If you invite Pattie Thomas to your house for a visit, look forward to an interesting conversation and be sure to have a chair without arms available for your guest. She'll want one and she won't hesitate to ask for it.
Thomas is a large woman; no, by her own definition, she is fat. She doesn't hesitate to use the f-word, and expects the same of you. She found that after spending years struggling against it, she now accepts, yea, appreciates herself as a fat person—a beautiful person, a loved person (her husband is her co-author), and a healthy person. "Let go of the 'O' words (overweight and obese) and all the medicalization and fat hatred they represent, and embrace the word 'fat,'" she exhorts.
This book is a memoir and a family history. Thomas tells of her struggles "to pass for thin" through years of self-hatred and despair. She embellishes the text with her own poems, personal essays and drawing. It is a deeply personal account, but it is more. With a Ph.D. in sociology, Thomas draws on her professional training to take a dispassionate look how anti-obesity marketing invades American life and values. We are constantly confronted with the desirability of thinness and the distaste for its opposite. Thomas urges a look around a drugstore or discount store. Inevitably, there are the vitamins, the painkillers, the hairspray and the weight-loss potions grouped together under "health and beauty." I've looked; in fact, now I can't help looking; there they are. Thomas maintains, "A cease-fire on fat begins with letting go of the connection between health and beauty." She sees the American "health" industry promulgating that health means thinness, and marketing in a more-than-heavy-handed way, especially to women, that fat equals bad.
Not so. Recent studies indicate that life expectancies and other measures of health are, except in cases of extreme thinness and fatness, unrelated to weight. Thomas presents hard evidence. A recent New York Times article ("Chubby Gets a Second Glance," November 11, 2007) backs her up.
Lots of people will benefit and/or enjoy this outstanding book. Pattie Thomas is an excellent and enjoyable writer who honestly tells the story of a personal struggle and victory. Memoir readers will relish it. The book will hit close to home for those who have shared Thomas's lifetime struggle with weight issues (note that I do not say problems). They may well find that her personal revelations have applications in their own lives. She has found a way to self-acceptance and self-respect. This is important to all of us, even if issues other than weight lead to our own self-questioning. Finally, as an economist and a teacher, I can see parts of this book being assigned in an economics or marketing class. The analysis of consumer manipulation is clear-eyed and accurate.
This is an important book that should indeed take up space on many shelves.
Pattie Thomas holds a Ph.D. in medical sociology. She lives and works in Mesa, Arizona. You may keep up with Pattie by visiting her website. Her call to action appears here.
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