October's Book Club Recap - 'Landwhale' by Jes Baker
Last month, our discussion of Roxane Gay’s ‘Hunger’ was centered around how a traumatic experience can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of body image issues. Jes Baker, however, took a much lighter approach to writing about her marginalized body.
‘Landwhale’ is a series of essays where Baker puts a comedic spin on her experiences living as a fat women, growing up as a devout Mormon, and discovering that weight is, in fact, not the deciding factor for being able to get on a carnival ride. The Body Positive Book Club met up at the bar ‘No Fun’ in New York City’s Lower East Side on a quiet Sunday afternoon to talk about how we relate to ‘Landwhale,’ and what it reveals about marginalized bodies as a whole.
We began the discussion with Baker’s experience heading to New York City for an interview she knew nothing about. It ended up being a sweaty, surreal experience where Baker talked about body positivity to Rachel Hunter, who is famous for being a supermodel and actress in New Zealand. At one point, Hunter wonders how much harm she has done by being part of society’s ‘ideal’ and very prominent in the public eye. This led to the question - ‘do some famous people have a duty to not conform to what society wants?’
Later in the book, Baker talks about the hatred fat influencers have faced from their own community when they make the choice to lose weight. Since these influencers are looked up to by thousands upon thousands of people, do they have a duty to refuse to conform to society’s ‘ideal’ beauty standards? Are straight-size influencers straight up harmful to society?
The BoPo Book Club, of course, did not have any direct answers to these questions. In an ideal world, all people would have ‘body liberation,’ or freedom from all outside expectations. Sadly, that is not the society in which we live.
Our talk veered to Baker’s two back to back chapters: ‘I Was a Fat Kid,’ followed by ‘I Wasn’t Actually a Fat Kid,’ in which she looks back on pictures of herself as a child and realized she only started gaining weight when she hit puberty (normal. Duh.) The BoPo Book Club talked about how all of us had a greatly distorted view of our size as children, which, like Baker, was brought on mostly by the perceptions of other children and parental figures. Turns out, how your parents talk about their own bodies, as well as yours, REALLY affects how you perceive your body growing up. Go figure.
Baker then writes about how bigger bodies are not accommodated in most spaces. Airplanes, for example (not to mention most forms of transportation) and the infamous skydiving tax immediately come to mind, as well as the entire world of exercise. When Baker joins a movement class, African Dance, she LOVES it right up until someone told her it was making her lose weight. Just that one seemingly innocuous comment brought back guilt for missing classes even when she didn’t want to go, and, as a result, she never went back. The moral here? Don’t f*cking comment on someone’s weight. Ever. Also? Up accessibility for bigger bodies and other types of marginalized bodies. We don’t even have working elevators in all of our subway stations here in NYC. Yeesh.
Then, there’s the chapter on ‘spot checking’ the body. Baker evaluated her stomach routinely - it was okay as long as her boobs were bigger, as long as it didn’t stick out past ‘x’ point, etc. Book Club members related to this a LOT, as we found out we all tend to spot check our stomachs when walking by mirrors or reflections, and have to make a conscious effort not to do so. We figure this is pretty universal (with every human being - for different parts of the body, of course) and found solidarity in that.
Finally, there was the last question of - ‘do you think it’s ever okay for a person to want/ask their partner to lose weight?’ which was a recurring theme in this book (and continues to be on Reddit.) Our thoughts? Abso-f*cking-lutely not. The only time to be concerned is when a partner gains or loses a LOT of weight in a short amount of time, because that may signify a deeper issue. And if anyone’s partner decides to leave them because they’ve gained weight? That’s fine. We’re your boos now; what kind of chocolates do you like?
There was SO MUCH to discuss in this book, and this post just touched upon a few of the many things we talked about in our 2.5 hours at the bar. Our next book is ‘The Body is Not An Apology’ by Sonya Renee Taylor, and we are meeting at ‘No Fun’ on the 25th of November! We hope to see you there.
Chief BoPo Trainer Meg
PS - Baker states that it is not the job of someone in a marginalized body to teach you how to be nice to marginalized bodies which we thought was spot on.