For almost two decades my New Years resolutions—sometimes public, often secret—have involved changing my body. Drink more water. Lose two pounds a week. Do sit-ups every morning. Buy a bikini this year. Some resolutions I stuck with, and others I failed. Either way, most made me feel worse about myself. At age 11, I felt fat at 120 pounds. In college, I felt fat at 155 pounds. And this January, I still feel fat at (deep breath) 215 pounds. But through the body positivity movement and fat positive books, the word “fat” isn’t the scary monster hiding under my bed that it used to be. It doesn’t mean worthless anymore.
That doesn’t mean I don’t still want to lose ten (twenty, thirty, etc.) pounds this year. I do. I want to fit into my jeans from three years ago. I’d love my knees to hurt less when I run. When a man gives up his seat for me on the subway, I want it to be because he thinks I look hot, not because he thinks I look pregnant (true story). At my yearly physical, I don’t want my doctor to sheepishly hand me a pamphlet that tells me to solve all my problems by giving up soda (which, news flash: I never drink).
But as much as I want all those things, I want to love myself and my body more. Because, obviously, none of those old resolutions worked. Just like research shows that 95% of diets don’t work, at least not in the long term. These books are ones I think will help me and hopefully might be of interest to you, no matter what size you are. And, you know what, I went ahead and ordered that bikini this year: in my current size.
*Forewarning: some of these books lean on feminine terms and the gender binary more than I’d like. I understand why. But I think people of all gender identities would benefit from body positive messages and lessons in self love.*
This book is a manifesto to prioritize mental health and body acceptance over dieting and weight loss. It combines personal essays with real research to combat the pervasive fat prejudice that permeates our culture from the media to the medical community. It’s possible to laugh, while learning, with quick, clever lessons like “Salad Will Not Get You Into Heaven” and “Cheesecake Will Not Send You to Hell.” The back of the book states, “If you’re a person with a body, this book is for you,” and I agree enthusiastically.
Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body by Jessamyn Stanley
Jessamyn Stanley is a stereotype-breaking yoga instructor and Instagram star. She has a commitment to body positive yoga and an inspirational ability to share her own fears, insecurities, and struggles. With beautiful, full color photographs, this book outlines fifty yoga poses useful for beginners and experienced yoga practitioners as well. With sequences like “I Need to Release Fear” and “I Want to Love Myself” this book is a perfect primer for how to love yourself and your body more in 2018.
Shrill by Lindy West
Lindy West is fat. And she wants to reclaim that word. Fat. To her, it isn’t a bad thing. It’s just the way she looks. It doesn’t make her a bad person. It doesn’t make her unattractive. And reading a book by a person with this attitude was absolutely mesmerizing to me. From her shy childhood trying (and failing) to blend in to standing out as a gladiator for feminism and body positivity in her many public culture wars, Lindy’s memoir offers a pathway to confidence in so much more than just your body. And, I promise, this book is both wildly funny and deeply emotional.
Body positivity equals sex positivity. Feeling guilty about your body and feeling guilty about your sexuality are often tied to each other. Because in both situations, we are often comparing ourselves and our sex lives to other people (particularly with unrealistic and often unachievable portrayals in media). This book addresses how body image, stress, and ideas of what it *looks* like to be sexy from pornography get in the way of female desire and pleasure. Also, it breaks down the most recent science about what’s really behind female sexuality. For a more self loving (in every sense of the word) 2018, this book is a must read.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Hunger is a beautiful memoir by, in my opinion, the greatest nonfiction writer of our time. It chronicles the author’s childhood, teens, and early twenties through the lens of her body—a perspective women are often reduced to by others but rarely use to tell their own stories. From a horrific act of sexual violence to the humiliation of air travel in a fat body, this book shows the connections between different ways women are told their body’s don’t belong to them. Gay manages to put words to so many feelings and thoughts I’ve had but couldn’t explain. In a genre that loves the dichotomy of before and after, I loved that this book portrayed the honest spectrum of feelings, shapes, and sizes that exist in most peoples ongoing middle.
Beautiful You: A Daily Guide to Radical Self-Acceptance by Rosie Molinary
Rosie Molinary wants women to feel beautiful regardless of their age, skin color, size, or the million other things media teach us to scrutinize about ourselves. To that end, this book provides daily exercises designed to combat negative media messages and bolster women’s self esteem and self image. Each day brings a new opportunity to journal, draw, or improve the mind-body connection. Instead of cliched meditations and affirmations, this book gives readers tasks that are achievable and empowering.
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
This book isn’t strictly about body positivity, but it certainly supports that message within the Jungian analysis of women who refuse to conform in myths, legends, and folktales from around the world. When my sister first showed me this book, I thought it was a little “let’s all go to a tent and sing Kumbayah while we have our periods together.” And, okay, there is some of that in these pages. But there is also so much more. This book shows that fairytales, and the like, aren’t just for children. They can also be used to empower women to embrace the truest and freest form of their psyche and psychology. Powerful stuff.
This Is Who I Am: Our Beauty in All Shapes and Sizes by Rosanne Olson
I think if I saw more women of all sizes portrayed as beautiful, I would have grown up more accepting of my body. Simply the act of looking at non-perfect bodies (i.e. real bodies because no one is perfect, some bodies are just presented that way) has been hugely empowering for me. Photographer Rosanne Olson’s book is a wonderful place to start. It contains 54 full body portraits of women ages 19 to 95. They are all different ages, ethnicities, sizes, and shapes. All they have in common is that none are professional models and all were willing participants in the project.