Carol Lay — The Big Skinny

1186297_banana_diet_1Geez Louise. The humor and good sense of Shanker’s The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life is a marked contrast to the neuroticism of Carol Lay’s The Big Skinny. Seriously? They both talk about bananas – Shanker’s all like, “Isn’t it messed up that one banana is two servings? Who only eats half a banana at a time?” Well. Carol Lay.

This graphic novel focuses on Lay’s weight management techniques. While it’s helpful in terms of really making clear the benefits of calorie counting, Lay’s constant self-righteous pinioning of fat people and weight gain really distracted me from much of the book’s usefulness. When she calls herself a former fattie, she’s not reclaiming the term like Shanker. She’s maligning herself and others for their laziness, refusal to do math, and all around sloth. The obese people she knows binge, are emotional over eaters, and are flaky, “stupefied” food addicts.

As I read on, I wondered if she would ever eat the other half of that banana since she seemed so anti-food. Her attitudes towards food and body image both really turned me off, since she basically started losing weight out of self-disgust. She got tired of men saying stuff like, “No fat chicks,” and wanted a more active lifestyle. This is actually the crux of why I found The Big Skinny useful but not enjoyable. Like, her pictorial imagery of a more active lifestyle? An image of herself going swimming. What did my fat self do yesterday? Smoke everyone at swimming. She’s arguing that there’s a certain amount of physical enjoyment and desirability fat people simply don’t have access to, just because they’re fat. That’s not really my experience. I find this attitude fatphobic and very jarring. There’s this idea that fat women must lie around in a puddle of their own grease all day, and that they must be TOO LAZY to take the OBVIOUS steps necessary to bettering themselves. Lay seems like she endorses this idea of “fattitude” to an outrageous extent.

At the same time, her method worked for her, and I could see why it would work for others. Most of the stuff she writes I agree with – simple, organic foods are way better for you than processed, chemical-laden ones. You have the right to be assertive about your food needs, even in the work place. The steps you take to be helpful shouldn’t have to change because of the office climate. Making a goal list and keeping it accessible will remind you of your resolve. Her frank tone is an asset here, especially since in these sections she stops dogging her “hefty” friends. Plus, she includes really useful pictures of the exercises she does as part of her daily routine. There are some useful calorie charts, a couple good menu plans, and a pretty thorough checklist of what you might want to do to get started on your life-style change. I’d take the rest with a grain of salt.

The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude

Comments

  1. sbg says

    Wait…one serving of banana is half a banana? Does not compute. If you don’t eat it all, it gets all brown any yucky. Oxidization, yo!

    I am ALL for people being fit, but I am NOT COOL with the implication that fat = unfit 100% of the time. Damnit, I’m pretty damned healthy and am well into what people would call fat.

    I swear I wouldn’t be able to count the number of times a day a person could be hit with a “don’t be fat! don’t be fat!” headline.

  2. The OTHER Maria says

    YES! It is. It DOESN’T make any sense.

    That’s why I really only liked her gymless workout routine section, since the dietary suggestions are expensive and ludicrous.

  3. says

    Another thing: I think we all know people who do all the diet and exercise stuff exactly right and still aren’t slim, and we all know skinny people who eat 3,000 calories a day of crap and never get off their asses except to get another snack. For weight loss gurus to sell people on the idea that their systems work, and if they don’t work it’s the customer’s fault, not the guru’s, they have to start preying on the customer’s self-esteem very early in the process.

    Of course, the “it’s your fault, you’re the one who needs to adjust” mentality is something that’s foisted on girls from an early age, making women a perfect target for this sort of predatory marketing.

  4. The OTHER Maria says

    Thanks for the link, Other Patrick! It was really interesting. :)

    JK — I think that’s one of the reasons that weight loss is marketed to women differently than it is to me. I get the impression that for men, it’s based more on being strong and “bulking up” in the right places, whereas for women it’s all deny, deny, deny.

  5. sbg says

    She describes herself at 140 as “zaftig”; do most people really consider a 5′9″ woman who weighs 140 “zaftig”?

    Our society is just insane.

    Nobody should, but I’ll bet there are plenty who do.

    And I agree. It’s insane.

  6. says

    I blogged about the book here. I agree with everything you said, but I’d also add: she was never fat in the first place. She describes herself at 140 as “zaftig”; do most people really consider a 5’9″ woman who weighs 140 “zaftig”?

    Our society is just insane.

  7. The OTHER Maria says

    All her discussion of her weight (based on the numbers she gave) suggested to me that she had some really deep seated mental health issues.

  8. Pocket Nerd says

    Agreed, Barry. And I looked at the preview on Amazon.com— the way she draws her “fat” self doesn’t look fat to me. This raises a question in my mind: While I respect Ms. Lay’s right to look how she wants, for any reason or for no reason at all, did she decide to lose weight because it was what she wanted, or because she was shamed into it by d-bags who said “no fat chicks” (where “fat” means “not Callista Flockheart”)?

  9. The OTHER Maria says

    I think a bit of both — she had a lot of shame in her body (like, her “fat” wardrobe is all too big and in really ugly colors for her complexion. I’m sorry, but you are not going to feel divalicious in over-alls. No.) and got teased/street harassed for her weight.

  10. Trix says

    I’m sorry, what ARE the benefits of calorie-counting, other than to serve to make you obsessive about one aspect of the food you consume?

    Eating to lose weight is not the same as healthy eating, despite the propaganda from the diet industry.

    Frankly, I’m surprised at your surprise at the writer’s dislike of those who succumb to their “fattitude”, given the whole premise of the book.

  11. Robin says

    I don’t know if I could handle reading this book, to be honest. It might end up flung across the room after seeing that she considered herself to be grossly overweight when she weighed about the same as I do and I’m a good four inches shorter. And while I’m not quite at my previous fighting trim (due to a knee injury a few months ago that’s made getting aerobic exercise kind of tricky), I generally describe myself as “out of shape” rather than “fat”. Although I’m now considering adopting “zaftig” just because it has a nice ring to it. (Take that, Carol. :p )

    Also? It’s okay to eat the whole banana. Nutritionists recommend eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Plus, they’re high in potassium, which is really good for you after strenuous exercise. That’s why I usually take them hiking.

  12. sbg says

    Also? It’s okay to eat the whole banana. Nutritionists recommend eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

    I can’t speak for The OTHER Maria, but I was mostly perplexed by the idea anyone would eat only half a banana simply because that’s considered the serving size.

  13. says

    Serving sized in general, and the method to figure out what a serving size IS perplexes me. What is it based on? Old dietetic numbers that aren’t valid anymore? What?

  14. says

    Dieticians contradict each other, as do nutritionists, trainers and doctors. I’m not even sure it’s possible to get really solid nutritional and exercise advice.

    140 is actually right in the middle of what’s currently considered normal for a woman 5’9″ –

    http://www.flat-stomach-exercises.com/ideal-body-weight.html

    It’s also worth mentioning that nobody ever takes into account how much of of the “excess flab” is muscle and how much is fat. This, by the way, is why you find fat people who can run upstairs without getting the least out of breath while 99% of slimmer people can’t even walk up steps without panting. I consider this a HUGE and dangerous failing in the medical industry – that muscular people with some flab get labeled as “fat” and advised to lose weight they can only lose by getting rid of muscle, which is a terrible idea. Muscle is your friend.

    • Casey says

      On MSN today there’s an article titled “Is it possible to be fit and fat?”
      Considering how a few weeks ago they had an article about how baby daddies don’t care about fathering daughters as much as they do sons for evo-psych reasons, I don’t dare click on it for fear of being infuriated.

  15. Scarlett says

    Isn’t 140 and 5-9 something like 180cms and 70kgs in metric? Because I’M 170 and 70 in metric and I’m considered between slim and average and by my calculations, she’s the same weight as me but five cms taller :8 How t=is that anything remotely like fat?

  16. meerkat says

    Ha, the only calories I CAN count are the ones on the less-healthy more-processed foods I eat, because they have nutrition labels. Hippie vegan restaurant food and home cooking do not, but they are probably healthier (certainly more fresh-vegetable-containing.

    Is this the same book they reviewed on Alas, a Blog? Where the lady dieted herself to the brink of “underweight” BMI?

  17. The OTHER Maria says

    I think so — she diets herself to the lowest healthy BMI for her weight/height.

    It sucks she’s crazy — she actually explains her gymless workout very clearly, as well as how she figures out the calorie content for home cooking. If these had been united with a less fatphobic philosophy, this would’ve been a really helpful book.

    • GardenGoblin says

      The BMI is one of the most useless numbers in existence. According to my BMI, I am morbidly obese. I am also a woman who regularly straps 60-70lbs to her back and carries it ten miles. I regularly toss a 50lb sack of feed over each shoulder. I have picked up a 175+lb man and carted him to safety. I swing 25-40lb children around.

      But according to society, I’m ‘fat’. Because I’m not built like 10 year old boy with plums in his shirt pockets. I’ve got hips, breasts, and a bit of a belly.

      Let’s see if little miss ‘I just want an active lifestyle’ can keep up with my daily routine.

  18. Jessie says

    In all fairness, Lay says that at her heaviest she weighed 204 lbs. On page 8 she states, “My default weight seemed to be 160. For me that was at least 30 pounds too much. Three or four times I dieted my way down to 140, and I would look pretty good for a while.” The next several pages chronicle this perpetual 20 lb. fluctuation, and her focus seems to be more on her feelings of being out of control of her own body than on the specific numbers.

    I agree that Lay’s body image and numeric fixations seem neurotic, but the broader narrative seems to be that of the author changing her life from one of apathy and self-loathing to one of discipline and self-respect. I am disappointed that, for Lay, the difference between self-loathing and self-respect is tied to very specific body weight numbers. The Big Skinny is Lay’s account of defining, achieving, and maintaining success in her life, although her definition of success is troubling.

    The major weakness of the book is its lack of meaningful structure and its mind-numbing repetitiveness (Jesus, she counts calories, we got that from the first 16 mentions!). The individual chapters are engaging, but there is massive overlap. The Big Skinny reads like a collection of serialized pieces (and for all I know, it might be) rather than a coherent narrative or instructional book. One of the benefits of creating nonfiction comics is the largely uncharted nature of the genre, a genre that allows for structural experimentation . Lay is to be admired for boldly discarding structural conventions that would not suit her piece, but she hasn’t found or invented a viable replacement.

  19. The OTHER Maria says

    I actually found the structure pretty standard for the genre. TBH if you read any weight loss manual, it’s pretty repetitive, v. pithy, and sometimes feels like it’s a series of stand-alone pieces. At least, that’s how the ones I’ve read have seemed. I imagine it’s so you can use it as a reference guide if you need to. ;) We might need to agree to disagree on the idea she’s being bold!

    I can’t remember how much she weighed when she had her epiphany regarding her disgusting fattitude. Was it 204?

  20. says

    I agree that Lay’s body image and numeric fixations seem neurotic, but the broader narrative seems to be that of the author changing her life from one of apathy and self-loathing to one of discipline and self-respect. I am disappointed that, for Lay, the difference between self-loathing and self-respect is tied to very specific body weight numbers. The Big Skinny is Lay’s account of defining, achieving, and maintaining success in her life, although her definition of success is troubling.

    YES. Just like defining success by a specific amount of income or a certain car, and loathing yourself when you haven’t arrived at either.

    And like a “get rich” guru, she’s outlining a plan that won’t work for everyone and encouraging you to loathe yourself if her plan doesn’t work for you. If you do exactly what she says and don’t get the results you were hoping for, it can’t be that the plan is wrong for your body in some way, that you have an underlying health issue you don’t know about, or that the numbers you were hoping for just aren’t realistic for your body. It must be that you are a lazy jackass.

  21. Pocket Nerd says

    I can’t entirely blame her for basing her self-worth as a human being on whether or not she meets an arbitrary standard of physical beauty: She grew up in a society demanding she do exactly that. She’s a victim of the same unhealthy culture she’s promoting.

  22. Blake says


    And like a “get rich” guru, she’s outlining a plan that won’t work for everyone and encouraging you to loathe yourself if her plan doesn’t work for you. If you do exactly what she says and don’t get the results you were hoping for, it can’t be that the plan is wrong for your body in some way, that you have an underlying health issue you don’t know about, or that the numbers you were hoping for just aren’t realistic for your body. It must be that you are a lazy jackass.

    If you read Lay’s weekly comic strip WayLay, you know that she lives in a bitter, humorless universe of her own prejudices and foregone conclusions. It doesn’t surprise me that changing one’s “fattitude” turns out to have nothing to do with changing one’s attitude.

  23. Emma says

    Barry Deutsch: “… she was never fat in the first place.”

    Elsewhere in the book she said she got up to 206. I think that qualifies as fat. As far as 140 being “zaftig”? Sure. If her fit weight is 125 or so, 15 pounds of lard adds to the hips, arms, butt, bosom, and waist.

    I read the book and I like the tone and attitude. She doesn’t say “this is what you have to do” but “this is what works for me.” I incorporated several things I learned from this book into my routine and I’ve lost 14 pounds in 3 months without breaking a sweat.

    And, by the way, 1/2 a banana keeps very well in the fridge until I’m ready to eat the other half. That way I get to enjoy the taste of it twice in one day. Thank you, Ms. Lay!

  24. says

    As far as 140 being “zaftig”? Sure. If her fit weight is 125 or so, 15 pounds of lard adds to the hips, arms, butt, bosom, and waist.

    And you assume the 15 pounds is lard and not muscle. As we discussed up-thread, 140 is a healthy weight for a woman of Lay’s height according to doctors, no matter how you or she feel about it.

    Additionally, muscle can easily make 15 or more pounds difference on a woman’s body without increasing her clothing size or, obviously, making her less fit.

  25. Jen says

    I would say I’m average UK size, I definitely love food and don’t do enough exercise tho I never ever eat junk food.
    But in my most self loathing moments when I wish I could just throw on any item of clothing and look like a supermodel it’s not really about men or sex or even how you look completely, there is this idea at the back of my mind that non-skinny girls are lazy and selfish and insecure and obnoxious. Which is bullshit but did the media give me this idea? Or is it my personal self loathing? I guess all the skinny female characters in advertising, film and tv and even the models in fashion magazines look graceful, secure, relaxed, serene, happy. which makes the bit of holiday flab I’m carrying feel even heavier a burden.

  26. says

    The idea that slim people are dedicated to their health and fat people are not is prevalent in Western culture. Even though we all know very slim people who eat like pigs and exercise like sloths, and fat people who work much harder at being fit, we maintain this myth. And it all boils down to our lazy desire for a way to judge people’s character by their appearance. It’s no different than looking at a skin color and assuming the person wearing it has a particular sort of character.

    As for your self loathing, where did you get the idea to loathe yourself? From the media? Or from someone in your life who may have gotten these ideas from the media? I think it’s all cultural, and media is a big part, though not the whole, of culture.

  27. Casey says

    …I can only eat half a banana, mostly because for some reason the scent of a banana makes me gag (unless it’s a banana in pie form :P).

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