Today we’re delighted to welcome Angie Manfredi to the WNDB blog to discuss THE (OTHER) F WORD: A CELEBRATION OF THE FAT AND FIERCE, out September 24, 2019.
The definitive collection of art, poetry, and prose, celebrating fat acceptance
Chubby. Curvy. Fluffy. Plus-size. Thick. Fat. The time has come for fat people to tell their own stories. THE (OTHER) F WORD combines the voices of Renée Watson, Julie Murphy, Jes Baker, Samantha Irby, Bruce Sturgell, and more in a relatable and gift-worthy guide about body image and fat acceptance. This dazzling collection of art, poetry, essays, and fashion tips is meant for people of all sizes who desire to be seen and heard in a culture consumed by a narrow definition of beauty. By combining the talents of renowned fat YA and middle-grade authors, as well as fat influencers and creators, THE (OTHER) F WORD offers teen readers and activists of all ages a tool for navigating our world with confidence and courage.
Why did you want this anthology to be a collection of essays rather than fiction stories about fat characters, as many YA and teen-oriented collections are?
It started with a tweet from Dahlia Adler who asked, “What would be your dream anthology to edit?” And then I talked with her more about it and one of the questions she asked me was why is this a mix of fiction and nonfiction.
That really helped me come to the conclusion that I didn’t want it to be another short story collection. There is a real dearth in the YA market of books that say, “This is what your real life can be. This is what real life as a fat person can look like.” It became the single-minded focus of the anthology.
So much of talking about fat people centers around fiction stories. These stories are the real challenges and the real joys of being fat. Even though there are prose and poetry in the book, they’re still written in the lived experience of an actual fat person.
I agree that there should be a million more representations of fat people, especially for teenagers. It’s hard enough when you’re 28, but if you’re 15 the idea that you could be a runway model or that you’ll find somebody to love you. The idea that it was YA specific was also really important.
Everybody who’s fat has this moment: The moment when you’re like, wait a minute, this is all a lie. Everything they told me about being fat was a lie! The goal of this anthology and the power of nonfiction are for readers to see that all these other people have gotten to the “wait a minute” moment and you can too. You don’t have to wait until you’re 40. What if we could save teenagers all the energy spent hating themselves? What kind of world could they exist in?
In editing this anthology, was the diversity of contributors important to you? How did you choose the contributors you did?
It was because I wanted it to be that you could pick it up and start reading anywhere. You can read a poem or one short essay. The browsability was important. I worked with teenagers directly for almost 12 years in a library setting and none of them like the same thing.
This was designed with teen readers in mind as well as people who are new to the fat acceptance movement. That determined who I was interested in having as a contributor. I wanted to find artists, people who make zines, models.
The contributors also talked a lot about being queer, being a person of color, being Indigenous. That was a very deliberate effort in a lot of their pieces. There’s so much of that. It’s very present and very intentional.
Who are some of your fat role models and why?
Marilyn Wann, the author of FAT!SO?. I can never give her enough props. She was really important to me. To even find that book as an adult and know it had been around since I was a kid, that was incredible. I’m a huge fan of Lizzo and I think it’s almost impossible to conceptualize what she means to fat people. I sometimes literally can’t talk about her without choking up. She is so important to me and I think to all of us.
You know a lot of cool fat people, you just somehow separate yourself from that: You don’t think about them as fat. Don’t discount people’s bodies.
You remember the first moment you felt represented and you remember how that felt. You know it matters so don’t ever discount it because it has happened to you.
Adults can model body kindness for teens in our lives to observe. Do you hope the anthology will be a way for adults to learn how to celebrate and discuss fat bodies with kids and teens?
That’s one of the goals for what I want it to be: A guidebook. I have been talking to adults who work with teens. I would love that if they read it, that they find within themselves mistakes they’ve made and that they had a moment of, “How can I do better?” What I hope comes across in this that it gives everyone who’s a thin person a moment of pause. I want it to be a moment where they interrogate how their words impact other people. If you have a teen in their lives of any size, this is a book that they should read. That’s a gift that we adults can share with teenagers: That you have the right to be who you are and nobody else gets an opinion. All of these people have come out on the other side, and that’s really important.
So many of the stories in this anthology are about breaking down myths and misconceptions about fat bodies. What’s one thing about being fat that you want readers to know is worth celebrating?
I have really bad teeth. In March, one of my front teeth fell out finally. It was super traumatic. I got a retainer. One of the things I realized is that I don’t feel bad about not having a front tooth. I realized that was a gift given to me by understanding that my body and my physical appearance do not define who I am. That is a gift given to me by my fat body. Sometimes my hair looks shitty, sometimes I don’t wear makeup. All of that is a gift of understanding that my fat body isn’t the end of the world, it’s not what defines. I am joyful for that. I understand that my appearance is not me. My fatness is not my worth. Having a missing tooth doesn’t make me a lesser person. Skinny people wish they had that; they wish they had my confidence.
You’re also a librarian. How do you recommend librarians make their libraries a fat-positive space for patrons, and curate an inclusive collection of books?
One day I heard a bunch of teen girls talking negatively about being fat. I went over to them and started chit-chatting with them. I said, “You’re not fat. I’m fat.” There was dead silence. I said, “That’s not a bad thing. It’s just a descriptor.”
I think that one thing adults, especially in a library setting, can do is model the talk you want to see. When you have snacks at programs, watch that language: There are no ‘good’ and ‘bad’ snacks or ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods. Be aware of that.
Question the media you consume. What lessons and messages is it telling you? Soon librarians will be able to make a display of books by fat authors that claim the word fat that has fat characters. I believe that someday soon there will be enough books to have a positive display and I hope that the anthology is right there with them, and all the people featured in the anthology.
If you could create a second anthology on the same or similar topic as a follow-up, what topics would you definitely want to include?
I would love to have a companion anthology like this for 7 to 12-year-olds. I think they can be even meaner to each other. Something that really focuses on accepting yourself but also on as a community, learning how we talk about our bodies. This is a YA anthology and it’s meant for ages 13 and up so I’d love to curate one that’s for that 7-12 age range.
Tell us about a few books (fiction or nonfiction) with fat protagonists that you’ve enjoyed.
Two that I’m really excited about are middle-grade books like Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy and Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson. I would say that the place we need the most fat representation is in picture books. Picture books with fat characters are depressingly hard to find. But after picture books, we need to see more representation in middle grade so I love to see that. And we also need to see more boys and masculine-presenting people who are fat; I’d love to see more men, nonbinary people, and masculine people in fat representation.
Please, please seek out fat creators. Ask yourself, who do I work with that’s fat and uses that word to describe themselves? How does that shape the work that they create? Ask hard questions about the illustrations and art that appear in your books. Fat people deserve to see themselves in picture books.
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Angie Manfredi is a librarian and writer who owns every season of Law and Order on DVD and sends over 150 handwritten Valentines every year. She has spent the last 11 years working directly with children and teens of all ages in a public library and now works in library consulting on all things youth services. Angie is fat and not sorry about it. She is a passionate advocate for literacy, diversity, and decolonizing the discourse surrounding children’s literature.