apologies to Butler), recognizing the pain and
loss associated with the abandonment of one’s future thin self. She offers
her own story and strategies for overcoming self-loathing and encouraging
self-appreciation and respect as one viable path to a more fulfilling and
happy life.

Chastain’s joyful, wry personality is evident throughout Fat: The Owner’s
Manual. While she may make you laugh out loud (one of my favorite
moments is in Chastain’s description of a family dinner, when you’re about
to eat some mashed potatoes and then someone asks: “Do you need to eat
that?” Chastain observes, “First, I would suggest you quell your rage and
resist the urge to say: “Yes, I do need these mashed potatoes. Did you need
to marry that jerk?” [47]), her wittiness does not detract from the clarity and
rigor of her critiques or the practicality of her advice.

Indeed, Chastain’s work might be read as a response to Luce Irigaray’s call for a feminist sense of humor, provoking the laughter that allows us to critically distance ourselves
from what is given – in this case, the oppression of fat people –
permitting us to form our own perspectives on the matter without falling
into skepticism or, I would add, despair (Zerilli 443).

Full journal available here

To see more reviews just click here!


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