Author, activist and podcaster Aubrey Gordon talks to us today about her brand new second book – “You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths about Fat People. She addresses the challenge of writing a book for both fat and thin people, and explains why she was initially apprehensive about “myth-busting.” We also discuss what’s wrong with how we frame fatness, why BMI is unreliable, and the problem with body positivity.
The Stacks Book Club selection for January is The Meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey with Michaela Angela Davis. We will discuss the book on January 25th with Chelsea Devantez.
*Due to the nature of advertising placement, these timestamps are not 100% accurate.*
Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas and today I’m speaking with activist, author and podcast host Aubrey Gordon. She is also known as your fat friend online. Aubrey wrote the book what we don’t talk about when we talk about fat and her brand new book is called you just need to lose weight and 19 other myths about fat people. She also debunks and decodes wellness and weight loss on her podcast maintenance phase, dissecting a new toxic trend and each episode with her co host, Michael Hobbs. Today I talked to Aubrey about the importance of intentional language and activism. The many ways anti fatness shows up and is supported in society and why she hopes this book will be obsolete sooner rather than later. Our January book club pick is Mariah Carey’s autobiography The meaning of Mariah Carey written with Michaela Angela Davis. We will discuss the book on January 25. With Chelsea Devantez quick reminder everything we talked about on each episode of the show can be found in the link in the show notes. Listen, it’s a new year it’s a new you right so if your resolution was to put a few dollars behind your favorite creators, I have just the thing for you. It is the stacks pack the stacks Patreon community for as little as $5 a month you can earn perks like our virtual book club bonus episodes, our active discord community, and from right now to the end of January you can get our fantastic reading tracker. That’s especially important if your other new year’s resolution was to read more. And more than all of those perks you also get to know that your money is going to support the work of the stacks which is a black woman run independent podcast about books. I mean hello, we need the support. It’s super easy to join head to patreon.com/the stacks and be a part of the stacks back a special shout out to our brand new members of the stacks pack Kate Flynn Sandhya Krishnan Lara stocker Heather Manigat, Gabby picaro Tao reward on test lense and Rwanda McFerrin. Thank you all so much, and thank you to every single member of the Stacks pack. Alright, now it’s time for my conversation with Aubrey Gordon.
Alright, everybody, I am very excited. I know many of you are excited to because when I said that I was reading this book on the discord. I got at least five messages being like, please tell me Aubrey is going to be the guests. Please tell me Aubrey is coming on the show. And of course, my response was leave me alone. I’m reading in peace, knowing full well that our guest today was going to be Aubrey Gordon, who’s brand new book is called you just need to lose weight and 19 other myths about fat people. She’s also the co host of maintenance phase, a podcast about all the myths and bullshit behind health, fitness, wellness, etc. Aubrey, welcome to the Stacks.
Aubrey Gordon 2:46
Oh my god, thank you so much for having me. That is I will say, a hell of an intro. I appreciate it.
Traci Thomas 2:51
Well, you’re a hell of a person. We everyone loves you around here. Big fan. So this is sort of like the easiest interview we’ll probably do or whatever, where I’m just like, we all love you have fun. So here’s the first question, a total softball in about 30 seconds or so can you tell us about this book?
Aubrey Gordon 3:09
Yeah, absolutely. So the book is called, you just need to lose weight and 19 other myths about fat people. And that is what it is about. It is about sort of 20 of the most pervasive and pernicious myths about fatness and fat people all the way from, you know, if you don’t like how you’re treated, you should just lose weight, it’s just calories in calories out all the way to accepting fat people glorifies obesity, all the way to, we’re in the middle of an obesity epidemic. And obesity is the number one killer in the United States is one that we hear quite a bit. So it gets into like, all of the layers of all of those things, and is really designed to, in some cases do a flat out debunking of some of those myths. And in other cases add really a lot of missing sort of light and shading and nuance.
Traci Thomas 3:59
Yes, I loved we’ll get into this. I just loved how like well researched and how detailed the book was. And you know how many studies you brought in. And, and I do want to talk about tone later. But it was definitely like a more serious book than I expected. Just because I listened to your show. And I know, I know that you’re like such a fun, light hearted person. And I was reading it. And I was like, Oh, this is like a serious text. Like, this isn’t just some jokes here and there, which I really, really appreciated, because I know that you’re smart, but sometimes I think like in publishing people who are smart and interesting and also funny, get forced to be funny. And so I really liked that this book had a lot of that depth to it.
Aubrey Gordon 4:37
That has not happened to me despite what a good friend of mine describes as my big Muppet energy.
Traci Thomas 4:49
I love that so much. Where did you get the idea to actually like write this book in this form this sort of like myth busting form?
Aubrey Gordon 4:58
Well, so this is part of a series from my publisher from Beacon Press called myths Made in America. And they have a number of these sorts of books that are designed to up end or sort of, again, sort of unpack some of the bigger myths facing marginalized communities and sort of embattled social issues in the US. So they’ve got one called, you can’t fire the bad ones and 20 other myths about unions, and they’re taking our jobs and 20 other myths about immigrants. So that’s where the sort of initial idea came from. And I had a little bit of hesitation around it. Because mythbusting is sort of a fraught thing to do. Right? You start out by saying the wrong thing, which doesn’t feel great, right. And we kind of know from, from quite a bit of political research from quite a bit of social research over years and years and years, that facts and figures and this kind of debunking doesn’t necessarily change people’s hearts and minds in the same way that personal stories and personal relationships do. But at the same time, we’ve got more and more folks out in the world right now sort of clocking anti fatness for the first time in their day to day lives, and they are wigging out and seeing it everywhere. Right there, right turning on the TV right now and seeing endless weight loss ads, they are going into work and finding out that their HR department is running like a weight loss competition for some reason, right? They are hearing their friends talk endlessly about doing whole 30 or whatever diet they’re on, right? And folks are sort of expressing this increased awareness of anti fatness but feeling really stymied about how to speak up about it. So the way that I’ve thought about this book, in particular, is as kind of an organizing tool to get folks out of that rut of just like, I know what’s wrong, but I don’t know what to do. My hope is that this gets folks onto the track of like, here’s some things you could do.
Traci Thomas 7:07
Yeah, well, okay. So here’s the thing that was really interesting. As I said, I posted that I was reading the book, and some people asked me, you know, they were like, look, I’m fat, like, do I need this book? And then they said, you know, the title of it makes it sound like it’s for thin people, right? Like that. You’re mythbusting. But you say very clearly, in the introduction, you say that this book is both for fat and thin people. And I’m curious for you, as someone you know, I’m a black woman and having to explain things to white people is really challenging for me sometimes, and I’m assuming that sometimes, like explaining about your own oppression to thin people might be challenging for you. So how did you sort of balance and tackle writing for fat people who have probably had a lot of the experiences some of the experiences in the book, and then people who, like you said, are coming to some of this stuff, new or something, people are coming to this stuff new? How did you negotiate all of that? Yeah. Yeah, totally. It’s a lot. It’s a lot a lot to balance.
Aubrey Gordon 8:03
I mean, I think, listen, there is sort of transformative potential, I think in a lot of the information that’s in the book, right? For thin folks, the transformation will be, oh, my goodness, I didn’t know how many of these sort of faulty beliefs I had bought into. And for fat, folks, my hope is that the value is, I always felt bad when people said this thing, and I didn’t really know why or didn’t really unpack it. So my hope is that it is sort of like freeing folks up from that energy of just, you know, most fat people I know, at some point, have been, you know, have like, posted a picture of themselves at the beach or eating a piece of pizza or whatever, and have been accused by some acquaintance or stranger of glorifying obesity, quote, unquote, right. And my hope is that a chapter that essentially says there’s no definition of glorifying obesity. And the only thing that people are really saying when they say that is, I’m being forced to look at a fat person, and I don’t want to see them, right, it is a pretty naked expression of bias. My hope is that, that is as freeing for other folks as a realization as it has been for me for other fat people that like, oh, that’s actually someone who’s telling you who they are, and that they don’t really care about your experience or what you have to say. And it’s okay to move on from somebody who says that, yeah, right.
Traci Thomas 9:29
Right. And so, okay, you also bring this up in the beginning of the book, sort of, and you just mentioned it before about how sometimes, like myth busting is fraught, because you’re leading with the myth. And then you’re also sort of giving facts and figures and people don’t necessarily relate to that as much as they might relate to a personal story or interaction. And what that made me think of something that I think of all the time but especially in light of summer 2020 When people were like, oh, black people are human and like they exist, is like, Oh, I have a I have a black friend, right. I know. I’m a black person, so therefore, like, I can’t be racist, or therefore, I understand or whatever. And and I think we saw that a lot with the push for gay marriage was like a lot of the ways that that activism worked was by having, you know, queer folks say, coming out of the closet and saying, I am gay, and you work with me and you love me. And so you need to see me as a human. But what struck me about about all of that, when it comes to anti fatness is that I think you’re hard pressed to find any American who’s never met or loved or spoken to or been in contact with a fat person. Why do you think it doesn’t? It’s, it doesn’t work in that same way for fat people like that. It isn’t like, Oh, I know, a fat person. Now. Now I can’t be anti fat or like, even not that that’s real, but just that the sentiment is there. It’s like I’m trying, you know, to love that people because I know one in a way that people were doing for gay people or black people, which I don’t think is the right answer. But do you know like that disconnect? Yeah, totally.
Aubrey Gordon 10:54
I mean, I think we live in a world that regards thin people as the experiences on fatness and fat people’s experience, right. So right, when anytime there is a media segment about fat people, anytime there is news reporting on quote, unquote, the obesity epidemic, the one person you’re not hearing from in that is a fat person saying, Here’s what this means for me in my life, even a fat doctor, right? It’s always a thin person, it’s almost always a thin doctor, right? We have all been trained that the source of this conversation is then people that thin people are the experts here. So most of us have infused that into our personal relationships, right? It is our assumption that thin bodies are an accomplishment and that fat bodies are a failure. So it’s the job of thin people to tell fat people how to get thin. That’s the extent of the relationship. It’s not the job of thin people in our very limited cultural imagination, to hear fat people out to figure out how to stand up for fat people to figure out if they’re doing right by their fat friends and family to even ask if their fat friends and family are happy with them or have any notes for them or any feedback or anything like that, right? Like, right, all of that stuff goes out the window. Because our template for understanding these interactions is thin people have accomplished what fat people have failed to do, which is become a thin person. Therefore, there is sort of this Noblesse oblique kind of relationship, which is like, Oh, you poor thing, you haven’t found the way I need to show you the way. And that comes up, I would say often in my friendships and relationships with people who are less fat than I am, that it is a frequent experience that I will have a friend or a colleague start to talk to me in a way that really indicates that, to them. I am sort of a project, you know, I’m sort of a fixer upper for them. And kind of a, you know, a fun little project to try and like get me thin. And if it feels really terrible, and it feels really dehumanizing. So I think it’s like, worth starting from a place of most of the ways that we have been trained to see and interact with fat people are to disbelieve that people write, to say, I know you say you tried that diet, but I can see you. So you definitely didn’t, or you must have done it wrong, or what have you, right? So we start from a place of distrust, and we start from a place of trying to fix fat people’s bodies. And that is a very different thing than having a reciprocal loving peer to peer, human relationship. Right?
Traci Thomas 13:41
Right. One of the things that I really appreciated about about this book, and also about the podcast, but just I think, really this book is your specificity of language. I think that you do a really great job in the book, laying out the terms you’re going to use are sort of this glossary section in the beginning that explains like what different different terms and words are. And is that something you’ve always been, like embraced? Or is that something that you’ve learned along the way? Like as an activist, and if if that was something that you learned, what was the turning point for you to become super rigorous with your word choice?
Aubrey Gordon 14:17
Oh, that definitely comes from organizing and activism work. I will absolutely never forget sitting in- early on in my activism and sort of organizing work- sitting in on a meeting of a mayoral commission on racial profiling. That was a mix of community advocates that was a mix of you know, uniformed cops and predominantly black community leaders talking about racial profiling, and one of the community advocate rightly pointed out that actually there wasn’t a shared definition of what constituted racial profiling. So if they wanted to come up with a plan to tackle this thing, everyone around the table was going to need to agree to what that sort of consisted of. And that request for a definition immediately blew up into cops saying, I’m not going to let you call my fellow officers racist. Like it just went Sure. So far sideways, so fast in like the most predictable ways, right? But like, that’s the kind of stuff that we’re inviting when we don’t actually define our terms and get really clear and concrete about who we’re talking about what kinds of scenarios all that kind of stuff, right? Like, I think one of the most foundational and important things to a conversation about fatness and fat folks experience is for folks who have not been fat, getting them out of the headspace of thinking that feeling fat is the same thing as being a fat person world. Right? Often those conversations happen in such a way that is, you know, thin folks wanting to express that they’re having a bad body image day, or they’re not feeling confident or whatever. And the descriptor they reach for is a descriptor of my body. And that feels terrible to me, right? Like that feels awful to be like, oh, cool, you’re shorthand for feeling the worst you’ve felt in a long time, is saying that you feel like you look like me. That’s not super affirming. It also it then leads to these really unfocused conversations about fatness and fat people, because people who have never worn plus sizes, people whose BMI size are sort of well below the like, you know, whatever obesity, quote, unquote, range, are conflating their own feelings of low self worth, with the experience of going into a doctor’s office and not knowing whether or not that doctor will treat you or getting on an airplane and not knowing whether or not you’ll be allowed to keep the seat that you bought, right. We’ve got to be able to talk about both of those things. And those things both rely on really precise and clear terms of the conversation. Yeah, you brought up BMI. So I, and it was on my
Traci Thomas 17:14
Well, yeah, I mean, you have a great episode of maintenance phase on it. So if people want like a much more in depth conversation about BMI, but in the book, you talk about BMI. It’s one of the myths that you that you bust. Can you quickly not to take away from the book or the podcast, tell people why BMI isn’t a reliable metric for for weight, overweight, obesity, huge, sort of just like, because I remember before I read this book, I’d like seen it a lot and tried to read up on it. And I was like, I don’t understand why people say this is like racist or whatever. And then I read the book, and I was like, oh, no, no, I get it now. Hi. From jump the most racist, yes, absolutely. Yeah, for sure. So yes, the BMI. I think it’s worth noting, most of us know it from an individual medical context. Its origins are from like the mid 1800s, in Belgium, with an astronomer who was upset that Belgium wasn’t really on the intellectual map. So he was trying to make a name for Belgium, and had done a bunch of sort of astronomy work. He was a statistician.
Aubrey Gordon 18:20
He was not a health care provider. And he was working to find what he believed was the average man, which for him meant the ideal man, which of course, in Belgium, in the 1800s, meant white people and so states, right. That’s who we’re talking about there. He built the BMI strictly from data from French and Scottish military conscripts. And it was mostly used as a population level sort of analysis tool. And it didn’t really go anywhere, because it didn’t really do very much, right. It didn’t come back into our health care system. In the US until the early 1900s, when life insurance companies were looking for reasons to charge some customers more than others, and you know, pad their bottom line. And one of the ways that they figured out to do that was through bodyweight that they could charge fat people more over time that sort of crept into our individual health care system. And it’s worth noting that when we established the sort of thresholds of quote unquote, overweight and obese was mostly in the 70s 80s and 90s. And we changed those definitions of who’s considered quote unquote, medically fat, multiple times, and most of those times it was based on not what is the onset of medical issues, what’s the point at which you will face increased health risks? It was set at the point of who are the fattest 15% of the people in the room? Great, they’re overweight. the fattest 5% are now obese, right? And that’s where we set the threshold is the fattest 5% of people in like the 70s. We have since revisited those thresholds, but we’ve lowered them each time. So more and more people can be considered that their sort of weight is considered a medical issue now, in a way that that just wasn’t the case 40 or 50, or 60 years ago, it’s worth noting that the high watermark for effectiveness of the BMI and quote unquote, predicting obesity is about 50%. And that’s with white men. So about half of the time, the BMI accurately says this person is or is not a fat person. That’s what the people was designed for. And it goes down from there, there’s considerable evidence that shows that this is actively harming the diagnosis and treatment of black folks, indigenous people, people of color, particularly Asian and Asian American communities, it’s very harmful to trans people who are often held to an arbitrary BMI standard in order to get transition related care, that is life saving for trans people, right. And it doesn’t work for most sis women either. Because, again, it was designed for white dudes, and it only works for them about half the time and sort of goes down from there. Right? It’s it’s not great. This is an active harm that we are continuing to sort of perpetuate. And it’s now baked into our, you know, health insurance and health care provision in ways that are tough to walk back.
Traci Thomas 21:21
Yeah. And is, are there medical professionals? Are there doctors out there that are or researchers out there that are trying to get this change? Like, is there a is because obviously, the reason that they want these numbers is so that insurance can be like, Okay, I can charge more, because this is a higher risk, this are higher risk that and everything has to be quantified in medicine. And it has to be, you know, I can build for this. And I can’t build for that. And so there must be some capitalist connection, which I don’t know the exact details to, but an assumption that I’m making feels right. But are there doctors who are like, look, we could use this other formula? Or these are the other metrics that we should be looking at, that we can implement that could be standardized? Or is that not even half? Is that not really happening yet or at all?
Aubrey Gordon 22:03
There are advocacy organizations, for fat folks that are working on this, right, there are individual health care providers that are pushing back. But honestly, at this point, as you noted, many insurers require a weight to be recorded at every visit, and a BMI to be calculated at every visit, right. So it is pretty well baked in to sort of how we do things now. I mean, I think it’s worth noting, for folks who are listening that one of the things that is acceptable to insurers is if a patient refuses to be weighed, you can actually do that. And that is an acceptable code for those insurers. So if that’s a hard experience for you, if going to the doctor and being weighed is not something you want to participate in for your own mental health or peace of mind, or just because it’s kind of a pain, you can opt out. But at this point, it is really well sort of baked into our insurance system. And I think probably getting out from under the BMI means getting out from under private insurance, which is a much bigger hill to climb. Oh, yeah. Well, that’s, again, a great segue, because one of the things that we talked about a lot on the show, and we’ve had a lot of guests on and read a lot of books about is police and prison abolition. And there’s a section about children in this book about parents and their kids. And I’m like, when I read it, and I read about kids being taken away from their parents put into foster care, because the children were considered to be too fat, for what, uh, I guess whatever metric, I’m assuming some form of BMI and other things, but they were considered too fat. And the parents didn’t do enough to force the children to lose weight, according to the state.
Traci Thomas 23:49
And I mean, my first question about this is like, what resources were the new Guardians, given? What was like, what happened? Were they tracking like, oh, this kid then lost 30 pounds? Or were they just like, fuck you. You’re a bad parent, you suck. You made a fat kid. And now your kid has to go? Like, was there ever any follow up on any of this? Like, not that not that forcing kids to lose weight is the answer. But I’m just I just know that all this shit is quantified. You know. And like, that’s how that’s how these these government institutions work is like, Oh, we’re going to take your kid and then we’re going to give these other people money to raise your kid which we wouldn’t give you to help you get groceries or whatever the fuck. And so I’m just wondering if there’s like any information about what happens to those children, in their bodies?
Aubrey Gordon 24:35
It’s really tough. I wasn’t able to find much in the way of follow up in part because these stories are even rarely written down. Right? They’re rarely reported, because it is seen as so justified and so deserved. That a fat child is evidence of a parent’s failure, which is heartbreaking for that kid. It’s heartbreaking for that parent. existentially unacceptable to me. But even just getting data about the prevalence of this is hard to come by right. Once in a blue moon, you will see sort of a story pop up here or there. But for the most part, these are not reported on because they’re not considered worthy of reporting, because it’s another day at the office, those parents should have made that lose weight, right. Even amongst many of my friends and colleagues who work in media, this would not be a remarkable story, right, which is a real heartbreaker. It’s a real heartbreaker. So I wish that there were more information to share here. But as it stands, much of this information now just sort of travels amongst fat people who are the carriers of the stories because so many other folks don’t pay attention or don’t think it’s fundamentally a bad or wrong thing, that fat kids would be taken away from their parents. There is the opening of that chapter has a really sort of striking quote from a judge who is talking about with these two kids that are being removed from the home at this judge’s orders. Talking about how well mannered they are, how smart they are, how attentive they are, how kind they are, and what a shame it is that the parents couldn’t get it together and make their kids thin because now we got to take them out of their home. It is right, a cartoonish example of just like the only thing that matters here is the size of this child’s body. So we’re gonna send them through one of the most traumatic childhood experiences someone could have and pull them away from their loving parents who they want to stay with. That’s a bleak one.
Traci Thomas 26:45
Yeah, it’s really devastating. I mean, in in that chapter, you mentioned a two and a half year old getting weight loss surgery.
Aubrey Gordon 26:53
Traci Thomas 26:54
It’s so fucked.
Aubrey Gordon 26:56
Yeah, it’s, it’s really astonishing to me that we are so bought into this idea that being a fat person is so unforgivable, so impossibly difficult, so intolerable as a society that we’re willing to put a toddler under the knife for this stuff just feels like, Guys, we got to look at our priorities. At this point. This has nothing about this child, and it says everything about us and our absolutely garbage cultural values on this topic. Like really, they’re really, really Yeah.
Traci Thomas 27:29
Okay, we’re on not bleak note, we’re going to take a quick break, we’ll be right back. Okay, we’re back. Now we’re going to we’re going to try to be less bleak. However, it’s not happening just yet, we still have a little, we still have a little more work to get into. We mentioned doctors and I don’t want to get too much into the doctor stuff. Just simply because there’s other things that I think I’m more curious and interested about, I think partially because I’m married to a doctor. So I’m older with a lot of this stuff. Like, I’ve heard a lot of stories, my husband is an OBGYN, and so weight and weight loss, and all of that becomes a serious conversation in a way that my husband has expressed a lot of disdain and disgust for the way that yeah, he you know, I make him read the books too. You know, part of the part of the job of being married to me is you got to read the abolition tags, you got to read the anti fatness books, like you got to read all this shit. But for people who are not familiar at all with what we’re talking about, you definitely need to read this book. Because if you’re a thin person who’s not familiar with the kind of discrimination that happens in the doctor’s office, you would be it is truly disgusting, dehumanizing an awful, awful, awful shit. So we’re going to kind of pass over that and leave you leave you to read that in the book. I want to talk about body positivity. And then people co opting body this is positive look, we’re having fun. We went from bleak to positivity. I have to say, you know, I’m a thin person. And the way that I hear people use body, body positivity has always struck me as this is the worst thing I’ve ever heard. And I never knew why I always felt very weird about it. I was like, why are you saying body positivity and then being like, I’m gonna go on a 70 day diet. I’m like, that doesn’t like it just doesn’t track for me. But what I didn’t know about was sort of like the history of body positivity and how how it got co opted into thin culture. I always thought it was just like a white lady thing that started and I should have known better but like, surprise!
Aubrey Gordon 29:32
Surprise, absolutely not. Yeah. So it is worth noting that well, before we get into this I’m curious about when you say the way that I’ve heard it described it sounded like awful and like a total white lady thing which like agreed that for sure tracks with my experience. Yeah. How I hear it describe. I’m curious about how you hear it describe when someone says body positivity is blah, blah, blah, like,
Traci Thomas 29:57
Yeah, let’s finish that. Do you feel like you hear, like, what I hear from people is like, oh, you know, I, I’m wearing a bikini and I have stretch marks but I’m bad body positive or like, oh, it’s sort of the way that I hear it described as like, oh I’m shitting on fatness or fat people or being fat when I’m not fat, but it’s okay because I love my body. And I’m trying to lose weight. Like it always feels coupled with anti fatness or weight loss in a way that makes me feel achy. And like I and I’ve always also felt resistant to it because I have you know, a weird as everyone who probably does in America, every woman, especially a weird relationship with weight, I was a dancer, you know. And so like, I’ve never felt body positive. I’ve never been like, Oh, I love my body, or the way that my body looks, but I’ve always been like, I’m strong. I’m capable, like and so I do feel a lot of that stuff. But like, proclaiming it to me has always felt very weird. Because of who the messengers I received that first message from.
Aubrey Gordon 31:01
Okay, for sure. Okay, so here, but I am like, tapping my nose with both of my hands with my beloved energy.
Traci Thomas 31:10
Yeah, lighting up that energy.
Aubrey Gordon 31:12
Absolutely. Right. Like, overwhelmingly, I would say the face of body positivity, quote, unquote, that I see. Mostly online sometimes in media these days, are people who fit pretty squarely within the beauty standard, but will be like, I have three square inches of cellulite on my left thigh. I don’t care. I’m embracing it. Right. Which, right, right? To me as someone who is, you know, maybe 200 pounds north of that person. Right? Right. Or more. That doesn’t feel quite so empowering. It feels like someone just saying, Look, I’m already within the beauty standard. And I have this one little thing, but I’m not gonna let that stop me, which probably wouldn’t really stop you from doing much anyway.
Traci Thomas 31:56
It hasn’t stopped you yet. Like look where you are.
Aubrey Gordon 31:59
Totally. It is worth noting that body positivity as we know it today has been sort of blown out. From its original radical roots. Yvette Dion, who wrote a phenomenal book that just came out called weightless. She’s incredible. You should read it also wrote a piece years ago for bitch magazine, about sort of body positivity losing its way as a pretty radical political movement that was focused, built by and for fat folks. predicated on the work of fat black feminists from way back, right. Johnny Tillman and Atwater folks like that, who were arguing that fatness and your body shouldn’t put a damper on the ways that you can participate in social justice movements. And in social spaces writ large, right. Then, in the early 2000s, a number of corporations sort of caught wind of this messaging and stripped it of any kind of movement context and started using it essentially, as a slogan. I think the first and most memorable ads for me are those dove ads that they had for years, the like real beauty campaign, which was sort of like we don’t care what you look like you’re beautiful no matter what. But all of the people on screen were like, mostly white, the handful of like bipoc folks were there were very light skinned, no one was over 65 There were no wheelchair users, no one had like, more than a little bit of cellulite, there were very few visible roles, right? It is sort of this redefining of the beauty standard by omission. Right? It’s turned into this thing where essentially, those corporate messages reached further than the movement ever had. So tons and tons of people just watching TV or reading a magazine saw these ads and thought that they understood the movement showed up in body positive spaces claiming based on sort of their intuitive sense from these ads, proclaiming that they knew what body positivity really was. And body positivity is for everybody, as long as you’re happy and healthy. And because those ads and their experience of body positivity to date didn’t push on any of their anti fat bias didn’t require them to have any kind of baseline agreement about their analysis of anti fat bias or oppression, or disability justice or racial justice or any of those things. What ended up happening was a lot of pretty apolitical people, mostly white women, flooding body positivity spaces, and essentially pushing out the people who created the movement who were fat folks, because to their mind, they’re not happy and they’re not healthy. How could they be looking at them? Right is the vibe right? It’s it’s really gnarly. I will also say on this one. Listen to happy and healthy stuff, I get that it’s become sort of a little bit of a meme out in the world that like you want happiness you want to help. But also, like, depressed people deserve to feel okay about their bodies, and so do people who are disabled or chronically ill or who don’t look quote unquote healthy to anybody else, right? Like, all of those people also deserve to feel peace with their body, all of those people also deserve to live in a world that doesn’t regard their bodies as barriers to their experience of it, right. But because of this, like, kind of wild capitalist takeover of this space, we have drifted really, really far from that really far from
Traci Thomas 35:45
I mean, it’s just like, you know, it just draws this, this sort of history draws so many parallels to every other marginalized group, right? Like, I feel like if anybody who’s listening, maybe you’re thin, maybe you’ve never experienced being fat or anything like that. But like, if you’re a woman, you’ve probably experienced some sort of CO opting of that, or if you’re black, you certainly remember summer 2020. Like, couldn’t forget it. Or, or if you’re queer, like there’s just so many, you know, everyone loving Ru Paul’s drag race is all of a sudden now, you know, of queer activists, right? And like, it sort of feels like solidarity and also like, Mother fuck, shit to like, get some group be free of this bullshit. Like, can we just have our activism without you people? Like, please,
Aubrey Gordon 36:30
totally, it feels a little bit like, you know, those ads that came around sort of like following the like, second wave, sort of like white lady women’s lib movements that were like, there was suddenly this wave of ads in the 70s that were like, man, women are expected to do it all. And that’s not right. That’s why you got to buy our fancy new vacuum cleaner for your house ladies, right where you’re like, Oh, right. Like the idea that like dove and airy as inherently pretty exclusive and beauty focused, uncritically beauty focused businesses, were going to be the arbiters and messengers of what isn’t, isn’t it positive? is like, Guys, we are letting ourselves get led down a very strange garden path here. What is happening? Yeah,
Traci Thomas 37:23
yeah. And like you talked about this in the book also about like internalized oppression. And you talk about like thin people being like, I have internalized fat phobia, a phrase that you explain why you don’t like to use in the book, beautifully, again, that language, that linguistic section, that thing I was talking about before, but that internalized oppression isn’t something that then people can have or feel and what they’re actually feeling is like dominance. And that was really, really impactful for me as a thin person. I was like, right? Even when I feel like not great about my body or whatever, or I feel like someone’s judging my body that isn’t internalized fat phobia, or anti fatness, like, That’s me playing into all of the things that I’ve been taught and all the ways that I’ve pushed it out on other people who actually are fat. And like that, I think of all the things I took from this book, personally, that was the most meaningful for me, and like the most had the most impact on me, I think there’s a lot of things that I learned that I didn’t know, like, just information. But what really resonated with me was like, I can’t, I can’t co opt those feelings, because I’m actually the perpetrator in the situation. So thank you for like, putting it in a way that really resonated with me because I started, you know, I sort of, but I didn’t ever actually get it. And in this book, I was like, oh, fuck, okay, this is who I am. This is where I am in this. This is where I’m positioned. And all of this Oh,
Aubrey Gordon 38:45
thank you appreciate that. I feel like this one comes up a lot when people who are not fat critique the BMI, I think is like one of the biggest ways that this shows up, which is you will see photos all over social media, of like relatively thin people or people whose BMI is might be in the overweight or quote unquote, healthy weight categories. saying, here’s how you know the BMI is garbage. It thinks I’m a fat person, right? If you look at, of course, right? For your like, that’s not like the biggest problem. Right?
Traci Thomas 39:22
Okay, sure. But also, like, feels like bigger issue, maybe more thought state stipulated?
Aubrey Gordon 39:26
Yeah, that’s weird that it thinks you’re fat. But yeah, what that person is doing is essentially saying, we all know what a real fat person looks like. And it’s wacky that this thing would treat me like a fat person. Save that for the people who deserve to be shit on because they’re right, right, right. Like that is what psychologists called social distancing. You’re trying to establish a distance in the social imagination between you and this other marginalized group. So many of the things that people who have not ever been fat describe as their own internalized fat phobia, quote, unquote, are ways of protecting themselves from being treated the way that they see fat people be treated, which is very different than people telling you again, while they’re denying you healthcare, or while they’re denying you transit or transportation or whatever, why they’re doing it, and you coming to believe that thing, right? That’s a very different mechanics than someone going, Wait a minute, someone perceived me as fat once. And like, actually, they should save that for people who are actually fat because I’m not really eating right, right. That’s not
Traci Thomas 40:34
against me save that for someone who deserves that fat.
Aubrey Gordon 40:38
Totally, that’s not you experiencing the same struggle as a fat person, whoever you may be, right? That’s you, essentially, like pushing a fat person into the line of fire so that you stay clear up, right? Like, that’s not like a human shield? That’s right. Like, that’s not like helping, and that’s not you experiencing the same kind of, you know, marginalization, or social exclusion that a fat person would
Traci Thomas 41:05
totally, totally, I mean, there’s also like this great chapter. I don’t think we have time for it. But there’s this great chapter on transportation. And my big takeaway from that was like, I cannot imagine my travel and my days, being in the hands of a random flight attendant. Yeah, like, that’s such. I mean, I mean, another part of this book for me as again, as a thin person was like, I learned a lot of things, just a lot of experiences that I didn’t know. Like, I, the way that I found out about plus size sizing, like being paying more for plus size clothes was I started merch for this podcast, and you plug it in, and then it tells you how much each thing is going to cost. And when I plugged in, what I thought the shirt should cost, it then bumped it up. And I was like, what? Yeah, and then I was like, so I went in, and I manually made everything cost the same, because I thought that was weird. And then people were thanking me online. Thank you so much for me. And I was like, what, like I had never had, it never occurred to me. And so like, again, in this book, there’s moments like not where I’m just like, you know, privilege or whatever experience like, what the fuck like you, it’s like, you don’t know what you don’t know. And so I think that is something that I really appreciated about this book. But just like thinking about the ways that flight attendants are like airlines don’t post their measurements or they don’t get have a clear, it’s just
Aubrey Gordon 42:25
yeah, there is. So my dad is a retired United pilot, and his partner is a flight attendant. And both of them my dad’s like an old union steward. So there’s like, no love lost between him. And like, I’ll say that for sure. Anytime I send him stories about like, looks like things are going sideways for United. There was that story a few years ago, about someone getting escorted from a flight because they were deemed too fat. What those stories don’t tell you is that United’s policy at that time was you need to be able to comfortably fit in a seat without a seat belt extender, there was not a standard seat belt length on that plane, nor was there anywhere for any fat passenger to go to get that information to cap. So essentially, every time I booked a flight on, you know, 95% of commercial airlines, I am absolutely rolling the dice on who’s going to be the flight attendant that day, are they going to prioritize a complaint or even just like a body language of discomfort over me staying on this flight? Will I be allowed to keep my seat? Will I be charged double on the day of with no notice and have to come up with 400 extra dollars to pay for a second seat that I can’t even use because they don’t even have a free seat on the plane. Right? The policies are completely nonsensical. They are totally punitive. And they are impossible to navigate. And they’re not there to be navigated. Right. Like they’re not actually designed for fat people. They’re designed to signposts for thin people to know who to complain to if they have to sit next to him. Right.
Traci Thomas 44:06
Right. Exactly. It’s like, again, this policing, it’s like yeah, I didn’t I guess I didn’t realize how closely tied to abolition a lot of this like anti FAT or FAT activism is anti fat fight. What’s the it’s not and it’s fat activism,
Aubrey Gordon 44:20
like, Yeah, that’s right. And
Traci Thomas 44:24
by two phrases, I’m like, wait language, how does it work? No. Do you want to know? Yeah, I want to know what’s something that’s not in this book that you wish was or could be a question to ask before your books come out?
Aubrey Gordon 44:40
That’s a good one. I mean, I think one that is touched on in the book, but tends to be a big light switch for folks, but isn’t really like addressed in depth here is media representation of fat folks, that actually, most of the narratives that we get about fat people are Written by thin people for other than people, usually using thin actors wearing prosthetics or fat suits. And usually there is no fat person involved at any point in the construction of that narrative, right? We’re seeing that now with, you know, movies like The whale, which is a really gruesome imagining of what it would be like to be a very fat gay man, by someone who has not lived that experience by his own admission, right. But we’ve also seen that for years with things like the biggest loser, or things like my 600 pound life, which are vehicles for watching fat people be abused on television, and feeling reassured for thin folks to feel reassured that whatever’s going on in your life, at least you’re not that fat, right. So these are right, like most of our media around fatness and fat people isn’t just designed to ignore fat people’s actual lived experiences. It’s designed to stoke and foment anti fat bias, and to other fat people even more, and make thin viewers or viewers who are quote unquote, not that fat, feel better about themselves, specifically at the expense of fatter people. It is pretty morally bankrupt. And it’s like, almost all of the media that we get about fat people fits in that can Yeah, it’s really rough. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 46:37
Yeah. Okay, hard shift. We’re going to talk about how you right? Where are you? How many hours a day how often music or no, this parts of snacks or beverages? Rituals? Talk about it? Yes. Okay. This is fun. Way more fun. One of my favorite questions. I ask everybody.
Aubrey Gordon 46:59
Everything’s trying to to kill us, and it’s really bad, cuz it feels like way better to be like-
Traci Thomas 47:04
Yes. It’s better. We’re out of the hard stuff. Now. Now is all the fun Aubrey stuff for the last little bit.
Aubrey Gordon 47:08
Let’s do it. Yeah, so I would say. So there’s like two chapters. For me, there’s pre pandemic, and there’s, in a pandemic, writing, pre pandemic, my, I had two sort of habits that I would use when I was working on the first manuscript, I drove around to different libraries around the metropolitan area where I live in Portland, and got really big on finding the best libraries with the best quiet rooms. Oh, okay, what a treat. So I would go to the library and just be like, You’re not leaving until you finish this chapter. however long that is, work it out, write it out, here we go. And that was usually like four or five hours a day, I also got really into for shorter work like columns and that kind of thing. I would take my laptop and drive to a movie theater, and sit in the parking lot of the movie theater and write my column and be like, You got to be done by three because that’s when whatever Nicolas Cage movie starts or whatever, and like you got to be in there for your show. And it was a great way to write about these like really intense, deep emotional topics, and then immediately walk into a movie theater and be like, No, you’re watching trolls to have fun. Like, it was a really great way to like, make that gear shift in my brain. These days, I mostly I still take my laptop with me and drive to you know, some beautiful place. Mostly it’s like big parks and out in nature and all go and sit and write for a long time and take my dog with me and go for a hike when I need a break and come back and do some more writing and then go home. Yeah.
Traci Thomas 48:50
Snacks and beverages?
Aubrey Gordon 48:51
I’m usually just I’m I am constantly accompanied by my trusty companion, which is like seltzer of some kind. But not usually snacks. Mostly I’m sort of a sprinter of a writer, which is just like I will sit down and be like, Alright, you’re getting out 3000 imperfect words right now go and sort of start from there. And then come back and edit from those. So usually, it’s like, short enough number of words in a stretch. That snacks are not like totally necessary.
Traci Thomas 49:24
You’re not like a 12 hour day person.
Aubrey Gordon 49:26
No, I’m totally not a marathoner. I my brain way short circuit.
Traci Thomas 49:31
That’s how I am to I have to do like a lot of different tasks throughout the day. Can you talk so you wrote anonymously for a long time as your fat friend? And now you write with your name, and you’re in the world with your name? And I’m curious, how did you approach or did you approach writing anonymously differently than you approach? Writing with your name and has that been different or difficult or freeing or whatever for you?
Aubrey Gordon 49:59
Either Thinking anonymity just in terms of the writing and how it shaped up the writing allowed me to start from a place of way more sort of emotional honesty and vulnerability than I would have been able to if my name had been attached. And it was going out into the world. And people who I knew knew it was me, it felt a little bit more like a message in a bottle, right? To be able to say, you know, to sort of speak about my own experiences in such a way that was not edited for you know, I don’t want my boss to find out about this, or I don’t want my friend to find out about this, or what have you, right? Like, it just lets you get all the way into whatever experience you’re talking about. So I think ideally, it hasn’t changed my writing a ton. And I don’t notice myself editing around that kind of stuff. The things that I mostly noticed myself editing around are stories that aren’t mine to tell, right? So if I ended up writing something about a friend’s experience with weight loss surgery, or what have you, I end up editing out much more of that stuff than my own stuff. I’m more likely to rely on my own stories for exactly that reason, because I know, right, where my boundaries are, and what’s okay with me and what’s not.
Traci Thomas 51:13
Aubrey Gordon 51:14
So yeah, I would say, anonymity was just in terms of getting like really, really emotionally honest, was a really helpful starting point to just go right about this, like, it’s you’re writing in your diary, and nobody knows it to you, because nobody knows it to you. So be totally honest.
Traci Thomas 51:31
Do you feel like you’re still able to tap into that level of honesty and vulnerability? Or do you find yourself, like holding back in some ways, because you know that it’s your name now?
Aubrey Gordon 51:41
I don’t, because I feel like listen, all of the gnarliest stuff was in a lot of that early work. So I’m like, oh, it’s already out there. So what new is gonna happen here? Not much.
Traci Thomas 51:53
Because your name, I guess, is now on all of that now to
Aubrey Gordon 51:57
Totally Absolutely. And that like, most folks who know me and know, my work at this point, know it from a podcast where I am shouting about this kind of stuff. All right. So that ship has kind of sailed. You know what I mean?
Traci Thomas 52:12
Yeah, yeah, totally. Yeah. Do you speaking of the podcast, do you? Or, I mean, I brought this up at the very, very beginning, sort of the tone of the podcast is like a lot more, you know, light and it’s not anecdotal, but it feels more anecdotal. I know, you guys put a ton of research in, but it definitely has that sort of like, Hey, listen to this, Michael. Hahaha, like, can you believe BMI? What a joke versus like how it’s written about in the book? Did you ever consider writing this book with a little bit more of that, like humor? Or reverence? Or did you always know it was going to be sort of more of a rigorous text?
Aubrey Gordon 52:49
I think that to get it this kind of stuff directly. I think it’s important for this stuff to land hard for folks. Sometimes. You know, I think it’s important for folks to get not totally like, called to the carpet, but to be told in pretty unvarnished terms. Look, when you tell someone that they’re glorifying obesity, what you’re saying is, I don’t want to look at you. Right, like, right, that’s just gonna land hard. And it probably should. And I’m not interested in making that truth easier to people who are trying to make life hard for fat people, right. Um, I will also say, this has always been true that my writing voice is very, like emotional and somber, and researched and intense and direct and all that sort of stuff. And then my personal stuff is like blue. Again, like, if you want to imagine the energy of like, one of those inflatable car dealership, guys, oh my gosh, yes, my vibe just in life. And that is really different than my sort of relationship to writing and just sort of always has been. So that’s also just sort of part of it is like, what I write, what comes out is more intense than what comes out when I talk.
Traci Thomas 54:06
I love this. I actually really appreciate it. I felt like I got a different, totally different side of you that I really enjoyed. Okay, this is another very important question that ask everybody. What is the word you can never spell correctly on the first try?
Aubrey Gordon 54:20
Oh, that’s such a good one. Okay, so I’m gonna think about words that I can’t spell correctly on the first try. The one that’s coming to mind is from RE recording the audiobook of this the word that I can’t ever say correctly on the first try. Apparently, I learned a couple months ago, is purportedly, and I use that word so many times in this book. So many times I said it wrong every time. I will say state names. I almost always have to do the like, okay, am I SSIs s IP railer or master chooses how many S’s and in what part and how many T’s and in what part, like all of that kind of stuff. I’m always like, it’s a little bit like when you have to like hold out your hand to figure out which Okay, that’s the left, left and right. It’s like counting on my fingers of spelling. I will say, state names or who tough ones. How about you words?
Traci Thomas 55:20
I’m so curious. Oh, my God, I have so many. I’m so bad. I’m a terrible speller. So I always agree with people but recommendation, accommodation. Anything that has multiple continents is really hard for me. I also discover new ones every day, assuage. Oh, there’s a lot of words. And then for whatever reason, I can’t type episode, I always flip the s and the I put the s and the D together, even though I know how to spell episode for whatever reason, whenever I type it, and as a person who has 250 podcast episodes, guess how much I write episode constantly, and the little fucking red line shows up? And I’m like, Bitch, I know this. Learn from me learn that I know this computer. You’re so smart. It’s a mistake. And you know what? And so do I. So that’s a word that like haunts me.
Aubrey Gordon 56:06
That’s I’m realizing that like, some of the best writers I know, are also some of the worst spellers.
Traci Thomas 56:14
Well, that’s why this question came up. Because I was like, talk, I think it started with I was talking to Jason Reynolds. Do you know him? He writes young people’s lead. And I was like, Jason, you know, I’m a terrible speller. Like, I’ve been wondering this, like, what’s the word you can spell? And then he picked a word that I can spell he picked restaurant, and I was like, Haha, you’re a fucking idiot because I can spell restaurant and I was like, but I can’t spell any of the other words that I’ve said today’s episode. And then I have had like, two very famous people on the show. I had Angelina Jolie and I had Quentin Tarantino and they both said restaurant as their word. And I was like, so it’s like the Jason Reynolds word is for as like the brilliant the brilliant can’t spell restaurant-
Aubrey Gordon 56:54
That’s amazing. You got some real validation for your spell.
Traci Thomas 56:58
It was so weird to have them on the show. I was like, What do you guys want to do it here but honored or whatever. But yes, restaurant is the word of like, the A list humans if you can’t spell restaurant, you are destined for greatness.
Aubrey Gordon 57:11
Yeah, you’re a star. Congratulations.
Traci Thomas 57:14
You’re illiterate. But you’re a brilliant. Okay, for people who love you just need to lose weight. What are some other books you might recommend to them that are in conversation with your work? And I know, you list a lot of books, so you don’t have to do all of them. But just
Aubrey Gordon 57:34
Yeah, totally. I would say there’s a comedian out of the UK named Sophie Hagen who has a book called Happy fat that is phenomenal. Sonia Renee Taylor. I’m not telling anybody anything they don’t know New York Times best seller so when you’re ready to tailor the body is not an apology is absolutely right Annabelle. I would say Dijon. Harrison has a book called the belly of the beast. That is like absolutely incredible. There are just I mean, Roxane Gay’s hunger is like a really incredible one of these as well, right. And oh, the one that’s not in the book, because it’s come out since then. And I blurbed it because it’s incredible is that Yvette Deelen book weightless, which is like one of the most moving, honest, clear eyed kind of books that I’ve read in a really, really long time. I feel like this book tour is like kind of me talking about my book, and also a lot of just being like, why isn’t everyone reading this book by Yvette? Because it’s really right, running away with it. It’s like, it’s incredible. It’s incredible.
Traci Thomas 58:37
Okay, I have it, I’m going to start it. Like, as soon as we’re done today, I have to read two other books for the podcasts. And then that will be my next My next read. Okay, here’s my last question for you. If you could have one person dead or alive, read this book, who would you want it to be?
Aubrey Gordon 58:52
Oh, the place that my mind is going is like the producers of The Biggest Loser. But I kind of think that might be a little bit of a lost cause. Um, I would say listen broadly, here’s what I would say. I would say people who work in public health that would be like, folks who are designing public health interventions into this stuff, because at this point, there is no jurisdiction in this country or on this planet that has, quote unquote, reversed its rates of obesity and reduced the number of fat people in their community. That is where a real plurality of our public health dollars are going to is to making fat people thin. And there’s no evidence that we can accomplish that. Right. The dream world for me would be a just again, sort of like anyone who wants to have a good faith conversation about this kind of stuff. Come on down. But be that particularly folks who are sort of orchestrating some of the larger scale little ways that we’re trained to see this stuff. Take this stuff to heart and do a little reconsidering. It’s not a flashy answer. I don’t have like, right. That’s the right answer. George Washington is great.
Traci Thomas 1:00:16
Everybody has- everyone’s answer, I think is great. I always love hearing what people say. So you don’t have to quantify it.
Aubrey Gordon 1:00:22
And the other thing that I would say about this book is my other great hope for it is that it becomes really obsolete really fast. Just that we just like, abandon a bunch of this stuff and keep it moving. I’m not holding my breath, but it is a hope.
Traci Thomas 1:00:35
I’m hoping for this to everybody. This has been a wonderful conversation with Aubrey Gordon, who’s brand new book is called you just need to lose weight and 19 other myths about fat people. She’s also the author of what we don’t talk about when we talk about fat and a co host of the maintenance phase podcast. You can catch her all those places, you can get the books wherever you get your books, I will link to our various social media in the show notes as I always do. Aubrey, thank you so much for being here.
Aubrey Gordon 1:01:04
This is such a treat. Thank you so much. This was a really fantastic conversation.
Traci Thomas 1:01:09
Thank you and everyone else we will see you in The Stacks.
Alright, y’all, thank you so much for listening. And thank you to Aubrey Gordon for being our guest. I’d also like to say thank you to Priyanka Ray for helping to make this conversation possible. Remember our January book club selection is the meaning of Mariah Carey by Mariah Carey with Mikayla Angela Davis and we will be discussing the book with Chelsea demonetized on January 25. If you love this show and what inside access to it, head to patreon.com/the stacks and join the statspack please make sure you’re subscribed to the stats wherever you listen to your podcasts and if you’re listening through Apple podcasts or Spotify, be sure to leave us a rating and a review. For more from the stacks. Follow us on social media at the stacks pod on Instagram and at the stacks pod underscore on Twitter and check out our website the stacks podcast.com This episode of the Stacks was edited by Kristian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. The Stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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