DISCLOSURE: I received this book for free in exchange for writing this honest and non-biased review.
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Body image and body positivity seems to dominate conversation across the Web as of late, though thanks to the anonymity of the Interwebs, the comments aren’t always pretty. But before Tess Holliday landed on the cover of People magazine and Lane Bryant launched their #ImNoAngel campaign, there was Brittany Gibbons to be a voice that resonated with the curvy women of the world. At one point some years ago, Brittany was “the Internet’s token fat girl,” as she has proclaimed. The model and body image advocate (for all body types) has captivated a growing audience through her humor/lifestyle blog Brittany, Herself and her social media channels, along with providing a safe space for women to discuss life issues and provide support to each other through the Curvy Girl community on Facebook. She has also gained a bit of notoriety for taking off her clothes at a TED Talk and having sex with her husband Andy every day for one year. In her new book Fat Girl Walking, Brittany chronicles such experiences and gives a no-holds-barred look into her life and her world with her personal brand of unapologetic humor: from chubby childhood in a poor family in the Midwest and dropping out of college due to anxiety issues, to becoming a mother to three kids and a wife to her high school sweetheart and finally feeling comfortable in her own skin while the entire Internet follows.
Brittany begins her story in a rural town outside of Toledo, Ohio, where there were already some early concerns about her weight in elementary school. In the third grade, her gym teacher sent her parents a flyer with “healthy” tips that included the sentence “Have your child eat slowly in front of a full-length mirror to mimic the public shame they’d feel while being fat in cafeteria situations.” Also important childhood events: her parents’ video rental business went under and her dad suffered a massive brain injury in a freak accident.
Brittany’s story especially draws you in as she recounts coming of age and then attempting to live an adult life. After exploring with a few guys, she finds her soulmate in Andy in high school. They eventually marry, but not before they go through college and make a difficult decision to live separately to go to different schools. While in college, Brittany recounts various internships or as her college advisor called them, “career blind dates” to help her find her calling: event planning, radio DJ, newspaper columnist, and politics. Then through journal entries spanning three months, she documents the mental breakdown that kept her from stepping out of her apartment and made her drop out of college.
The book proceeds with details on Brittany and Andy’s wedding and the pros and cons of pregnancy as an overweight woman, and the postpartum body image issues that came along. This is also the part of the book where Brittany comes to a turning point in her journey to body acceptance, and it happens to be my favorite chapter too because it feels so powerful. Here, Brittany recalls watching her youngest child and only daughter Gigi put on a princess gown and going to the mirror with a frown on her face while touching her stomach. It was something Gigi had picked up from her mother. It was then Brittany realized that she couldn’t teach her daughter to love her body unless she could do that for her own body. She then outlines her own tactics for reinforcing positive thoughts, such as simply saying your love out loud and getting a “sponsor” to back you up.
Brittany concludes the entire read with her rise to Internet fame through her TED Talk, 365 days of sex with Andy, and fostering online community and making a career through social media and her blog. She provides a very important point that the fat shamers and haters can say all they want, but she can choose how to react to those words and not let them hurt her. Surely, that is a lesson that anyone of any body type and background should learn and apply both online and in the real world.
On a personal note, my journey towards loving my body has been different from Brittany’s (I can identify with her anxiety issues too, but that’s an entirely new blog post). I’ve never been a plus size, but when I was younger, I was often told by my own family that I was too skinny. That was probably why I ended up eating a lot in my college years and gained 20 pounds without realizing it. I’ve now lost 15 of those pounds PLUS built and sculpted some muscle thanks to working out, but I still struggle with some parts of my body and with maintaining a healthy diet. Sometimes I have to convince myself that a little more pizza or a Grande Frappuccino from Starbucks isn’t going to make me gain back all of those pounds. I love that Brittany wrote this book as it made me realize that whether I lose or gain five more pounds, I have nothing to be ashamed of. I hope that is what people take away as well when they read this book or get to know Brittany from her online presence, that we all deserve to feel comfortable in our own bodies regardless of what other people may think.
Early on in the book, Brittany makes it clear that this is no diet book and definitely not a book about fat misery. Instead, Brittany changes the conversation about what “fat” is, without glorifying it as a supreme body type and shaming other body types. Fat people can be happy, healthy, and loving, of their own bodies, of themselves, and of other people. Of course, they’re not without their struggles, but in the end, they are just like everyone else. However, Brittany herself (Haha, see what I did there?) has a special narrative that keeps you reading. Her stories have no filter and that may not be for every reader, but I certainly love that she tells it like it is. She is amazingly open, honest, profanity and pop culture reference-laden, and funny even when things aren’t supposed to be funny, like recalling the death of her childhood pet cat. Yes, she is totally comfortable with making you feel uncomfortable, but you probably figured that out by reading the first paragraph in this blog.
Reading Brittany’s anecdotes, lists, journal entries, and one-line emails between her and Andy in Fat Girl Walking is like opening up the diary of the most inhibited and genuinely hilarious friend in your inner circle. You just won’t be able to put it down. You’ll laugh out loud, you’ll be shocked, and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and what other people may go through in our different paths to self-love.
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(PHOTO CREDITS: Andy Gibbons [featured]; HarperCollins)