How to Be Fat

How to Be Fat

This Is How | Picador and St. Martin’s Press, 2012

Let’s just state the obvious: We tend to place enormous import on body shape in this culture. And if, like us, you find yourself rather passionate about food, well, these two situations can create something of a conundrum, or at the very least cause you to take pause. Which is exactly why we want to share this lesson from the brilliant and prolific Augusten Burroughs and his latest book, This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t. It’s what we consider a public service announcement. It’s from a chapter titled “How To Be Fat,” although we like to think of it as “How To Be Beautiful.” Mind you, we’re not condoning reckless abandon in terms of not eating healthfully. And we certainly aren’t oblivious to the fact that the word “fat” is an emotionally charged trigger for many of us. Yet we think if you read this excerpt in the spirit in which it was intended, you’ll appreciate the lesson just as darned much as we do.—Renee Schettler Rossi

A few years ago, I was at a hotel in Palm Springs, sitting by the pool and writing. A few minutes later, a woman sauntered into the area wearing a sarong, high heels, and a dramatic, oversized hat. The woman was what one would typically call fat. I was astounded by her beauty and her utter command of the entire area surrounding the pool. I glanced around at the other people near me and indeed, every man was watching her. Lust is not easily mistaken for repulsion; these men wanted her. The women sitting outside were watching her, too. And their expressions were just as easy to read, as clear as words printed on a white page: how the hell is she doing that? Because this woman was the sexiest, most sensual woman I had yet encountered in California. I expect the vast majority of those looking at her felt exactly the same way.

How was it possible?

It was possible because this woman saw the truth behind “the truth.” She saw that fat is not hot is not true. One day this woman woke up and she put on her jeans and she looked in the mirror and asked herself, as she surely had a thousand times before, “Do these jeans make me look fat?” But instead of replying to her rhetorical question with a positive, feel-good white lie, she suddenly let out her breath, allowed her stomach to spill over the waistband, and admitted the truth to herself: the jeans did not make her look fat; she was fat. No article of clothing had ever or could ever disguise, conceal, or alter this fact. She was not, by even the most elastic stretch of the definition, a thin woman. She was fat in her arms, fat in her thighs, fat in her stomach, and even her fingers were plump.

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To stand there in your binding, fattifying jeans before the mirror and proceed to accurately and with great specificity observe and truly absorb what is there . . . the truth can take your breath away. The truth can also breathe new life into you. This woman accepted what she saw. Then she said to herself, “Okay. Given that I’m fat but I still want to be magnificently beautiful, I want to be sexy as hell, what can I do?” And she did these things.

I can’t even remember her face. I’m not actually sure if I even saw it. So I don’t really know if she was pretty. She was sexy. She was beautiful. She was insanely ravishing. But she could have also been plain. This is a learning curveball because not only was she fat and hot, she was beautiful with or without being beautiful. Many clichés are true. “Real beauty comes from the inside” is absolutely one of them. But we hear it and go, “Yeah, so true,” and let it slide right past us, unexamined. You manufacture beauty with your mind.

Decisions are beautiful. They are evidence of thought and care. Decisions are the polishing cloths of life. There is absolutely no shame whatsoever in deciding you’d rather spend your life paying attention to something other than the weight of your physical body. There is no shame in deciding you look fine just as you are. Or even better than fine. There is no shame in deciding to just be fat.

Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Augusten Burroughs

About Augusten Burroughs

Augusten Burroughs is the best-selling author of more than half a dozen works, including Running with ScissorsDry, and his most recent title, This Is How. He's been named one of Entertainment Weekly's “25 Funniest People in America" on two occasions and his work has appeared in the New York Times and New York Magazine among other publications. He resides in New York City and western Massachusetts.

  1. Petra says:


    • Beth Price says:

      Yep, Petra. We are saying goodbye to the current ideal of beauty and embracing every last ample inch of the new.

  2. Shelley says:

    Interesting. As someone who is … erm, heavy … I read this with great interest. But it’s making me feel better about my recent decision to don a bathing suit to take my 10-month-old son to swimming lessons. (In my ordinary life, I’m a plus-size woman. These days, I’m a plus-size, six-months-pregnant woman … so I think I need some sort of medal for braving Lycra and Spandex.) In my mind, I kind of cringe when I see the other hot moms that can bravely (and rightfully) wear bikinis. But to my kid, I’m just mom. And that’s beautiful to him.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Exactly, Shelley. And, I have no doubt, beautiful in countless other ways as well….

    • Shelley, I did the same thing over the long holiday weekend with my 21-month-old (and I’m also nearly 6 months pregnant with my second). Strangely enough, some of my favorite photos from our trip are the ones my mom took of us splashing around in the pool! I’m grateful I was able to get past my nervousness about being fat and pregnant in a swimsuit in public, and just enjoy the moment, having fun with my little guy.

  3. Girl! I’m going to share this with every human being I see. I’m going to print it out and shove it into strangers’ faces. I’m going to tattoo it on my (ample) thighs.

    Your introductory note makes it that much more poignant, too. Thank you.

  4. This is wonderful. I’m a huge fan of the fat acceptance movement. Every person should be able to feel beautiful and confident, regardless of size! Thanks for posting.

  5. Susan says:

    couple this with the dustin hoffman video that’s been floating around and i’m ready to fearlessly prance around the pool in my bathing suit. i might even leave the cover up at home. thank you for sharing this!

  6. Just one thing-I think that hot pink bathing suit would be perfect for me. And if you could throw in the pool behind it, I’d be very happy indeed! And lastly, a pina colada would complete my attire! Just make sure it is not made with light coconut milk, please.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Hah, Abbe! ‘Fraid we can’t do anything about the pool or the piña colada (am soooo with you on no light coconut milk), although I can tell you that suit is made by swimsuits for all, and you’ll find a link to their site at the top of this page, just above that fabulous photo.

  7. Martha in KS says:

    Let’s hear it for Rubenesque ladies! A waist is a terrible thing to mind.

  8. Donna Turner says:

    Yes, I have seen women just like that. And I was jealous because I was 25 and 110 lbs and I thought I was the attractive one. And I was WRONG and embarrassed – it is all in how you carry yourself and you carry yourself in the way you perceive yourself. It only took 30 years for me to understand – better late than never.

  9. ameliaames says:

    Love love love this!

  10. Beth says:

    I recently read the whole book. It’s outstanding. Recommended reading for everyone. Even if you think some of the chapters don’t apply to your life, if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself so drawn in by his words that you’ll *want* to read what he has to say on every page.

  11. Bonnie Anderson says:

    A friend was on a Caribbean cruise with her family, and observed a group of large Brazilian women in action. They OWNED their own power. She came home saying she wished two things: one, that she could have ditched her family to hang out with these women, and two, that it would be a great opportunity for every woman of every size to get out of the American cultural mindset for a refreshing perspective.

  12. I love this article! I wish I could own my size and flaunt it. We are all beautiful, no matter the size. I just wish we could all let ourselves believe that and live it. Someday.

  13. D. Li says:

    Life affords very many opportunities for us to decide whether to live our lives the way we wish or to let our fears of what others might think imprison us. I remember avoiding college friends because I didn’t want them to see how fat I’d gotten. A previous employer called once to ask me to lunch because his best friend had died and he was having a hard time. I made excuses because I didn’t want him to see me with my post pregnancy weight. Even as I realized how extraordinarily petty, miserly, and shamefully I was behaving, I still did those things. But I have also gritted my teeth, reached out, and met up with those same friends and employer at later times, even though my weight hadn’t changed. I’ve even walked in my bathing suit to my neighbor’s pool and been the first person on the dance floor.

    Sometimes we are the person we wish to be. Other times we don’t quite manage. Thankfully most of us have innumerable other opportunities to do better. C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” discusses this in incredibly vivid imagery.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      D. Li, thank you for your honesty and your insight. “Sometimes we are the person we wish to be. Other times we don’t quite manage.” That’s precisely it. And it doesn’t help to be our own harshest critic. I so admire—and envy—the courage you’ve shown and I dare say I’m not the only person to be inspired by you. Thank you.

  14. Linda says:

    I was once married to my ex who constantly complained about my weight when I was not overweight giving me a huge complex. He called me fat and unattractive for the last two years of our marriage!! I have worked very hard to let go of the insecurities. I am now married to my soulmate! We have been together for 24 years. When I lost some well-needed weight, and we were looking through some old pictures, and I said OMG look how big I was! His response was “I never noticed.” He always tells me I’m the most beautiful woman in the room wherever we go. He is a true gem!

  15. Jan says:

    First, let me say, Wow. I read the article and feel like I read a book or saw a movie. Bravo, Augusten.

    Next, in my own experience, I have often seen women walking down the street who are, by anyone’s gauge, large. BUT, what impresses me about these women is how well they wear it. Certainly, they would be elegant, beautiful, captivating even if they were petite but that they manage to be all of those things and Large is what impresses. I chalk it up partly to what Augusten has so eloquently stated but also to *charisma*. Some folks got it and some don’t.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Nods. Completely agree, Jan. Completely. I think being comfortable in one’s skin is something denied to many. But when someone’s got it, they’ve really got it. And it’s apparent.

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