Queen of Your Own Life!

Kathy Kinney (best known as Mimi on The Drew Carey Show) has co-authored a book with a publishing exec I’ve never heard of named Cindy Ratzlaff – the book’s website states: Ratzlaff is a publishing executive, who created marketing campaigns for more than 100 New York Times best-selling books, including The South Beach Diet, as though that’s something to proud of – entitled Queen of Your Own Life due out soon.

In my opinion Queen of Your Own Life is yet another vaguely prescriptive tome of the “You Go, Girl” variety. While I found its premise – though not necessarily all the actions prescribed – not entirely terrible, but still ultimately riddled with lots of problematic analysis of why folks struggle in their lives.

From the book:

By letting go of things like self-doubt, fear of being judged and worry about how to look younger, we were setting ourselves free to admire who we were right now. We were overjoyed to discover that we did admire the women we had become. We were two strong women, who brought with them to the second half of life courage, wisdom and, most of all, the knowledge that they could survive anything with their dignity and humor intact.

Now on the surface this appears all well and good; finding the path towards self acceptance. However, it’s a bit presumptive and problematic to flatten various life experiences so individual blues are somehow analogous.

Since Ratzlaff is in fact a marketing maven, she has taken the message to Oprah. Take notes, kids – 90% of effective marketing is targeting the right audience for your product; well she’s hit the jackpot.

Even the seemingly altruistic article posted on Oprah’s site reads like a thinly veiled infomercial for the book, which is certainly their prerogative, but I mean we can all be the queen of our lives if we’ve got access to Oprah’s powerful platform! And what a glorious platform it is!

I opted to rearrange the list in 1 – 10 order rather than utilize the Casey Kasem top ten format seen in the article. Mostly to illustrate there’s nothing new here, even if one hasn’t read the slew of happiness related books currently blanketing the market, from The Happiness Project to The How of Happiness.

  • 1. Pass it on. “Hear ye, hear ye,” says the queen.
  • 2. Place the crown firmly on your head. You queen up well.
  • 3. Learn the simple trick to finally being happy. As we say in the Midwest, “It’s time to poop or get off the pot.”
  • 4. Set strong boundaries. Mean what you say and say what you mean.
  • 5. Build and nurture trusting friendships. Face life’s joys and challenges with a friend by your side.
  • 6. Admire yourself. Give yourself a Windy Mountain Moment so you can appreciate who you’ve become.
  • 7. Language matters. The words we choose to speak to ourselves and about ourselves are important.
  • 8. Claim your beauty and power. End the mirror’s reign of terror.
  • 9. Keep. What do you really like about yourself? Identify your strengths and decide what you want to keep from the first half of your life that’s still working for you.
  • 10. Banish. Let go of a thought or action from the first half of your life that is no longer working for you.

My problem with the book or others of this zeitgeist genre is not with concept of action steps folks can take to better their outlook on life, but rather the notion that faithful application of said action steps ought to result in finally getting all the things one believes they so richly deserved. These books are often framed from the premise-behind-the-premise folks have the right to be “happy” and “fulfilled” – a worldview I simply do not support. I don’t even wish to open the can of worms these books present from a privilege/oppression standpoint, though it’s chief among my quibbles. What happens if you follow the instruction to the letter and find that life does not dramatically change or unicorns do not magically appear on your lawn, prancing about? Do you then attribute such failure to your inability to thoroughly grasp the concepts? Do you get your money back? Do they parade you through the streets wearing an “I am the court jester of my own life!” t-shirt? The book did not guarantee anything in writing the way – say Midas guarantees its mufflers and the work by its mechanics – but there is an implicit suggestion that any failure to make the magic happen can be attributed to the reader. I can imagine the “If only…” rebuttals readers who aren’t able to rule their queendom in style have in store for them.

[sarcasm] Good, victim blaming times, indeed.[/sarcasm]

If I sound a bit harsh – though, honestly I don’t think I do – I attribute it to longing for something different from the book, which had me at…Kathy Kinney. I was looking for some of the wit and astute observations I’d noticed in interviews and what I believe I observed in her portrayal of Mimi, which I found in a few instances to both trade in and subvert fat tropes simultaneously.

And before you – the editorial “you” – jump in to tell me maybe I could use a little “happiness” literature in my life, I should tell you I am quite satisfied with my life. Is it perfect? HELL NO. Do I expect it to be? HELL NO. I am dazzled each day by the things in my life that are going well. I am grateful for the wonderful family, great friends, meaningful work, agency over 75% of my time and loving partner I have. Do I feel entitled to any of this?


I believe you do the best you can and you get what you get; it’s all fine to work to dismantle systems of oppression, but in the meantime you have to live your LIFE in the here and now. Hmmm, maybe I should write a book and get mine on the shelves in time to profit from the inevitable happiness lit backlash.

A version of this entry previously appeared on Snarky’s Machine.

Today in Things I Wrote Elsewhere

I did my first feature on Salon, on the next generation of abortion providers. (That’s what kept me away from the blog for most of last week, btw.)

I also wrote this morning about how the vitriol aimed at women who choose not to have children is suspiciously similar to anti-abortion rhetoric. You think maybe the real problem is that some people don’t want women to control our own fertility at all? Just maybe? 

And finally, there’s one fat/book related item. Marianne and I are guest blogging at Powells.com this week, and my first post, about the title of the book, just went up. For post number one, I wanted to do a mix of Fat 101 and writing/publishing issues, so that’s where I started. Haven’t yet decided what my next two will be about (I’m doing Wednesday and Friday; Marianne’s doing Tuesday and Thursday), so if there’s anything writing/publishing/reading related you’d like to hear me ramble about, let me know here! (And if you’re moved to comment over there, it would be nice to hear from people who are familiar with fat acceptance, since I imagine the alternatives are either no comments or Trollfest.)  

Also, feel free to self-link or point us to other interesting stuff in the comments. Thanks for your patience, crew.

In Which I Continue to Learn the Hard Way What NOT to Say to Reporters

So, a week or so ago, I did an interview with Joel Mathis from the Philadelphia Weekly. (I was warned that it would be about fat women and sex—for a sex-themed issue—and I warned him back that I’m probably too prudish deep down to give him any juicy quotes. We proceeded from there.)

So. He was very nice, said his wife’s a big fan of the site (hi, if you’re reading!) and quoted me accurately in the finished version*. However. I keep learning the hard way, again and again, that there is a big difference between being quoted accurately and actually getting your point across. 

Here’s what Mathis quotes me as saying, in response to (I believe)  “Do you think of yourself as beautiful?”

“I do feel beautiful on my own terms,” says Harding, a blue-eyed blonde who weighs in around 200 pounds. “I’m married, my husband thinks I’m beautiful and plenty of guys have thought I was beautiful.”


I’m sure I said all those words. I’m also sure I followed them up with something like, “But really, that’s not the point. It’s nice to feel validated by other people, but that’s not what matters. Plenty of people don’t think I’m beautiful, and the point is, their terms don’t have to be mine.” (He does throw that bit in later.) I also noted that said blonde hair and blue eyes (and associated fair skin) and 200-lb. body and hourglass shape actually bring me a lot closer to the beauty standard than many women are, which makes me less of a target for hatred from dudes who think a woman’s worth is directly proportionate to her perceived fuckability. (Granted, I’m sure that whatever I actually said, I didn’t articulate it anywhere near that clearly. But I do know I did not leave “My husband thinks I’m beautiful and plenty of other guys do, too”—with the implied “So, nyah!”—just hanging out there like that.) 

I’m totally not criticizing Mathis for this, I hasten to add. I think he did his job in good faith—and the article’s quite positive. But the more I talk to reporters, the more I realize how important it is to think about the soundbites I’m spewing, even as I couch them in more nuanced babbling. I cracked up when I saw the Q&A we did with Damsel, because every one of those one-line answers was pulled from a ramble that lasted a couple minutes. Nothing’s out of context or troubling to me, and it totally makes sense given the space constraints—but good Maude, there was some hardcore abbreviation there.

Contrast that with the Salon interview I did via e-mail, for a better sense of how I tend to answer stuff. (And then factor in that THAT was edited down substantially—including the removal of one whole Q/A volley — because I can’t ever shut the fuck up. “5 Questions with Kate Harding” became “4 Questions and This Is Still Like 1400 Words Long Because I’m Doing You a Favor, KATE.”) Several of the reporters I’ve talked to—including Mathis—have ended the conversation with something along the lines of, “Wow, this went longer than I expected!” Yeah. Hi.

The thing is, I think one of the reasons people seem to like this blog is that I do go on forever and get into ridiculous levels of detail and clarification when I tackle a given subject. (Certainly, as with my beauty, there are those who don’t dig it. And certainly, it flies in the face of conventional wisdom about blogging, which holds that shorter posts are always preferable to longer ones. But I keep rambling and y’all keep coming back, so… Suck it, conventional wisdom.) I feel so hamstrung when someone asks me to make an important point about fat acceptance in one or two sentences, because you can’t. Not if you’re a thoughtful person.

I mean, there’s a big fucking grey area between “gives good soundbite” and “talks as much as I do.” But still, at least half this blog’s raison d’etre is that the media continuously reduces incredibly complex issues to incredibly simplistic conclusions. The quick, easy, empty quote is king. Eat less, move more! Put the fork down! Get off the couch! And oh yeah, love your body! If the media actually dealt in nuance, I’d be free to blog a lot more about my dogs and write novels with pink high heels on the cover. THAT WOULD BE A REFRESHING CHANGE, LET ME TELL YOU.

So now, because I’ve gotten some attention and half a book deal for responding to vastly oversimplified articles in a thoughtful and nuanced (albeit rambly) way, I’ve been rewarded with the opportunity to vastly oversimplify my own thoughts for a mainstream audience. Um, yay? I mean,  it’s not even that I have a problem with selling out. I’d seriously consider appearing on the cover of Maxim in a whipped-cream bikini if I thought it would move books. I’m trying to make a living as a writer here, and that’s hard enough to do even without being the kind of person who gets all hung up on “standards” and “principles.”** It’s just, I don’t know how to boil this shit down to media-friendly quotes without coming off as a total jackass. And yet, I don’t want to turn down any chance to get publicity for both the book and the whole concept of fat acceptance. 

So. Got any advice, Shapelings? Those of you who are better than I at nailing down talking points, what are your suggestions for one-liners about various aspects of fat acceptance? Those of you with media experience, what are your suggestions for avoiding the pitfall of barfing up an irresistible soundbite (like, “Plenty of guys think I’m beautiful!”) in the middle of a more complicated thought? Any help would be appreciated.

ETA: I didn’t get to this earlier because—heh—I had to run off to do another interview, but can we also talk about that illustration? I’m really not sure what to make of it. On the upside: Hot, fat woman of color, with a head and a face. On the downside: Hypersexualized, mostly naked woman of color, who’s not so much “fat” as “like 75% ass.” (Please see Julia’s essay in the book for more on that important distinction. OK, fine, you can read it here, too, but buy the book anyway.) Does it reinforce the myth that it’s more acceptable for African-American women to be fat? Is the mostly naked factor mitigated by the fact that it’s the “sex” issue, so that’s probably to be expected? What do you all think?

Edited again: MezzoSherri just made this excellent comment. (I wasn’t sure if Constance was white, but it would have been on-point even if the article only mostly quoted white women.)

I do not currently have the brainpower to try and unpack the layered meanings, assumptions, and cultural messages behind the fact that an article which quotes three fair-skinned fatties (me, Kate and Constance) and references a fourth (Marianne) is represented with an illustration of a woman of color in lingerie crouching in submission/performance for (I’m assuming) the male gaze.

*The finished version also includes an interview with Shapeling MezzoSherri, whom I was lucky enough to meet last Saturday. Yippee! And it also calls me “the godmother of the movement,” which is off on a lot of levels, starting with the fact that it’s a 40-year-old movement I’ve only been involved in for 2 years. But like “Queen of the Fat-o-sphere,” it does amuse me—as long as I think of it in Mafia terms, not quasi-maternal ones.

**This is a joke. Mostly.

Sweet Home Chicago

OK, I’m back from my whirlwind Philly/Boston trip, which was terrific. Met lots of Shapelings, sold lots of books, had lots of fun. Am also lots of tired.

I’ll have photos (and more content) soonish, but for now, please enjoy a dark cameraphone pic Lesley got during the Boston event yesterday. Yeah, I’m totally drinking wine at like 2 p.m. 

katemariannebostonAlso, please note the new thingers on the sidebar over there to the right — the “Fatospherebook” Twitter feed, which will keep you abreast of news about the book, and the upcoming events widget, which ought to be self-explanatory. 

And since I know people are going to ask, my wrap dress is from Kiyonna, and Marianne’s awesome secretary dress (which did not show up well in this pic at all) is from a Lane Bryant outlet in Orlando or thereabouts.  Her tights are from We Love Colors, don’t know about her shoes. My shoes are these, except I got them for $45 at Alamo Shoes and am really not sure they’re worth $99. 

Thank you SO MUCH to Marina of Big Moves Boston, who got the Philly event together for us; Gina at The Rotunda, who hosted it; Ally Day of the Center for New Words, who got the Boston one going; everyone at Lir Irish Pub, who hosted that and got that glass of wine in my hand; Lesley and Julia for giving readings of their kickass essays there; and of course, all the awesome people who came out and bought books!

Oh, and I did not fall once the whole weekend! Though I did have to buy an emergency pair of flip-flops at a CVS in Philly, because my bag went on to Boston without me, and the shoes I wore on the plane were giving me blisters after 20 minutes. (I flew to Philly Saturday morning and Boston Saturday night, didn’t realize the dude who checked me in at O’Hare had treated it as a connecting flight rather than two discrete trips. I did bring comfortable shoes, I just couldn’t access them.) So I’m still figuring out the whole book event footwear thing, but it’s getting better.

Reminder: Philly and Boston appearances this weekend!

In case you missed it or hadn’t heard, Marianne and I will be reading and answering questions in Philly tomorrow at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., from 4-5 p.m. (in between performances of “Fat Camp,” the new revue by Big Moves Boston). 

On Sunday, we’ll be in Boston, reading at Lir Irish Pub, 903 Boylston St., starting at 1:30 1 p.m. (doors open at 12:30). That event was organized by the awesome Center for New Words and will also feature Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere contributors Lesley Kinzel and Julia Starkey. 

Come out and see us! And Chicagoans, don’t forget I’ll be at Vive la Femme next Friday, May 15, from 6-8 p.m.! I’ll put up another reminder next week.

Also not too shabby

At Amazon, #9 in self-esteem, #11 in gender studies, and #18 in women’s studies




Kidding, kidding. Seriously, though, if you still want to do something to help (without necessarily spending money this time), we’d love it if you’d periodically check up on the reviews, tags, and comments there and on Powell’s — if you have the Sanity Watchers points, that is. Powell’s is especially trolly right now, and I’ve already corresponded with a director there, who said (totally reasonably) that deleting even the worst ones would probably draw more negative attention and cause more trouble than it’s worth. (Not everyone has a brilliant comments policy like ours.)

So the best things you can do for us right now are:

1) Post positive reviews! (Preferably after you’ve read the book, so as not to make our primary objection to a lot of the trolly comments hypocritical.)

2) Mark troll comments “not helpful,” so they get moved down the page.

3) On Amazon, click on the appropriate tags (including “Kneel before Zod,” duh), so tags like “whiny” “crybaby” and “denial” get moved down. (*eyeroll*)

4) Link the phrase “Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere” — either to your favorite bookstore’s site or our book site — from your blog, to help shore up our Google ranking and keep shitheads who mention the book farther down the list.

5) Let us know in comments about any other ideas for keeping our book pages as clean as possible, without pestering the booksellers to get rid of the nasties. 

Have I already said thank you? ‘Cause OMG, THANK YOU.