Title: Shadow on a Tightrope: Women's Writings on Fat Oppression
Author: Lisa Schoenfielder and Barb Wieser (editors)
Genre: Fat studies, social science, essays, anthology
One-sentence summary: A collection of essays dealing with fat oppression from a medical, social, and personal standpoint.
Why did you get this book? I'm interested in fat studies, and this seems to be one of the seminal books of research/social criticism in that genre.
Do you like the cover? I actually do. It's just a line drawing of a fat woman, but it's a good line drawing, with big bulky shoulders and a double chin... so often when I see representations of fat women that are meant to be seen in a positive light, it's the "thin fat woman" depicted - you know, no double chin, big boobs and hips but smaller waist, well-defined cheekbones, etc. This doesn't follow that model, and I appreciate that.
Did you enjoy the book? I did, although I should warn that it is hella dated (originally published in 1983). Most of the medical chapters are completely worthless these days except as history pieces: the average woman, fat or thin, no longer consumes 1600 calories a day, and intestinal bypasses are a thing of the past. (Not gastric bypasses, but intestinal bypasses - scary and dangerous as gastric bypasses can be, intestinal bypasses were about a hundred times worse.) There's also not the huge market for diet pills (more specifically, amphetamines) that there was in the '80s when this book was written - almost all the personal anecdotes make reference to women having been forced into becoming addicted to amphetamines, because it was considered better to be addicted to speed than to be fat. And I think that as feminism has changed, so has the face of the fat-positivity movement; I think when this book was written, it was considered something of an oxymoron to be straight and a feminist - at any rate, I think that only one of the thirty or forty essays in this book was written by a straight women, and several of the lesbian writers are openly disparaging of the idea that a straight woman could be a feminist or even a feminist ally. Still, for all the things that have changed, there are just as many things that haven't changed. Fat women still take shit on a daily basis for their weight - just carrying this book around and reading it on the train was an interesting experiment for me, seeing people take in the words "fat oppression" on the cover, then seeing them scan me and watching their faces turn cold and angry. One of the women wrote about how she was thin (and unhealthy, and suicidal) for a period of time, and how now, ten years later, her mother still carries around and displays pictures of her from that period to show her friends. My mom does that; the most recent picture of me in her house is from my senior year of high school. And it is still assumed that every fat person is a glutton, and that it is inherently healthier to be skinny than fat, and that surgery with an unacceptably high mortality rate is nevertheless preferable to maintaining obesity, and that although fat people are undoubtedly despised and oppressed in our society, the correct response is for fat people to get skinny, rather than for society to become more accepting. This was a trailblazing book when it came out in '83, and sadly, it still says a lot of things people don't want to hear, have conditioned themselves not to hear.
Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? Well, they edited the book rather than writing it. If they'd collaborated on anything else, or if the editors actually had written any books solo, I might check them out.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? Keeping.
Anything else? I did like the feminist spirit of this book, even though, as I said, it does seem somewhat dated (who spells woman "womon" anymore? I haven't seen that in like ten years.) It tried very hard to achieve real diversity in its selection of featured writers, and it covers a wide variety of social classes, races, and (dis)abilities. It is not, as I said, at all diverse in terms of sexuality: this is pretty much all lesbians, all the time. Which I certainly relate to, but it would have been nice to see more diversity there. But for all that, I really did appreciate the general diversity of the selected essayists.
Scale of 1 to 10: 8
Number of pages: 243
Total pages for the year: 7965