Book Review: You Just Need to Lose Weight by Aubrey Gordon

My book review for the Washington Independent Review of Books

Co-host of the “Maintenance Phase” podcast and Self magazine’s “Your Fat Friend” columnist, You Just Need to Lose Weight: And 19 Other Myths about Fat People is an urgent, well-sourced fatifesto ready to be nailed to the door of our collective fridge. In 20 pithy chapters, Gordon offers historical background, current research, reflection questions, and “opportunities for action,” leading the reader toward meaningful allyship and advocacy.

Fatness is so feared in our culture that a Yale University study found 46 percent of 4,283 respondents would rather give up a year of life than be fat; 15 percent would prefer to be severely depressed. “You Just Need to Lose Weight” unflinchingly pushes back against those attitudes and dispels popular myths, laying bare the speciousness of “body and health” weight-loss arguments. Cloaked as prescriptive and factual, these arguments hide a dark underbelly: fat bias, one of the last socially accepted prejudices.

In her incisive, robustly sourced treatise, Gordon takes on everything from the influential “calories in, calories out” paradigm (based on a 1959 study), to the notion that losing weight is a choice, to the accusation that fat acceptance glorifies obesity. She rejects outright the idea that being fat is a failure of willpower. “According to the NIH,” she writes, “very fat women — like me — have a 0.8 percent chance of becoming thin in our lifetimes.”

The book takes a decisively intersectionalist stance. In tracing fat activism’s roots in the work of fat Black women during the civil- and welfare-rights movements, Gordon encourages the reader to connect fat discrimination with all the many isms: racism, classism, healthism, and ableism. She offers, too, an outstanding overview of the kinds of protest actions people have taken, including the first Fat-In (organized in 1967 by radio host Steve Post).

You Just Need to Lose Weight” also deftly interrogates how body positivity essentially defanged the more “radical” fat-justice movement. The personal accounts in the book are especially poignant. Gordon shares a story of being called a “fat lady” by a kid whose mom gets furious when Gordon tells the kid that she is, in fact, a fat lady. Gordon eloquently explains how avoiding the word “fat” continues to “stigmatize my body and insist that describing my skin must be an insult.” She elaborates:

“For me, and for many, many fat people, reclaiming the word fat is about reclaiming our very bodies, starting with the right to name them. Fat isn’t a negative aspect of one’s body any more than tall or short is. It can, and should, be a neutral descriptor.”

Similarly, the oft-heard laments “I feel so fat” or “This dress makes me look fat” create the impression that fat is a feeling. Gordon has a helpful solution: Ask yourself for consent before engaging in negative body talk. Notice how you describe other people’s bodies and whether their size is relevant to your discussion of them. Stop treating thinness like an accomplishment and fatness like a failure. (The example of congratulating ill people on the “bright side” of now being thin is a glaring example of this sickening fixation.) And try to see food for what it is: a comfort, a celebration, a pleasure, or simply fuel.

Ultimately, “You Just Need to Lose Weight” lays bare Western society’s treatment of fatness as a moral failing. Gordon’s manifesto is essential reading in the intersectional conversation around fat acceptance and provides an excellent roadmap toward fat activism.