You might know Aubrey Gordon for her role as co-host of the excellent podcast Maintenance Phase, alongside Michael Hobbes, or for her 2020 book What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat. Starting in 2016 under the pseudonym Your Fat Friend, Gordon’s made a name for herself with smart, funny writing about moving through the world as a fat person.
Her latest book, released earlier this month, is “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People, a collection of all-too-frequently-repeated untruths alongside a point-by-point debunking of each one.
She’ll be talking about her book at a Town Hall event on February 1 (rescheduled from January) with fellow author Lindy West, but we were able to catch up with Gordon ahead of time for a Q&A about how she tackled those exhausting myths, why she’s optimistic about the future, and how her favorite Nicolas Cage movie helped her through the writing process.
What motivated you to write this book?
It’s part of a series from my publisher called Myths Made in America, a series of paperbacks designed to do myth-busting around communities. They came to me with this particular idea, and initially, I felt like a pretty hard “no.”
As an organizer, myth-busting is a pretty fraught strategy. You start by saying the wrong thing! That doesn’t seem like the best lead. Facts and figures don’t tend to change people’s minds who are dead set on a particular issue. Stories do.
But in doing the podcast, we hear from people every day who speak to a really intense shared experience of learning to identify anti-fatness out in the wild, finding that it is kind of everywhere all the time, and getting totally overwhelmed about what to do about that. This is a book for those folks … to feel secure enough to do what they already know to do, which is speak up when someone says something out of pocket.
What audience did you have in mind while writing?
I was talking to a friend the other day who was saying, “God, I wish Bill Maher would read this book.” I was like, “I don’t think this is the book for Bill Maher. It might be the book for Bill Maher’s neighbor, or the cousin who goes to Thanksgiving with him.”
The audience I was thinking of most was fat folks who are tired of answering the same question and doing the same pushback day in and day out... and people who are trying to do right by fat people. This is designed for folks who are ready for a good-faith conversation and to challenge preconceptions.
What was your research process?
I think the research for this book mimicked quite a bit of our research process for the show. You go in deep and you read as much of everything out there as you can, including things you don't agree with or that don't resonate with you, and you dive in head first and immerse yourself in it. For me, that was quite a bit of pop culture research, academic research, reading medical research, and conversations.
Did you have a palette cleanser for when you needed to step away from all that?
What I used to do pre-COVID, I would do a bunch of research and then take my laptop in my car and drive it—this is odd—to the parking lot of a movie theater and tell myself, "OK, you've got two hours ‘til your movie starts, take two hours to write everything you're going to write and then go in and watch Nicolas Cage." Movies that have zero relationship to this are really useful!
I also tend to call between two and 10 friends whenever I find something really galling and yell at them… with their consent.
What’s your favorite Nicolas Cage movie?
I will say I spent a solid decade throughout my 20s going to see every Nicolas Cage movie when it released in the theaters. I was really excited to see hot garbage. If you want to see a real trash heap of historical inaccuracies, Season of the Witch with Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman is just incredible. Somehow the Crusades and the witch hunts are happening at the same time. I just love all of those. More explosions!
What kind of response have you heard from readers?
It's early yet, but folks seem really enthusiastic about it. … I've heard from a number of readers who are healthcare providers, saying, "We're talking about how to change our healthcare provision—not talking about losing weight anymore, or not weighing people."
People are making material changes in a way that's really heartening. I hope this is a book that becomes obsolete very quickly.
The other response that gives me reason for optimism … boy oh boy, the number of kids who wrote in to say, "My mom apologized to me," or moms who say, “I was wrong for putting my kid on a diet, and I'm rethinking how I can show up for my fat kid."
Also, the number of incredible books by fat authors who came out this year or the last couple years. It seems like there's a big wave of exciting work. There's one coming out from Virginia Sole-Smith called Fat Talk and one called Weightless by Evette Dionne that's just spectacular.
What’s the next thing you want to write about?
On the podcast, we're able to think in a pretty episodic way about specific diets and wellness trends and the way the marketing of those becomes a real engine of anti-fat bias. I'm interested in the diet industry as a whole and the marketing of that.
There's a great Forbes piece about an investment advisor who manages the investments for the guy who owns Weight Watchers and there are some really interesting meta-quotes in that about how that guy is thinking about his profits as both the owner of Sunshine Bakers, who makes Cheez-Its and Weight Watchers. He says point blank, "I've got 'em coming and going..." Looking at that and the mechanisms at play seems really interesting.
Aubrey Gordon will be in conversation with Lindy West at Town Hall Wed, Feb 1, 7:30 pm, $5-$20. Virtual tickets are available.