I happily ran across Weightless: Making Space for my Resilient Body and Soul by Evette Dionne (2022), a critic of popular culture, and author and editor on feminism, race, and intersectionality, at the library. There is a lot of brilliantly good writing and insight here. But, at the same time I felt like Dionne was still working through a lot of the worst tenets of diet culture and anti-fatness that she was critiquing, and so I have mixed feelings about some of the essays and statements that she made. It’s hard to navigate the world in which diet culture reigns supreme and anti-fatness is the water in which we swim, especially when family members are still entrenched.
Dionne begins the book with the disclosure that she is in heart failure, has pulmonary hypertension, and she has just turned thirty. She is a survivor of sexual assault, chronic depression, anxiety, and agoraphobia. She started writing the book before learning of the heart failure and pulmonary hypertension diagnosis, and finished it afterwards. She says in the introduction that she wants to “interrogate not only the fatphobia that we exhibit toward one another, but also how it is reflected and reinforced through the pop culture that we consume.” The combination of ableism, anti-fatness, and racism is a triple whammy–chronic illness is never easy to deal with, and especially when it’s compounded by the blame fat people experience at doctors’ offices, and disparate treatment given to people of color. Dionne has these multiple identities, and in these essays, I think has done her best to illuminate how difficult it is to be and maintain her own dignity as a fat, black, chronically ill, heterosexual woman in our society.
She has included essays on fat kids and Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign; anti-fat bias in healthcare; her experiences as a too-young child/adolescent on the internet and being catfished; how fat black women are portrayed in pop culture; Lizzo and video vixens; street harassment; celebrities and their weight loss; her relationship experiences with men and how anti-fatness has affected her choices and actions in those relationships; and finally, being chronically ill during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dionne eloquently writes about having lost weight because of her illness and being praised for it:
Thanks to a culture that is equal parts obsessed with diet culture and consumed by the thin ideal, we’re all supposed to be on a never-ending journey to conform to the standard, and when we’re able to achieve that–even if it comes through progressive, chronic illnesses, as it has in my case–it is worthy of both reward and praise. From the perspective of those issuing these compliments, even if weight loss is the consequence of debilitating illnesses that could ultimately kill me, the sickness was worth it.
No one cares why you’ve lost weight. Whether it’s accidental, intentional, or a by-product of sickness, we’re taught that a slimmer body is to be marveled at–a sign of a new-found discipline and an adherence to the thin ideal after being disruptive to the social order for so long. . . .What I hear is: heart failure might have cost you, but sickness has also granted you something more important than your aches and pains.Weightless, by Evette Dionne, p. 188
Dionne ends the book with an essay about flying while fat that transitions to an imagining of a hopeful world without anti-fatness and other forms of oppression. I recommend it for all fat positive libraries with the caveat that Dionne does not always refrain from using the stigmatizing “o-words” that I refuse to repeat here and that some of her opinions and writing may be difficult if you’re still working through your feelings about diet culture and anti-fat bias.