Review by Shyamala Parthasarathy
Amulet Books (ABRAMS), September 2019
224 pages, hardcover, $23.99 CAD, 978-1-4197-3750-3
Ages 12+, Grades 7-12
Middle Grade, Young Adult, New Adult, Non-Fiction, Poetry
This review includes discussions of fatphobia, weight-loss programs, racism, sexism, transphobia, and ableism.
There are so many moments in your life as a fat person that are burned into your brain: … the first time you heard a skinny friend call themselves FAT like it was the worst thing they could possibly be, … the first time someone who cared about you said something about how much prettier/more handsome you would look if you were just a few pounds lighter. Now imagine you’ve had all those experiences—and more—before you even turn 18. … I want you to know that so many people understand how it can be so hard and so lonely.
But there’s another moment more and more fat people are getting to experience: the first moment they realize there’s nothing wrong with being fat.
In these opening paragraphs of her foreword to the anthology The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, editor Angie Manfredi sets the tone for exactly how the rest of the collection hits: gut-wrenchingly real and making every fat person—including me—feel extremely seen in our collective experience of systemic fatphobia and the ways it intersects with other forms of oppression, including ableism, racism, queerphobia, and heterosexism.
From narrative essays to how-to-guides to poetry and illustration, the book offers a wide range of fat writers directly addressing fat teens on topics from fashion to self-acceptance. This anthology not only hosts fat bodies of all types of non-normativity, but also offers positive affirmations of the fat experience. And it does this without leaning away from the harshness of realities that fat people—especially fat teens—have to experience. “Body Sovereignty: This Fat Trans Flesh Is Mine” by Alex Gino examines ways in which the fat and trans body intersect, drawing a parallel between the ways the medical industry makes people go on diet, while refusing to provide easy access to gender transition surgeries. Jana Schmieding, in “Chubby City Indian,” uses dance to juxtapose the understanding of “fat” in white communities and her Lakota Sioux community. In their works, Mason Deaver, P. S. Kaguya, and Ady Del Valle challenge fat fashion, exploring the various ways in which fat bodies—that intersect with other identities like trans bodies—can be celebrated through fashion.
Among the personal essays, there are also critical essays that explore larger cultural understandings and representations of fat people. Hillary Monahan explores the way fat characters are treated as expendable, and Julie Murphy examines the way Disney villainized the sea-witch Ursula.
The anthology’s message of self-love is wholesome and powerful in its actionability. Stories like “How to Be the Star of Your Own Fat Rom-Com” by Lily Anderson and “Write Something Fat” by Sarah Hollowell convey the ways in which the teen reader can create change with their own fat activism. Essays like “50 Tips from a Fat and Fabulous Elder” by Miguel M. Morales, “Reasons to Hang in There” by Samantha Irby, and “From Your Fat Future” by Adrianne Russell, definitely take on an advisory tone, but also say things that I, even as an adult reader, was brought to tears by.
As a fat asexual myself, “To All the Pizzas I’ve Loved Before” by Laina Spencer, which looks at being fat and asexual/aromantic, felt particularly poignant to me. Too often, fat activism, particularly for women, is offset by understandings of romantic and/or sexual desirability. The anthology balances that narrative by centering voices that celebrate not just fat romance, but also fat friendships and solidarity.
For readers who crave more than essays, there are poetry and illustrations as well. Miguel M. Morales’s work is powerful, using metaphors like nature to examine fatphobia and self-acceptance, while Jess Walton studies the cult-like behavior of weight-loss programs. Illustrations like Shelby Bergen’s “Fat Prom” and Jiji Knight’s “Brighter Than Starlight” are particularly evocative of the teen fat experience, bright and colorful and full of fat-joy that complements the serious tone much of the anthology takes.
Featuring close to thirty-five writers, The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce is an anthology that lives up to its name. It’s #ownvoices. Its writers look not just into the trauma of fatphobia, but also offer hope and joy to all their readers—something that a lot of fat teens, including teen!me, are longing to hear.
Shyamala Parthasarathy is a writer, editor and academic, hailing from Chennai. She holds two Master’s degrees in English/Creative Writing, and is usually working on some fanfiction challenge or the other when she is not worldbuilding for her own original work. She can be found twitter-lurking at @fangirlflailing.