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[whitespace] Marilyn Wann Living Large: How Wann stopped worrying and learned to love her thighs

Marilyn Wann's fight for fat pride

By Michelle Goldberg

On october 26, 1993, marilyn wann reached her breaking point. "First, the guy I was dating said he was embarrassed to introduce me to friends because I was fat," she says in the introduction to her new book. "Then, Blue Cross of California decided not to give me health insurance because of my weight."

Now, if this were the opening to, say, a cheesy diet book or an article in Cosmo, the next chapter would be obvious--Wann would have starved herself, gotten skinny and lived happily ever after, at least until she gained all the weight back.

But Wann, a 270-pound Ivy League-educated writer, amateur aviatrix, world traveler and generally brilliant babe, was way too cool to buy into any Jenny Craig diet fascism. Instead, she started Fat!So?, a hot-pink zine that proclaimed, "You don't have to apologize for your size." That led to the recent publication of the Fat!So? book, a cheeky collection of inspirational writings, drawings, photographs and games, like an adorable Venus of Willendorf paper doll and Fat Pride trading cards. Not that Wann is celebrating sloth--she eats right and exercises (we belong to the same gym)--but she knows that because she's a naturally fat person, healthy living is never going to make her skinny--and she doesn't want it to. The book, after all, includes a chapter written by Wann's personal trainer as well as one titled "The Joys of Fat Sex." The Abbie Hoffman of fat liberation, Wann is a one-woman rebuke of our culture's impossible beauty standards and an inspiration to anyone who wants to stop hating her body--and who doesn't?

MG: I've read about the epiphany that led you to start Fat!So?, but isn't there a big difference between intellectually deciding to accept yourself and actually internalizing it?

MW: Yeah, a big difference. It helped me to have a breaking point, because I think that you can kind of just put up with the little painful things and niggling thoughts for a long time. It helped me to have a very clear point of anger that kept me going through the unpleasant phases of coming to celebrate being fat. But it took years. I was able to do it through writing about it and being in a fat community, which means being around a lot of other people who are showing you by their example ways to be happy and fat.

MG: One of the things I found most resonant was where you wrote, "Have an adventure you usually think only thin people get to have," because one thing about hating your body is that you don't want to imagine yourself as the protagonist of your own life.

MW: I'm glad that resonated, because it really hit me, too. I didn't realize that I'd been having my own adventures until I came out as a fat person and then I looked back and I thought, damn, that was some exciting stuff! The concept of life just being too short is really powerful to me. For me life's too short for self-hatred and it's too short for celery sticks.

MG: But you also have to admit that there are all these very destructive American habits, like eating drive--through dinners and watching too much TV, that do result in people putting on weight. How do you reconcile that with the argument that fat is genetic and there's nothing wrong with it?

MW: I think you can change to healthy habits, and whether you gain weight or lose weight is kind of beside the point. To me--and it sounds really simple, but in our culture it's really difficult--it's all about eating well and exercising. That's about all you can do. Each individual person has his or her own natural weight range. You can kind of fuss with that on the margins--you can change your weight by maybe 10 percent, but that's about as much as even the scientists say you can sustain. But that's like saying I'm a black person and if I stay out of the sun my skin will be lighter. It's not really changing who you are. So I don't think that saying eat right and exercise is an anti-fat thing or an anti-thin thing. It's just a pro-health thing. Our medical establishment combined with our dieting establishment is assuming that thin at all costs is healthy. It's not. Fen/Phen is a clear example of how thin at all costs is not healthy, it's really deadly.

MG: In the book, you talk about going on talk radio and how enraged the callers get by what you're saying. Where on earth did you get the courage to endure that kind of abuse?

MW: I think that it makes it really easy when I think that I'm right and they're wrong. Growing up, I was incredibly shy and incredibly afraid of speaking in public, and everything I do now would have been too daunting to even consider. If someone had said, "One day you will be a national fat rebel," I would have just hidden in a corner. What shifted it for me was feeling like I had something that I had to say. I just couldn't wait for my shyness to go away, I couldn't let fear of speaking in public stop me from speaking out about this particular issue. What initially drove me was my own personal anger around my bad day, and then what continued to drive me was the incredible outrages that fat people suffer all the time--that all my friends were suffering all the time--and the tragedies of kids who are killing themselves. I mention three kids in the book who committed suicide because they were teased and they couldn't take that kind of abuse and they had no protection from their friends or from their parents or from anyone in our culture who says it's not OK to beat up on the fat kid. And maybe it's rebellious, but I can't be bothered to care what someone who hates me thinks of me.

I guess that's how an emotionally healthy person should feel, but I find I care the most what people who hate me think of me.

You know, I have these little imaginary conversations with Howard Stern in my head. I drive around and I talk to Howard Stern, and I tell Howard, you know, you couldn't pay me to be thin. The sex is too good right now with me liking my body. And I imagine him saying, "I would never have sex with someone like you," and I'd be like, duh! Why would I want to have sex with someone who doesn't like my body? I think that before I came out as a fat person I was kind of hoping that these people I was attracted to, even though they didn't like me, maybe they would still be with me. And that's really destructive. Why would I want to have sex with someone who doesn't like any part of me? There is no sex shortage. There is no shortage of people who are going to like you exactly the way you are.

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From the February 1, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc.