How to Be Fat

A plus size woman in a black bathing suit on the beach for the post '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 significance on body shape in this society. And this can create something of a conundrum when you’re also passionate about food—and perhaps prone to indulging a little more frequently than usual as we sidestep our emotions. Which is exactly why we’re sharing this lesson from the brilliantly insightful Augusten Burroughs, taken from his book, This Is How: Surviving What You Think You Can’t. We found the story in a chapter titled “How To Be Fat,” although we like to think of it instead as “How To Be Beautiful.” And we consider it a public service announcement. Mind you, we’re not condoning reckless abandon or unabashed gluttony. But when you read this excerpt in the spirit in which it was intended, which is that of embracing a curiosity about self and owning everything you learn in that pursuit, we think you’ll appreciate the lesson as much as we do. Because beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Especially when you are the beholder.—Renee Schettler 

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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.

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.

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.



  1. Not until I read this chapter years ago did I finally stop believing the lies that fat people are gross and worthless. I myself have always struggled with my weight and the self hatred that comes with it. The world hates fat people and even though I was fat too, I joined in. Now I’m marrying a fellow fat person and she’s fucking gorgeous and I can’t wait to spend my life with her.

  2. More praise for the big gals! Those are my kind. One reason is they often give the best hugs (and it is not just because of … um, their bountiful buxom benevolence). Also, I love my food and it all about compatibility. I can presume a big gal likes her food, and that is a good start for me.

  3. 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.

    1. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

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