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Riots Not Diets: Body Positivity & Our Library Collections

How many books do you have in your library collection (or maybe on your own personal bookshelves!) that fall under the umbrella of health, weight and/or fitness? The jury is still out on if anyone has ever felt better, on a psychological level, after reading one of these books, but I would hazard a guess that reading a book that is all about making near-impossible changes to the natural shape of our bodies can be depressing.

Or, to put it another way, all that negativity can get kinda … heavy.

In lieu of reading books that make us hate ourselves, I have a few body positive book recommendations for you –and your library collection.

First, a Little Body Positivity 101

  • Every body deserves respect, regardless of size or weight.
  • You cannot make assumptions about someone’s health by looking at them, because thin doesn’t equal healthy and fat doesn’t equal unhealthy (for more check out the Health at Every Size)
  • Furthermore, medically unhealthy bodies deserve respect, too.
  • If you are nasty to a fat person because you are “concerned for their health” you are a concern troll. Plain and simple.
  • Fat is not a four letter word. It’s a descriptor like “tall” or “Canadian” is – or at least it should be. What makes the word taboo is the hate and discrimination that fat people experience on a regular basis.

If you’re interested in learning more about the scientific research that backs up the tenets of the Body Positive (aka Fat Acceptance/Health at Every Size) movement, I would recommend checking out Linda Bacon.

Now, Onto the books!

The non-fiction books that have enlightened me about body positivity are:

The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts by Hanne Blanke
Notes from the Fat-o-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby
Body Respect and Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight by Linda Bacon

The related books that have taught me to neutralize food and not see eating certain foods as a moral act are:

Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole
Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family by Ellyn Satter
Diet Recovery by Matt Stone

The memoirs that made me feel—as the kids say—ALL OF THE FEELS are:

Two Whole Cakes: How to Stop Dieting and Learn to Love Your Body by Lesley Kinzel
Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion edited by Virgie Tovar
Fat! So? Because You Don’t Have To Apologize For Your Size by Marilyn Wann
Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker
Big Girl: How I Gave Up Dieting and Got a Life by Kelsey Miller

Fiction that discusses body positivity issues are a little trickier to list. A lot of the time when there is a fat main character, their fatness is their defining (and sometimes only) characteristic. And the focus of the novel is usually that their body is a horrible burden for them to bear due to bullying and/or self-hate.

It would be great to see all sorts of literary representations of fat characters – and not just in YA, where books are infamously more likely to deal with dark topics such as eating disorders, bullying and suicide. Ideally a sampling of these characters could also be portrayed as being happy with their bodies and all the amazing things their bodies can do for them!

Incidentally, a wonderful children’s book about this very topic is called Your Body is Awesome: Body Respect for Children by Sigrun Danielsdottir. The librarians over at the Size Acceptance in YA tumblr are documenting all of the fat positive YA titles around and it’s worth checking out if you would like to flesh out (pun intended) your YA collection.

And when I say I’d like to see fat main characters, I don’t mean the “inbetweenie sizes” (as they’re commonly called in the fat acceptance movement) of sizes 10-14. They’re great. But c’mon – give me someone with some girth! Someone who looks a little more like the hundreds of thousands of women (and men) who walk the earth and never seen themselves represented as anything other than what is known, tongue in cheek, as “headless fatties” (the horribly played-out image that accompanies every documentary and news story about obesity where the innocent fat person’s head is cut off).

We know from vague description and basic inference that Eleanor in Rainbow Rowell’s bestselling YA novel “Eleanor and Park” is fat. But how fat is she? The author basically responded “what does it matter?” when addressing this issue on her blog. Some would argue it matters a whole lot, at least where fat visibility politics are concerned.

A Word on Subject Classification

Another issue to be discussed where body positivity and libraries are concerned is subject classification. On the plus side, when looking for books about diets, I come across body positive books that tell me to stop dieting because it is a) fruitless and b) no fun. From a discoverability standpoint this is excellent! It provides a delightful alternative to those previously seeking diet books to perhaps try one promoting self-acceptance instead!

But there is a dark side. And I must say that this is in no way the fault of the lovely librarians and other library staff at my beloved public library. But take a look at a couple of the books listed under “self-esteem in women”. It paints a pretty dire picture:



Do we need a body positivity subject term? Or a nice, neutral fat studies? I would argue that we do!

At the very least, can we agree that no woman’s self-esteem is going to be truly improved by a book that aims to get inside men’s heads and has the word “bitches” in the title?

Finally, Librarians as Body Positivity Crusaders

I think it’s important for librarians to promote body positivity and health at every size – as well as the books that discuss these issues. We have an opportunity to introduce our patrons to some life-affirming and revolutionary ideas by presenting an alternative to the mainstream. Google image search “body positive library displays” and feel your heart swell. Get goose bumps imagining a young woman in your library coming across a book like Women: Body Positive Art to Inspire and Empower by Carol Rossetti and finally feeling like loving herself is an option. Encouraging people to not hate their bodies is always a beautiful thing.

Note: If you’re interested in discussing any of the points in this article further or looking for more body positive recommendations –beyond books!—please feel to contact me.

Adele Georgievski is a Teaching and Learning Technologies Librarian at Seneca College. She creates the Random Library Generator column on Open Shelf which interviews OLA members; the current interviewee is selected by the previous interviewee. She can be reached at adele.georgievski [at]

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