Landwhale is a deeply personal book about Jes Baker’s experiences as a fat woman. Each chapter reads like a blog post, and Baker has a breezy conversational style that reads well on the page and may be even better on audio.
Some of my personal highlights from this book include:
- Baker looking at childhood photos and realizing that even though she’d always thought of herself as fat, she actually was a thin child until age 12 — this is so relatable and so true
- Baker realizing that a lot of her body image issues stem from her own father having similar issues with his own body — rather a difficult chapter to read, as I imagine it was difficult for the author to write. Most striking was a passage where the father said he wanted to challenge her to not be a lazy child, and Baker realized he equated laziness with fatness, because she was actually a driven, ultra-responsible child and straight-A student.
- Baker testing out the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios to see if she’d fit — actually one of the most hard-hitting chapters for me, because the details made it feel so real
- The Bulletproof Fatty – probably my favourite of all the chapters. Baker raises a great point that we’d like to mythologize fat people as ultra badass, because it feels empowering. In contrast, acknowledging that fat people are also vulnerable and prone to self-doubt and body image issues seems to conform to the stereotype of fat people being somehow weaker. But the truth is that fat people do have vulnerabilities, and they shouldn’t be pressured to pretend otherwise.
The book started off slow for me — the first chapter (This Was All Just a Big Mistake) was full of self-aware, self-deprecating humour that was just a bit too self-conscious about its funniness to be effective. But I’m glad I stuck with it, because the rest of the book was much stronger. (Or, possibly, I just fell into the stride of Baker’s humour.)
My main takeaway from this book comes from the Bulletproof Fatty chapter, where Baker quotes Ijeoma Oluo as saying, “If somebody comes off as bulletproof, they are either lucky or lying.” [p. 243] Which is just so true.
Baker goes on to say:
None of us are the Bulletproof Fatty, because none of us are indestructible. Of course we ultimately know that, but none of us act like we do. We are beautifully, imperfectly, gorgeously, terribly human. And the goal of our work to embrace our bodies shouldn’t be to be happy and confident all the time. The goal should be to allow ourselves to just exist.
As simple as it sounds, that’s the hardest goal for many of us. Allow yourself to just exist, and work to create space for fat people to just be people. Messy, imperfect, kind, mean, resilient, delicate, happy, depressed, conflicted people. [p. 243]
Yes! So much yes!
Thank you to Hachette Book Group Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.