Ragen Chastain’s new book, Fat: The Owner’s Manual is truly an owner’s manual for anyone, not just people struggling with their body image. Unlike many books on body image, Chastain actually has an inclusive platform. This book does not shame skinny or fat girls, but encourages every reader to cultivate the confidence to live their best life. The focus of the book is on research studies that speak to the reality of health and it uses these studies to show that everyone can be healthy, regardless of size. But this book isn’t all research studies and peppy messages; Chastain gives anecdotes about her own experience with body discrimination, suggests ways to deal with real problems like being fat on the internet, and makes you laugh like you never expected. This book makes you crack up and want to give someone a hug at the same time, which I never thought a nonfiction research-based guide for “navigating a thin-obsessed world” would do.
One of Chastain’s main points is that no one else is in charge of your body, and no one else has a say in how you choose to care for it or use it. She says that while people will continue to comment on and judge other people’s bodies, what they say doesn’t have to affect you. She fights against the ideas that “everybody knows” that you can’t be happy or healthy at some arbitrary weight, that every fat person must be trying to lose weight and that there is a “Vague Future Health Threat” that every overweight person ever is going to suffer terribly from. One of my personal favorite factoids is that dieting to lose weight has been practiced since the 1800s and it had, and continues to have, about a 5% success rate over time. Chastain suggests we try a new tactic; instead of devaluing our bodies because they don’t look like someone else’s, we should do our best to choose to love our bodies for all the awesome things they can do. Breathing is a scientific miracle. You don’t need to be able to climb Everest to be proud of what your body is capable of.
True to the name, Chastain’s book acts as an overall guide for dealing with people who don’t like your body or situations where issues may arise from your size. One of the best lines in this book is “We are not Tinkerbell, and we don’t need applause to live.” And that’s so true. People forget all the time that while life is easier when we have praise and automatic acceptance, neither of those things are promised or necessary. Chastain gives advice and word-by-word comebacks to common fat comments, my favorite of which is “I didn’t know you were a body judge. Was there a ceremony? Was it nice?” She gives tips for riding in an airplane as an obese person and dressing for your body type (hint: wear whatever the hell you want to – your body’s perfect, clothes that don’t flatter are wrong). She also discusses some of the socially unacceptable activities an overweight person does daily, including eating while fat, working out while fat, displays of fat affection, being fat in public and why you shouldn’t let anyone make you feel bad for engaging in any or all of these activities.
Chastain wrote this book with the Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size movements in mind, and it shows. She clearly believes that every body deserves respect, both from the owner and outsiders. Every body is “intrinsically amazing” and should be treated as such just because of all those incredible little things it is capable of. I strongly believe every person, not just women and not just fat women, should read this book and examine their views on body image, both internal and external. Hopefully by being so incredibly hilarious, accessible and refreshing, Fat: The Owner’s Manual can become required reading in high school health classes, or at least well known among women like me.
By Christine Thorpe