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The What-O-Sphere?

In an interview that made me want to be her best friend, actress and writer Nia Vardalos recently told US Weekly (as a response to being called "overweight"), "Hey, just say fat. I love the word fat....It's actually not a naughty word. We give it a power it actually doesn't have." Hear, hear! On my blog, in an essay I contributed to a recent anthology, and in the introduction to the new book I co-authored, I've explained in detail why I agree wholeheartedly with Vardalos. The short version is, "fat" is actually a pretty simple and straightforward way to describe folks with more adipose tissue than average; it's only loaded down with a bazillion insulting connotations — lazy, stupid, sloppy, undisciplined, etc. — because of cultural attitudes toward fat people, not because of the fat itself. Just as Vardalos said, we give it a power it actually doesn't have.

But man oh man, do we ever give it that power. Because the F-word can be such a bombshell, I've had to develop a stock stranger-friendly answer to questions about the book or the blog: "I write about body image and self-acceptance." Everyone loves that line. Having a positive body image is so important for young girls! Self-acceptance is so important for all of us! It is a great thing you do, Ms. Harding! Just as they're about to nominate me for a humanitarian award (or, you know, at least walk away with a decent impression), they ask what the title of the book is. And then I have to say it: Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body.

Wait, the What-O-Sphere?

The very first working title of the book, of which I'm still inordinately fond, was Results Not Typical. But I say "inordinately" because pretty much no one else liked it, and our agent made us think of a new one before she'd send the proposal out. Title number two — which remains on the Australian edition — was Screw Inner Beauty. The idea there is that fat women, on the rare occasions when we're told not to hate ourselves, are inevitably encouraged to focus on our "inner beauty" — the logical corollary being that outer beauty is a lost cause, what with the revolting fat and all. Marianne and I aren't interested in helping women like themselves despite whatever fat they may be carrying; we're interested in helping women like their bodies at any size. But that, admittedly, is a little high-concept — "Screw Inner Beauty" sounds more like a book of fashion and make-up tips, right? So along comes another request to think up a new title. And after a bit more brainstorming, we heard that the publisher was superkeen on the word "fatosphere" (fun fact: it only got the hyphens to make the original cover design more readable), which we and our fellow body acceptance bloggers were using to describe our little corner of the internet. How did we feel about Notes/Dispatches/Lessons from the Fatosphere?

"We can't use the word 'fat,'" I said. "The women who need this book most would be mortified to buy a book with the word 'fat' in the title. And certainly, nobody's going to buy it as a gift — 'Hey, I got you this because you're fat!'" Not so long ago, even I hesitated to take a copy of Wendy Shanker's The Fat Girl's Guide to Life up to the counter at a bookstore. The last thing on earth the average fat woman wants to do is draw attention to the size of her body, even from a random cashier and only for the length of a quick transaction. I had a strong gut feeling that that title would threaten sales, for the very reasons why we needed to write the book in the first place. But I got outvoted and, in the interest of not being a pain in everyone else's butt, shut up about it.

Was it the right call not to fight harder for a non-fat title? I'm still not sure, honestly. I mean, not being a pain in everyone else's butt is, generally speaking, a wise career move. I used to work in publishing and made a vow to myself 10 years ago that, if I ever made it to the other side, I would not be that whiny, clueless author who throws a tantrum over a title change or the cover art or the editing of my oh-so-precious words; I would trust the experienced professionals to do right by my book, recognizing that they'd worked just as hard as I had and wanted it to sell just as badly. And speaking of those professionals, it was pointed out to me that our fellow Penguin Group author Jen Lancaster has sure done all right for herself with titles that include the words "fat" and "big ass." (Of course, there is the whole "she's Jen Effin' Lancaster" factor working in her favor.) But I still can't help thinking of all the women who feel like I did just a few years ago, who might pick up a copy of the book in a store and take a surreptitious glance at the back cover copy or table of contents, then put it right back, too embarrassed by the thought of paying for a book with the word "fat" on the cover. Thinking about those women breaks my heart — not just because I want their money, but because I want them not to be so ashamed of that stupid little word, so controlled by it. We give it a power it actually doesn't have. Which is exactly why Marianne and I wrote the book.

Also, I do want their money. There's that. Yippee for online booksellers!

—Kate Harding

÷ ÷ ÷

Kate Harding founded Kate Harding's Shapely Prose, a blog about body acceptance and the treatment of fat people in the media.

Marianne Kirby is dedicated to body politics and fat acceptance. She is co-moderator of the Livejournal community Fatshionista, which has more than 2,500 members.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit...
    Used Trade Paper $7.95
  2. Feed Me!: Writers Dish about Food,... Used Trade Paper $1.95
  3. The Fat Girl's Guide to Life Used Trade Paper $6.95

Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby is the author of Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body

63 Responses to "The What-O-Sphere?"

    Arwen June 15th, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    I rather like the title and cover art of "Screw Inner Beauty"... Are whiny fans protecting your (plural) precious authorial visions allowed?

    SunflowerP June 15th, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    IMO, having the word "fat" right there on the cover is an important step toward ending the shame. My guess is that, for every woman who is reluctant to buy a book with "fat" in the title, there are at least two who know darn well they're fat, want to stop feeling ashamed about it, and will be more likely to buy the book because it doesn't euphemize.

    Susan June 15th, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Good old Kate Harding, she's nothing if not predictable. In the very first paragraph of this shameless plug - oops, I mean "article" - she includes links to, not only her book, but also her blog, a recent essay and - just in case you want a different edition of her book - the Australian edition!

    Yes folks, this is the same Kate Harding who gave her book a five-star review right here on

    And the very same Kate Harding who asked her blog readers to mark "troll comments" [ie anyone who disagrees with her]on another online bookseller "not helpful", "so they get moved down the page".

    It must be hard work making a living out of being fat.

    Charlotte June 15th, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    I think it's great that the word fat is on the cover, although I do understand your reluctance to use it. But I believe having the word fat right there on the cover is a great way to publicly take back the word and rid it of its negative connotations.

    sammy June 15th, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    Right on, Kate. I understand very much the trepidation to put the word "fat" right there on the cover, but if we're going to accept the very existence of fat, and ourselves as fat people, then it's the first thing to put out there. It's a bit like dressing to pretend like we're not fat: there's not a dress, a cardigan, a pair of pants on earth that will disguise fat and trick others into believing that the fat isn't there, but by God, we're supposed to try our hardest. Part of accepting my fat has been trying to dress for my own comfort, for a bit of style, and not worry that people can see my fat. They're going to see it whether or not I wear a muu-muu or a well-fitting shirt, so I might as well wear what looks great. Same with the book: put "fat" right out there and let the content speak for itself. I'm glad you trusted your editor on the title!

    Having said that... though I fully intend to order it from my workplace, I do worry about the guys who work in product-receiving seeing the book, putting my name on it, and connecting me with it... like I worried when I would order exercise DVDs (I like to work out; I dislike titles that end in "away the pounds" or "off the inches", implying the only reason to exercise is soley to lose weight). Not that they would make fun of me to my face, but I fear behind-my-back giggles. Going back to my first paragraph, though, it's not like I've tricked them into believing I'm skinny, so what could the harm be?

    Sorry for the novel...! Thanks for the book and your website and all of the work that you do. I appreciate it very much!

    Jill June 16th, 2009 at 4:04 am

    Hi, Kate --

    Jill from B@B here. I've started describing myself as "fat" around my workplace, and it freaks people out. "You're not fat," they say -- as if they think it's what I want to hear. For all that I'm still scared to go to a doctor because I don't want to be told to go on a diet that's guaranteed to fail within 5 years, I'm finding that being able to use the word "fat" as a descriptor feels like a 20-lb. weight lifted off my shoulders. Maybe that's the easiest way for us fat women to lose weight -- just get rid of that anvil of shame.

    Kate Harding June 16th, 2009 at 9:13 am

    I continue to be baffled by folks who don't understand that when one publishes a book, one usually hopes to sell copies of it. Or that when one publishes things on public blogs, she is not generally ashamed when other people try to "out" her as having published those things... publicly. (Encouraging your existing readership to help support a book? THE NERVE. Why, it's almost as though you're promoting a product! How unseemly!)

    Aaanyway. Thrilled to hear everyone else's thoughts on using the word "fat" on the cover. I do think it is part of the ongoing reclamation of the word, and I really hope it can ultimately be helpful in that respect.

    Jo Ann June 16th, 2009 at 11:37 am

    So, Susan thinks you should: A) not try to help readers find your book; B) not rate your book highly (presumably you submitted a manuscript you didn't actually think was good...?); and C) not defend the culture of your OWN blog. I wonder, if you made your living as, say, a financial advisor, would she feel the need to denigrate your making a living off finance? And finally, her life is so small that she has time to worry about these things and feel she must spend time sending out her message to the world? Sad.

    By the way, I recently got a new doctor, and at one point in our first meeting, I said, "I suppose I should lose some weight," (you know, the old preemptive strike), to which she replied, "Well, there may not be a lot you can do about that." !!! Keep up the good work, the word IS getting out there!

    Susan June 16th, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    Of course I appreciate that authors need to promote their work. But Kate Harding is the only author I know of who has (a) given her own book a five-star review on an online bookseller or (b) asked her blog readers to mark "troll comments" on another online bookseller "not helpful", "so they get moved down the page".

    Perhaps, despite having reclaimed the word "fat" she's not as confident as she would have her readers believe?

    Otto Vox June 16th, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Susan, I suspect you are dead wrong about Kate being the only author you know to give her own book a five-star review. She's just the only one you know who openly identified herself. It's common book industry knowledge that many, many, MANY authors give themselves five-star reviews under assumed identities (in fact, there was an expose a few years back when some Amazon code got mucked up and the authors' identities were accidentally exposed).

    Personally, I give her props for being up-front about it.

    If you ever publish a book, Susan, I have a feeling Kate's actions are going to make a lot more sense to you. Try to imagine how "troll" comments feel when just anyone can pop in and take five minutes to tear down weeks/months/years of your hard work without thinking, or even reading it.

    Susan June 16th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Otto Vox - thanks for your comment. I was unaware of the "common book industry knowledge" about authors giving themselves five-star reviews under assumed identities.

    Still, that doesn't mean I would give Kate props for being upfront about posting her own five-star review here.

    Her actions on "trolls", and your comments, only reinforce my initial impression that "Lessons From the Fat-o-Sphere" is intended for Kate's online readership. Bullying tactics won't endear her to a broader audience, or recruit more members to the Fat Acceptance movement.

    Annie June 16th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Gosh Susan, I hate to quibble with you, but from where I stand it looks like Kate is already doing a fabulous job of endearing her viewpoint to a larger audience. I discovered Fat Acceptance through her blog, and in the few months since I discovered it, I've linked it to dozens of friends, as well as bought 3 copies of her book (one for myself and two as gifts). I haven't heard a single negative thing about the book, blog, or Kate herself from any of those people.

    farfalla June 16th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    Susan, I don't think Kate has ever asked that people mark negative reviews as 'unhelpful'. Instead, she asked that people mark reviews which are full of patently false information, or hateful reviews from people who have clearly NEVER READ the book.

    Not to speak for Kate, but I don't think at all that she's speaking of reviews which say: 'Y'know, I read this, and I was disappointed. I was hoping for more of X and less of Y, and I thought the chatty writing style was off-putting, and blah blah thoughtful commentary/criticism'.

    No, she's talking about: "I haven't read this, but fatties are all going to die!!1! and all the doctors at my hospital agree with me!" For example.

    (P.S., I loved the chatty writing style, this was just an example. <3.)

    Sticky June 16th, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    I for one was thrilled to see the word fat in the cover. It is very interesting that people seem very uncomfortable when I use that word (and BTW, I loved the original title Results Not Typical. LOL.)

    I too have had coworkers correct me, "you're not fat!" when I am far and away very fat. "Yes I am, and it's okay," I tell people. They seem surprised, but sort of relieved too.

    Susan, trolls post messages that are intended to disrupt, misrepresent, inflame or simply insult others trying to meaningfully discuss a topic. Kind of like your comments. Legitimate reviews are always welcome. It's so sad that you find such pleasure in ripping down others. I feel sorry for you, truly.

    Susan June 16th, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Farfalla & Sticky - from my reading of "Shapely Prose", I have the impression that anyone who disagrees with Kate's world-view is automatically labelled as either a "troll" or a "douchehound". I think she's peeved that she can't delete negative comments from forums like this one.

    Perhaps you missed her blog post on 6 May where she wrote: "Powell’s is especially trolly right now, and I’ve already corresponded with a director there, who said (totally reasonably) that deleting even the worst ones would probably draw more negative attention and cause more trouble than it’s worth." That doesn't sound like legitimate reviews are always welcome.

    vgnvxn June 16th, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Susan, the definition of a troll "is someone who posts controversial, inflammatory, irrelevant or off-topic messages in an online community, such as an online discussion forum or chat room, with the primary intent of provoking other users into an emotional response or to generally disrupt normal on-topic discussion." according to Wiki. And all Kate requested was that people mark down true "troll" comments. Unless you think she has some sort of secret code she sent only to her loyal readers, then you need to just DROP this stupid accusation you keep bringing up. Troll comments add NOTHING to discussion, and are totally obnoxious on a book review site, where the purpose is to rate the book, not spout off your own feelings on things you ASSUME are in the book. Considering how much people hate fat people and fat acceptance, I think it's perfectly reasonably to ask her blog community to help her monitor the disingenuous "ratings" the book gets NOT from people who simply did not like the book, but from true trolls. DROP IT.

    Standish June 16th, 2009 at 5:29 pm

    It is wrong for the author to encourage her blog readers to write positive reviews and to suggest that a negative review is a 'troll' whom should be degraded by negative comments.

    Book reviews should be objective. People expect to see objective reviews, not a subjective campaign by a small group with polarized views on an echo chamber blog.

    I read the book, and thought her comments on lack of correlation between health and obesity were absurd.

    American obesity has skyrocketed in the last 20 years. Visit Europe and notice the obvious difference in size. Is this due to genetics? Sorry, genetics don't change in 200 years.

    What has changed is portion size, lack of exercise, and poor choices. Yes, you may have a fat mother, father, aunt, etc however this is due to lifestyle, not your genes.

    vgnvxn June 16th, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    SHE NEVER SAID TO MARK DOWN NEGATIVE REVIEWS! Kate merely wanted pointless, inflamatory, NON REVIEWS (ie just there to argue, didn't READ THE BOOK) to be marked down. As they should be. "Reviews" by people that didn't read the book, or don't even discuss the book, are NOT REVIEWS, and shouldn't be in a ratings system. Why is this so hard for people to grasp?

    SNd June 16th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    While the term 'troll' has been well defined here, the author's blog definition is quite broader.

    Anyone who has an opposing viewpoint is deemed a troll or a dou....bag. As such, the author's blog is indeed quite polarized.

    This type of filtering creates a concentration where readers only expose themselves to views they already believe. The result is less opportunity to hear and understand dissent, which is a critical element of good decision making.

    Jo Ann June 16th, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Incidentally, I came to Kate's blog AFTER reading the book, so if it was "written for her online membership," it worked in reverse for me. I now read her blog because I read her book.

    Susan June 16th, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    vgnvxn - You are quite right in that Kate never explicitly asked her reeaders to mark down negative reviews. But on 6 May she did ask her readers to:

    '2) Mark troll comments “not helpful,” so they get moved down the page.'

    And as SNd has quite rightly pointed out, in Kate's view, *anyone* who disagrees with her is deemed a troll or a douchebag. And that includes people who have read her book and have legitimate criticisms of it. As I mentioned earlier, Kate's bullying tactics may work on her own blog, but they don't work too well on open forums like this one.

    Susan June 16th, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    vgnxn - I don't accept that Kate's tactics are legitimate "considering how much people hate fat people and fat acceptance". If her arguments had any real merit, they would stand up to criticism, and there would be no need for online bullying.

    vgnvxn June 16th, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    I don't understand why people feel the need to keep making completely false statements about the stupid request to flag troll comments (which should be done for any book review).

    SNd, you are lying. There is nowhere you can point to on Kate's blog where she ever says or even implies that people disagreeing with her makes them a troll.

    In fact, on her comment policy she actually writes: "Polite disagreement doesn’t piss me off. Bullying does."

    The only people who usually complain that they are being banned for "disagreeing" at ANY blog are usually trolls, or people too wrapped up in their own privilege to ever step down from their high horse and examine their statements.

    Kate merely wrote "2) Mark troll comments “not helpful,” so they get moved down the page." Because... troll comments aren't helpful! Duh!

    vgnvxn June 17th, 2009 at 10:44 am

    Susan, if you want to make up imaginary battle in your head, that's fine, just realize that they're only in your head. Troll comments are "unhelpful" anywhere, especially in a book review, never has Kate told people that troll= mere disagreement. You and SNd have yet to provide a scrap of evidence that Kate considers trolls to be people who merely disagree. In fact, I have proven that she feels the opposite. You're obviously arguing with bad faith, and I'm pretty confident that everyone else can see that but you.

    Susan June 17th, 2009 at 11:22 am

    vgnvxn - Actually, Kate usually describes people who disagree with her at Shapely Prose as "douchehounds" rather than trolls. For evidence, see any thread over there in which there is disagreement.

    vgnvxn June 17th, 2009 at 11:53 am

    she usually describes people who are being douches as douchehounds. Trolls and douchehounds are not the same.

    JoGeek June 17th, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Actually, she only marks people as douchehounds (and since when is "douche" a dirty word that needs to be censored?) when they ignore the basic rights and/or dignity of human beings, or make comments which contain hate, bigotry, or other assumption that people are objects. The only reason I can think of for your claim otherwise is if you're piqued at one of your own comments being moderated. Perhaps instead of this rather pointless discussion you should examine why the comment was moderated. Was is actual useful discussion based on factual information, or was it fat-hate rhetoric established by the diet industry?

    SNd June 17th, 2009 at 11:57 am

    The author's blog restricts nearly all opposing opinion, and takes an aggressive stance against opposition. As mentioned above, dissent is a critical part of objective discussion. Dissent does not equal 'troll' or 'douchebag'.

    This aggression is associated with 'seeking power' from a group mentality, which is understandable. It does, however, create an echo chamber which ultimately is negative socially (and in this case, health-wise since the absurd hypothesis that obesity and health are not realted).

    BTW, if your doctor doesn't agree with this hypothesis, then find another one. This is unhealthy, but in an echo chamber nobody realizes this.

    Susan June 17th, 2009 at 12:21 pm

    What a great comment, SNd! [Applauds wildly]

    vgnvxn - You haven't responded to my comment above where I quoted Kate's blog post about asking this site to delete "trolly" [negative] reviews of her book. And this is the same woman who writes "Polite disagreement doesn’t piss me off. Bullying does."

    JoGeek June 17th, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Susan, By inserting the [negative] into the above comment, you are changing the meaning of the quote. You should be more cautious is assigning words to people who did not say them. Troll comments (as defined above by many others) are not just negative reviews, they're people who don't bother reading the book and yet still try to post nasty, bigoted comments about it or the authors. They are not helpful to anyone actually seeking to read the book, and in fact are actively misleading. Why should they clutter up the comments/reviews section? I fail to see how your claims (of what I'm not even sure anymore) have anything to do with this blog. Are you trying to accuse the author of self-promotion? Are you trying to suggest that self-promotion is somehow a bad thing? Or is it the actual premise of the book that offends you somehow? If the latter, then the discussion would be much better served if you would actually produce some sort of rational list of points of disagreement so that the discussion could proceed.

    Kate Harding June 17th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Wow, this thread got big while I wasn't looking!

    No, I don't think anyone who disagrees with me is a "troll." However, people who refuse to engage sincerely and respectfully often argue that I'm quashing all criticism and disagreement, as opposed to kicking out people who can't behave like grown-ups. I can't really do anything about that other than shrug.

    Having said that, expecting me to host a debate about the merits of fat acceptance on my blog is to fundamentally misunderstand what I'm doing there. I'm not objective and don't claim to be. It is my subjective opinion, based in part on a great deal of objective evidence, that fat acceptance and Health At Every Size are preferable to self-hatred and dieting. That's obvious in pretty much everything I write on the blog -- as you've both noted, SNd and Susan -- yet you're acting as though I try to hide that. Or as though I should be ashamed of having an opinion and writing about it, and documenting many of the things that led me to that opinion, and then -- gasp! -- letting people read that opinion without offering daily reminders that HEY GUYS, THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO DON'T AGREE WITH ME.

    We also aim to make the blog a relatively safe space for people who have long been harassed and tormented about the size of their bodies, which means cracking down on commenters who just want to do more of that. We're an anti-diet zone, so we crack down on people who want to talk about deliberate weight loss. And we're fat acceptance bloggers, so we're not interested in having the exact same discussion about how fat is unhealthy and gross 80 gazillion times. This is not censorship or silencing. This is setting our own boundaries, on our own blog. If you want to discuss why weight loss is good and fat is bad, you can go to many, many other locations on the internet to do so. You can start your own blog and argue every day about why I'm wrong, and build your own readership for that. You just can't, as they say, come into my living room and piss on the rug.

    Also, SNd, if you think book reviews -- on an online bookseller's site, The New York Times, wherever -- are meant to be objective, I don't really know what to tell you. The whole point of a review is to offer an opinion. It's one person's subjective response. On a site like this, you can get numerous people's subjective responses and decide for yourself whether it sounds like a book worth reading, which is terrific. But the comments I referred to as "trolly" were the ones that said flat out (I paraphrase), "I haven't read the book, but it's a load of crap." The one, and only one, I contacted Powell's about, said something along the lines of "they offer no evidence to support their claims," which is patently untrue. You might not find the evidence compelling, but it's there, and it's footnoted. Disliking a book is one thing; lying about it is another. But as I said on the blog, I found Powell's argument against deleting blatant misinformation completely reasonable, so I didn't push it.

    As for the self-promotion stuff, are you KIDDING ME with "authors don't give their books 5 stars"? Again, I think the problem here is assuming there's even a pretense of objectivity and/or randomness where there is none. Reviews on a site like this are no more objectively truthful than online polls. They're subjective opinions, often offered anonymously, and they're ultimately worth exactly what you paid for them. If this were some scientifically valid random sampling of average American book buyers' reactions to LFTF, you wouldn't end up with lots of "book reviews" by people who haven't read the book, any more than lots of reviews from the authors' existing fans, or the authors themselves.( Unlike a lot of the people who gave the book one star, at least I actually read it.) Asking people who read the book, enjoyed it, and have expressed a desire to help promote it to post positive reviews, or rate the ones from people who haven't read it "unhelpful," is not some unethical attempt to game the system -- and it's certainly not like I'm being furtive about it, so I really don't get this "A-ha! I've found her out!" vibe. It's pretty basic self-promotional stuff, and believe me, a lot of authors are doing it, whether they're transparent about it or not.

    Hey, are you ready to have your mind blown? You know those endorsements you see on book covers? They're usually from the author's personal friends, former mentors, etc., not strangers who were so moved by a random manuscript, they just had to offer a glowing quote. (Our case is actually pretty rare in that three of the blurbers weren't people we'd ever met, and only two were friends.) Blurbs don't exist to offer objective information to potential buyers, they exist to sell books. Reviews don't exist to offer objective assessments but subjective opinions -- and it's up to the reader to evaluate the reviewer's credibility and taste. (When I put my name on a 5-star review, I'm pretty sure most people can safely assume I'm biased and factor that in.) And a whole lot of blogs, including mine, don't exist solely to provide objective information to the public, but to do whatever the heck the blog-owner wants them to do. I'm pretty transparent about what I'm doing with Shapely Prose -- so it's one thing if you don't approve, but quite another to suggest I'm being disingenuous.

    I'm a fervent believer in body acceptance and Health at Every Size. I run a blog where diet talk is not permitted and fools are not suffered. I co-wrote a book that I sincerely hope will help readers learn to like their bodies more, no matter what size they are. And boy howdy, I want to sell as many copies of that book as possible. All of these things have been out in the open for quite some time. You want to say I've created an echo chamber, or I'm promoting dangerous ideas, hey, go nuts. (I may or may not bother arguing with you.) But if your primary argument is that I'm not sufficiently objective in arenas where objectivity is neither required nor expected by reasonable people? You might want to rethink it.

    Kate Harding June 17th, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Oh, and you know what? I will totally give you one point Susan: This post really is especially advertorial, even for an unapologetic self-promoter. Part of that's due to everything explained above, and part of it's due to this being my introductory post here; introducing myself often involves mentioning my blog, the book, and Fat 101 stuff I've written about a million times. (Also, I don't know if you noticed, but this blog belongs to a bookseller -- turns out my hosts have a vested interest in promoting book sales, too.) But I will grant that this post was seriously heavy on the self-links, to an arguably gauche extent. For the record, my second post, which speaks only of books I didn't write, just went up.

    vgnvxn June 17th, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Susan, first of all, i posted the SAME thing in my remark to you about Kate's quote on "trolly" comments, so I don't really know what you want me to say about it. you YOURSELF said "Actually, Kate usually describes people who disagree with her at Shapely Prose as "douchehounds" rather than trolls. "

    Kate never said to delete douchey comments, only trolls! And you yourself just said people who disagree are douches. So.. you just disproved your own point. Why are you here again? Against authors wanting their books to have fair reviews?

    SNd June 17th, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    Kate, my point about subjectivity vs. objectivety was related to the expectation that book reviews are from a normal distribution of society. Self promoting positive reviews from your blog readership distorts this assumption.

    I agree that reviews are inherently subjective. My point was that the sampling was not random, it was overwhelmed by your blog readers, which them distorts the overall impression people expect to see.

    When I read reviews, I'm assuming a standard distribution - not a distorted view based on a dedicated campaign to promote.

    From this perspective, I think your self promotion was somewhat unethical. Just my opinion.

    Al June 17th, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    You might want to brush up on your data analysis skills if you think that online polling ever appropriately matches anything near a standard distribution. It's not quite the scientific method you were hoping it to be.

    Susan June 17th, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    I'd like to make three points.

    1) On Kate's blog on 6 May she wrote: "Powell’s is especially trolly right now, and I’ve already corresponded with a director there, who said (totally reasonably) that deleting even the worst ones would probably draw more negative attention and cause more trouble than it’s worth." Note the reference to "worst ones" (plural). Yet Kate has just posted that she contacted Powell's about deleting "one, and only one" review. So Kate, did you ask this site to delete one negative review or more?

    2) Kate is defending her five-star review of her own book because - hey! - she thinks it's a good book! I'm sure she is her own biggest fan, but perhaps she hasn't noticed that this site offers an option to provide a non-star review, which I think is a better option for an author to respond to comments or criticism.

    3) I agree with SNd's point about the "distorted view based on a dedicated campaign to promote" this book. As I mentioned above, I think if the arguments in LFTF had any real merit, they would stand up to criticism, and there would be no need for Kate's disciples to swoop down on her critics, as they are doing here. The level of defensiveness displayed here makes me think that Fat Acceptance promoters aren't very confident about their belief system.

    Heather June 17th, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Regarding book reviews:

    As someone who writes professional book reviews, I wish to heaven that we could come up with a different noun for the knee-jerk blurb-y snippets that pass for "reviews" on bookstore websites. The only similarity they bear to a real book review is that they have something to do with a book.

    SNd was right -- a REAL book review must be thorough, fair minded, and professional. Needless to say, this is not true of the "reviews" featured on bookstore websites. To conflate the two types of "review" is deeply, DEEPLY mistaken. Their intent and their thoroughness (and frequently the quality of writing) are light-years apart. Each has their value, of course, but they are very different things.

    I fear that careful, professional reviews will soon be seen as merely wordier, high-brow versions of the bookstore blurbs if people continue to conflate them. Please don't tar them with the same brush. I work hard on my professional writing, and I don't want to see its value denigrated.

    JoGeek June 17th, 2009 at 4:52 pm

    I'd imagine most first-time authors get the majority of their first big push from friends, family and social networks, meaning people who generally think at least somewhat the same. Personally if I ever publish I expect my first dozen or so reviews to come from the friends and family I've shoved copies at. When an author emerges from a grassroots movement you have to expect the people who are most excited about the subject to be the first to review, which starts the chatter necessary to move the book into mainstream markets. But these really are real people reviewing the book. It would only be unethical if the author posted reviews under multiple pseudonyms to make it look like people were reading it. In this case, people are reading it, loving it, and reviewing it. If that's a problem for you, then give copies to your friends to read and review. Maybe you'll be surprised.

    Jo Ann June 17th, 2009 at 5:32 pm

    As a book reviewer -- that's right, I get paid to do it -- I have to say, SNd, that if you believe book reviews usually are NOT "based on a dedicated campaign to promote," I've got a nice bridge you might want to buy. Publishers send me advance copies of their books to read specifically because it is part of a dedicated campaign to promote the book. They are not trying to help me be well-read, hoping to gift the world with new insight, or trying to spark objective discussion, even though those things may happen. They are trying to sell books by promoting them with a dedicated campaign.

    Seriously June 17th, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    American obesity has skyrocketed in the last 20 years. Visit Europe and notice the obvious difference in size. Is this due to genetics? Sorry, genetics don't change in 200 years.

    You know one really cool thing about being a scientist is when you get to witness how false some facts that "everybody knows" can be when you try to find evidence of such assertions. You just dropped three of my faves!

    For example, for you to be able to say that obesity has skyrocketed in the 20 years, we would need a constant, consistent measure of obesity, and that hasn't existed.

    Your observations of supposedly thin Europe? Visit just one or two countries, most likely major cities, throw in some classic confirmation bias and I could see why you think that. Alternatively, there are many societal-level differences between the U.S. and Europe that could explain varying rates, like longer vacations and better healthcare, and only a small fraction have to do with individual personal choices.

    And third, your statement of genetics is absolutely wrong. The most reliable genetic study I have seen demonstrate fat as being around 77% heritable. That, if you haven't studied evolutionary genetics is a really high rate of heredity to get by looking at inheritance of traits in populations.

    In addition genes CAN change with every generation. Not every change results in a new phenotype, but genes can also be turned on and off with environmental cues that have nothing to do with personal choices, aka epigenetics and phenotypic plasticity. For example:

    There is a whole bunch more info I could throw up here, but what is the point? Is all the info out there in favor of one thing or another? No, I would say the data isn't conclusive. But I think Kate and Mariannes's book do a good job of touching on some of the issues with messages we get about fat, it's supposed causes and how we define health.

    I mean really, after seeing this thread I totally understand why Kate has created the comment policy that she has over at Shapely Prose. Trust me, anyone who doesn't live in a cave has heard the drone of how supposedly fat is a moral failing and the "obesity epidemic" is going to kill us all. That Kate and readers of her blog would want to not rehash the same tired, biased arguments is a good thing.

    Kate Harding June 17th, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Yeah, SNd, I think that assumption that you'll get anything close to a representative sampling of the population in a forum for voluntary reviews is really misguided. For starters, the kind of people who are motivated to do a review will usually be either those who love it or hate it -- there might be thousands of people out there who thought the book was pretty OK, or not awful but not that great, but they don't care enough to bother commenting. And just as I can say, "Hey, readers, if you're so inclined, drop by the Powell's site," someone who has an axe to grind regarding me or Marianne or fat acceptance can just as easily steer a bunch of hostile reviewers over here. As I said in comments on the book page, we devote a whole chapter to encouraging people to think critically about what they read. I think if you give the nature of this forum a bit of serious thought, you'll realize that your expectation was unrealistic.

    Kate Harding June 18th, 2009 at 8:57 am

    So Kate, did you ask this site to delete one negative review or more?

    One. The response from the Powell's director spoke more generally about negative comments, hence the plural.

    Lu June 18th, 2009 at 9:23 am

    OMG, how did this descend into bickering about what is and is not a real book review? I respect that there is a big difference between a professional review and a personal reaction posted on a bookseller's website. However, the fact that this comment thread keeps getting bogged down in arguments over definitions (e.g., "what's trolling vs douchehounding?" "what's a real review?" "what's unacceptable bias vs understandably positive reaction from a fan?") is convincing me that people are coming here to throw anything negative they can at this book in the hope of drowning out its actual content and message.

    SNd June 18th, 2009 at 11:34 am

    To Seriously,

    Are you denying that obesity has not increased in 20 years? If so, you are truly showing your colors. You don't need a scientific constant measure to prove something obvious. This is pure denail.

    I agree with Standish. I lived 30 km outside Brussels for 10 years, and traveled EU cities and countryside. There is a tremendous difference in obesity versus North America. Portion sizes are a fraction of here, people use bicycles for transportation, less fast food, more activity.

    I support the Fat Acceptance effort relative to improving self esteem and eliminating discrimination, however the radical denial of some the arguements challenges this support.

    Susan June 18th, 2009 at 11:41 am

    Jo Ann - I have been remiss in not responding to your comment about Kate making a living from being fat. You said "I wonder, if you made your living as, say, a financial advisor, would she feel the need to denigrate your making a living off finance?"

    I'm sure you're aware that in the fall-out from the global financial crisis, financial advisors don't have a great reputation right now, but whatever...

    Financial advisors in my country need university qualifications, licensing from the national regulator, and, if they want to be competitive, professional accreditation which entails ongoing professional development. You don't need any qualifications or certification to make your living by being fat.

    Otto Vox June 18th, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Hey SNd,

    I hear "pure denail" gets you high, like pure oxygen. That's what I heard. But it's zero calories so you might like it.

    Susan June 18th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    Otto Vox - they're clearly huffing a lot of it out there in the Fat-o-Sphere.

    Kate Harding June 18th, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    For the record, Susan, I actually make my living as a writer. Which is, in fact, a discipline that doesn't demand any particular training or certification (though I happen to have the terminal degree in the field), so you've got me there. But again, I'm thinking the problem here is expectations that have no reasonable basis. Since I don't present myself as a medical professional, a nutritionist, or anything but a writer who's read widely on the subject of fat -- and a fat person with a lot of opinions and observations based on my lived experience -- it follows that I don't actually need any of those qualifications to co-write a book that incorporates my research, opinions, and observations.

    It also follows that people should not look to this book for medical advice (beyond that to find a doctor who listens to you and treats you with respect), nutritional advice (beyond that to listen to your body, aim for balance, and seek professional help if you think you might have eating problems that go beyond the scope of a self-help book), or psychotherapy. Or, for that matter, pet care tips, knitting patterns, or bike repair instructions, which the book similarly does not offer. I have complete faith that the average reader is smart enough to distinguish between an M.D. and an M.F.A.

    Count me among those who can't believe we're still having this conversation.

    Lu June 18th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Yeah, Kate, "are you denying that obesity has not increased in the last 20 years?" Um, if one knows anything about double negatives,the answer to that would actually be YES. Which goes to show that apparently being a professional writer does take some skill.

    Allie June 18th, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Kate- Your writing is a lifesaver - and an eye opener. I'm buying the book as soon as my next pay check gets in. Your post about Devouring the World is so spot on.

    firefey June 18th, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    actually SNd... as much as i hate the fact that bmi gets used as an indicator of health, it is the indicator currently used to determine if a person is obese. and has been for quite some time. of course the government did lower the bmi cut off point for obesity by two points in the late 90s. and wouldn't you know it? suddenly the number of obese people skyrocketd overnight. like magic.

    so yes, i'd say a scientifically constant measument of who is and who is not obese IS pretty much needed in order to determine if your statement is in fact true.

    and here's a fun little fact about statistics... misinterpreting them is the easiest thing in the world. the news is full of statements like "this food will make your risk of disease X drop by 30%" of course the number are more like 6.5% down to 6.3% and not considered statistically different. but hey, whatever helps you sleep at night.

    kmbr June 18th, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    I was somewhat interested in buying this book, being a fat lady medically proven to be healthier than her slender husband (much to the Dr.'s chagrin). I'm really, really tired of the pejorative view directed at me when he's got the invisible minefield going on, so I thought this book might be a nice change of pace.

    The measured and well-written responses to what are freakishly pedantic commenters (don't these people have gyms to get to?) have pushed me over the edge. I'll be purchasing 2 copies, thank you for lighting a fire under me. I look forward to reading a thoughtful treatise on my predicament.

    SNd June 18th, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Firefey, are you suggesting over the last 20 years that obesity has not increased? If so, you are absolutely in denial, and somewhat blind. Like i said earlier, this claim tells us more about your position than delivers a credible denial to this absurdity.

    CarlitosWay June 18th, 2009 at 8:43 pm

    Much kudos to Kate Harding for making more and more people believe in "fat" as being normal and ok. Unknowingly it was already happening for some time hence our nations kids and adults getting fatter by the year . Just Kate was intelligent enough to publish books and capitalize off it.

    What was a person before they were obese? Fat or overweight whatever you want to call it but being fat was the level under that. To make people comfortable with being "fat" is like throwing more gas to the fire of a widespread epidemic many face daily. Fat is fine for a bear or other animal going into long hibernation, but not for the average sedentary human being.

    Susan June 19th, 2009 at 11:26 am

    kmbr - Good for you for being healthier than your slender husband what with his "invisible minefield" and all! And as soon as Kate's book arrives, you'll have the "data" and "evidence" to wave in his face. Kate and Marianne wrote "Lessons" just for people like you!

    Firefey - the BMI is a straw man. The FA movement likes to rant about the Government lowering the BMI cut-off point for obesity, but that didn't affect the growing number of people at the upper end of the scale.

    Knitty June 19th, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Good God, Susan, get a hobby or something. I can't believe how many posts you've made reciting the same boring things over and over and OVER. Okay, we GET IT. We read your posts, we get your posts, we understand your point of view. Posting another 10,000 times isn't likely to change anyone's opinion and really, don't you have anything else you could be doing?

    JoGeek June 19th, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    I'm still waiting for SNd or Susan to present actual evidence. Stating an opinion is not evidence. Marianne and Kate present several scientific studies, CDC findings, etc. to back up their statements in the book and on their blogs. You can find many more on blogs specifically geared towards analyzing scientific research, like Junkfood Science. If you want to counter their evidence with your own credible sources without conflict of interest (i.e. a study from a company selling a weight loss drug is not evidence; it is advertising), then it could be called a discussion. Otherwise you're wasting everyone's time, including your own. Spouting rhetoric isn't going to convince anyone, nor is name calling. Holding on to the moral panic of the last twenty years concerning weight isn't a whole lot different than those who held on so firmly to the flat-earth theory once upon a time. Science changes, and while it may be uncomfortable for those who have built their personal paradigm around ideas that are becoming scientifically obsolete, all things do change.

    SNd June 19th, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    I see JoGeek read the book and is spouting the same few tired arguements (weight loss drug capitalism distorting the facts). Reading tired answers from the same playbook. Yawn.

    For a trend so obvious, no support required.

    Pretty soon you're going to tell us Obesity isn't related to health, based on the 'scientific' evidence from the author (or a sample of one from kmbr). Rubbish.

    Tell me how a 300lb woman's knees and joints are going to feel at 60. Is your body really designed to bear such wieght? Have your genes magically mutated to support this?

    Susan June 22nd, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    I guess JoGeek's knowledge that the beliefs of the anti-obesity camp are "becoming scientifically obsolete" was a great comfort when she decided to take up horse-riding and had to advertise on Craig's List for someone who keeps draft horses, because an ordinary horse wouldn't support her weight. I didn't make this up - see her blog "Unapologetically Fat" - March 3, 2008.

    Maggie July 23rd, 2009 at 5:20 am

    What Kate says about comments on her blog and what she does are two different things. While it's understandable that a fat acceptance blog wouldn't permit anit-fat acceptance posters, Kate's zero-tolerance policy on dissent extends to all subjects. For examples, read the comments section for her post on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. Three people expressed disagreement with her. All three were polite and reasonable. One was banned, one was threatened with being banned (she subsequently apologized), and one was told she was only being allowed to stay because she's been a valuable contributor in the past (which I guess means she usually drinks Kate's Kool-Aid). Kate's fans were all happy to pile on the intruders who dared to disagree, resulting in a junior high school "mean girls" atmosphere. It's Kate's blog, so she has a right to ban whom she wants. What I object to is the lie - that she's OK with disagreement as long as people are polite. This is simply not the case. That said, Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere is a good book. If you want to read it but don't want to put money in Kate's pocket, you can get it from your library.

    Susan July 25th, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    As a successful dieter who has been labelled a douchehound and banned from Shapely Prose for daring to point out that I resent the "freak of nature" tag for maintaining a substantial weight loss for well over five years, I thank you for your comment, Maggie. Kate and her co-bloggers are bullies on their own turf, so it's hypocritical of her to state here that she is OK with disagreement.

    As for "Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere", my public library is very short on funds - I hardly think they would buy a book which is written for such a small niche.

    Closetalker11 September 2nd, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Hey there, Susan. There are lots of fat models who make a living being fat. I'm not sure if it's hard work or not -- I bet it's harder than I think it is -- but I am sure they're pretty excited about it. I hope you get to make a living doing something you love while being yourself, too.

    Kyle September 2nd, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Why would you or anyone else expect free access to another person's blog? Your constitutionally protected right of free expression does NOT extend to controlling the reaction to your speech by a private entity whose activities you have disrupted.

    You are free to TRY to express yourself in a private space, but if your speech violates the explicitly stated purpose or policy of that space, you CAN'T be surprised when it results in your removal.

    Now, there is one exception. If your removal was due to your being a member of a class that is federally protected against discrimination, you MIGHT have grounds to sue...

    But, I hate to break it to you, being angry because you are prohibited from expressing yourself in a private space but still WANT to voice your opinions there does NOT itself make you a member of a protected class.

    Another person's blog is a privately-run space therefore NO BLOG ANYWHERE OWES YOU A PODIUM. If you want to rant and rave, go out in the public street and try your luck. No really, GO, and I'll even give you a free soapbox to stand on. Your speech is constitutionally protected out THERE.

    Good luck with your monomania and persecution complex. I hope you get the help you need.

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