The essays in BIG: Stories About Life in Plus-Size Bodies explore themes of all kinds: from fashion to food, sexuality to surgery, diet culture to fat activism.
BIG is both personal and political, braiding together common themes and differing opinions, in stories that are at times funny, traumatic, surprising, and heartfelt. Readers of all sizes and shapes will find stories that may feel intimately familiar to their own experiences, and others that are new, challenging and surprising. The book is opportunity to ask questions about and—hopefully—reconsider our collective and individual obsession with women’s bodies.
Edited by former reporter Christina Myers, BIG includes the work of 26 writers from across Canada and beyond, among them award-winning novelists and poets, first-time writers, educators, journalists, mothers, fat activists, and more.
Bodies and books. Books and bodies. It’s safe to say that the two topics have occupied a large portion of my time, energy, and thought for much of my life. I was a bookworm—growing up in what I thought was an imperfect body; at times, books were an escape from thinking about bodies (or at least a way to think about other people’s bodies instead of my own).
But in recent years, books and bodies have intertwined in ways I couldn’t have imagined when I was a teenager. In the last few years, writing that focuses on what Roxane Gay has called our “unruly bodies” has sparked powerful public conversations that continue to be transformational—on an individual and a cultural level. From non-fiction in the form of both memoir and science journalism, to fiction, poetry and books that blend genres, stories about bodies aren’t just changing the way we think about ourselves as individuals but changing how we collectively think about bodies, too. Here’s a few of the Canadian titles that explore bodies in a variety of ways.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, by Mona Awad
This book garnered plenty of award nods, including a spot in the coveted Giller Prize finalist lineup—and for good reason. The novel (written in 13 parts) follows the life of Lizzie (later Beth, Elizabeth, and then Liz as she moves from childhood to adulthood). The book explores the complex maze of body image, weight, eating disorders, sex and relationships, that Liz must navigate as she grows up—a journey that will be familiar to most readers.
Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have, by Louise Green
Between Instagram fitness “influencers” who are secretly struggling with eating disorders and reality TV shows that make fat people compete with each other to get skinny as fast as possible, it can seem like the world of fitness is not just exclusive to those who are under a certain clothing size, but also harmful to those above it. Louise Green provides an alternative as a role model of being both big and fit. For anyone who has ever felt intimidated at a gym, or wondered about pulling on their sneakers to go for a jog, Big Fit Girl is a great read.
The Vagina Bible, by Dr. Jen Gunter
Dr. Jen Gunter takes on every misconception and myth about our bodies and trades it in for common sense and education. The Canadian OB-GYN is well known on social media for tackling the ill-informed among us and dishing out advice and information. I include this book because knowledge about our bodies—all parts of our bodies—is powerful. Not only does the book fill in all the blanks that may have been missed in your sex-ed class, it has also created a lot of conversation about a topic that still remains taboo for many.
Boobs: Women Explore What It Means to Have Breasts, edited by Ruth Daniell
Full disclosure: I’m among the writers in this collection of nonfiction essays and poetry. The book covers the joys, agonies, confusion, dismay, excitement, and uncertainty that breasts bring—from early development to motherhood, to surgeries to enhance or remove, along with cancer fears and diagnoses, sexuality, and much more. The book reminds us that boobs—despite their uniformly sexual nature in pop culture—can be a source of a wide spectrum of emotions, experiences, and self-perceptions. Reading this book (and writing for it) helped me gain another foothold in the long project of coming to a truce with my own body.
I’m Afraid of Men, by Vivek Shraya
More than once while reading I’m Afraid of Men, I had to close my eyes, hold the book against my chest, and think about what I’d just read—and the courage that writing it must have required. Vivek Shraya’s exploration of her own life, starting with a childhood in which she was never masculine enough to be the boy that she was expected to be, reminds us how much one’s body can endanger a person’s very life—depending on how much that body adheres to expected social and gender norms. Exploring the ways in which her body intersects with a world filled with misogyny and transphobia, and subsequently what it takes to find comfort and healing and self-love, Shraya shares insights that are stunning and transformative.
Fit at Mid Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey, by Samantha Brennan and Tracy Isaacs
The health and wellness shelf is full of books telling women (mostly aimed at teens or 20-somethings) how to get healthy (which is code for thin) with advice that is dubious at best and downright dangerous at worst. This book, on the other hand, offers something entirely different from its counterparts: a feminist approach to the notion of wellness—one that focuses on strength and wellness over beauty standards and appearances, for women at 40, 50, and beyond. The book explores and challenges the cultural assumptions around fitness, offering women a new way to look at their own health no matter their size or age.
This humorous and heartfelt memoir explores diets, relationships, self-esteem, and the problems of trying to navigate a world that expects unattainable perfection. Writer Monica Parker structures the book in a unique way: each section kicks off with the description of a diet—and how much that diet has cost her in money and self-esteem. The book is funny but also challenging for anyone who recognizes themselves in her story—which is almost everyone, to one degree or another. Its uplifting message about embracing ourselves—bumps and all—is one that plenty of us need to hear.
Looks Can Kill: A Doctor's Journey through Steroids, Addiction and Online Fitness Culture, by Riam Shammaa and Patricia Pearson
This one will be on shelves this month and I’m looking forward to reading the reviews, and getting my hands on a copy as well. The book explores the dirty secret of online fitness culture: rampant steroid and drug use, not only among its Instagram stars and wellness gurus, but also by the fans and followers who seek to follow their lead. With unattainable beauty ideals intersecting with social media, what kind of lengths will we go to—and is it about health or about looking “good.” I’m always interested in stories that question and re-shape the conversation about doing “whatever it takes” to look a certain way.
Being Fat: Women: Women Weight and Feminist Activism, by Jenny Ellison
It’s another couple of months before this book is on shelves, but it promises to be an interesting read. The book explores the earliest days of fat activism in Canada, in the mid '70s, through to the late '90s, and the intersections of second-wave feminism with discussions around femininity, sexuality, and health. The movement since then has taken a variety of forms. The book explores activities like fashion design, self-help groups, plus-size modelling, and dance, undertaken in the name of empowering women, and challenging body and beauty norms.
Pop culture stereotypes, shopping frustrations, fat jokes, and misconceptions about health are all ways society systemically rejects large bodies. BIG is a collection of personal and intimate experiences of plus size women, non-binary and trans people in a society obsessed with thinness. Revealing insights that are both funny and traumatic, surprising and challenging, familiar and unexpected, 26 writers explore themes as diverse as self perception, body image, fashion, fat activism, food, sexuality, diet culture, motherhood and more. These stories offer a closer look at what it means to navigate a world designed to fit bodies of a certain size (sometimes literally) and, in turn, invites readers to ask questions about—and ultimately reconsider—our collective and individual obsession with women's bodies.
Contributors include Dr. Rohini Bannerjee, Amanda Scriver, Cassie Stocks, Jo Jefferson, Layla Cameron, Rabbit Richards, Sonja Boon, Simone Blais, Tracy Manrell and other writers from across Canada, the US, and the UK.
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