Fat Talk: Parenting in the Age of Diet Culture (Hardcover)
In this illuminating narrative on the daily onslaught of body shame that kids face from peers, school, diet culture, and parents themselves, journalist Virginia Sole-Smith offers a compelling reported look at how families can change the conversation around weight, health, and self-worth.
By the time they reach kindergarten, most kids have learned that “fat” is bad. As they get older, kids learn to pursue thinness in order to survive in a world that ties our body size to our value. Multibillion-dollar industries thrive on consumers believing that we don’t want to be fat. Our weight-centric medical system pushes “weight loss” as a prescription, while ignoring social determinants of health and reinforcing negative stereotypes about the motives and morals of people in larger bodies. And parents today, having themselves grown up in the confusion of modern diet culture, worry equally about the risks of our kids caring too much about being “thin” and about what happens if our kids are fat. Sole-Smith shows how the reverberations of this messaging and social pressures on young bodies continue well into adulthood—and what we can do to fight them.
Fat Talk argues for a reclaiming of “fat,” which is not synonymous with “unhealthy,” “inactive,” or “lazy.” Talking to researchers and activists, as well as parents and kids across a broad swath of the country, Sole-Smith lays bare how America’s focus on solving the “childhood obesity epidemic” has perpetuated a second crisis of disordered eating and body hatred for kids of all sizes. She exposes our society’s internalized fatphobia and elucidates how and why we need to stop “preventing obesity” and start supporting kids in the bodies they have.
Continuing conversations started by works like Girls & Sex, Under Pressure, and Essential Labor, Fat Talk is a stirring, deeply researched, and groundbreaking book that will help parents learn to reckon with their own body biases, identify diet culture messaging, and ultimately empower their kids to navigate this challenging landscape. Sole-Smith offers an alternative framework for parenting around food and bodies, and a way for us all to work toward a more weight-inclusive world—because it’s not our kids, or their bodies, who need fixing.
About the Author
Virginia Sole-Smith is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s Magazine, Slate, and Elle. She is the author of The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America and also writes the Burnt Toast newsletter. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband, two daughters, a cat, a dog, and way too many houseplants.
“I am extremely grateful to Virginia for writing Fat Talk. It’s a fearless and game-changing addition to the conversation about kids, food and weight, and a book that all parents need to read.”
—Emily Oster, author of Expecting Better and Cribsheet
“If you have ever held a piece of food or briefly glimpsed a part of your body and felt a complicated thing, you need to read this book. Fat Talk is about parenting—but also about living—within and outside of the nefarious stories we’ve been told about food and bodies and how and why they relate to health; about the dangers of restriction and the freedom and the power that can come from loving ourselves and one another on new and better terms.”
—Lynn Steger Strong, author of Flight and Want
“Fat Talk is the book I wish my parents had when I was growing up.”
—Julia Turshen, New York Times bestselling author
“Making meaningful social change—especially when it comes to America’s insidious diet culture—can feel like slow, Sisyphean work. It requires not only questioning the complex systems we live within but also imagining new, better solutions. Lucky for all of us with bodies, Virginia Sole-Smith is a visionary. In Fat Talk, she generously guides grown-ups toward unlearning everything we’ve been taught about weight and worth and teaches us to show young people that they are always enough just as they are. Everyone should read this book.”
—Angela Garbes, author of Essential Labor and Like a Mother
“With Fat Talk, Virginia Sole Smith hasn’t just given us a great book for parents of fat kids. She’s given us an indispensable resource for adults preparing kids of all sizes to navigate a world full of bodies, biases, and appearance-based judgment. If you’ve ever longed for a conversation about fat kids that’s rooted in facts, candor, and empathy, this is it. Fat Talk is a must-read for any adult who wants to build a kinder, more accepting, and more just world for the kids in their lives.”
—Aubrey Gordon, cohost of Maintenance Phase and author of “You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People
“If you’ve ever struggled in your relationship with food and your body—and especially if you’re trying to raise kids to be resilient in the face of diet culture—this book is essential reading. Virginia offers a nuanced and deeply reported look at the many unintended consequences of the rhetoric around ‘childhood obesity,’ and presents a powerful case for rethinking the conventional wisdom about weight and health. At a time when the world feels increasingly cruel to fat kids, this book will be a beacon of hope to many.”
—Christy Harrison, MPH, RD, CEDS, author of The Wellness Trap and Anti-Diet
“This paradigm-shifting book…flip[s] the script on diet culture and anti-fat bias…With its message of trusting our kids’ bodies (and everyone else’s) as they are as both a social-justice issue and an act of love, this is a great place to begin.”
“[Sole-Smith] refrains from making readers feel guilty; rather, she is instructive and encouraging. …Sole-Smith provides well-rounded discussions of eating disorders, puberty, calorie counting, fitness influencers, and the myth that a fat child necessarily means that they have lazy or disengaged parents…A thoughtful and intuitive book that is not just for parents.”
“[C]ompassionate…[Sole-Smith’s] eye-opening research upends conventional assumptions about what a healthy body looks like, and readers will appreciate the affirming tone. The result is a striking challenge to fatphobia.”