In an interview with True/Slant, Angry Fat Girls author Frances Kuffel gives a perspective we don't usually hear: someone who decries American culture's obsession with thinness, but believes her own weight gain is caused by an "addiction."
Kuffel recounted her 188-pound weight loss in the memoir Passing for Thin, and after gaining half of it back, she made friends with a group of four other women she calls the Angry Fat Girls. According to Kate Drummond of True/Slant, Kuffel's new book deals with the Angry Fat Girls' struggles "with confidence, body image and mental illness, and dealt with embarrassment, shame and – sometimes, thankfully – self-acceptance," and at first glance, I thought Kuffel would have a fat acceptance message. She does take issue with the stereotype that "fat people are lazy." She also says,
The "you can never be too thin" ethos inspires guilt, self-condemnation and spending across the board, from the Girlz to the woman who wants to lose five pounds. It's hideous and stupid. I'd like to round up all the famous skinny, beautiful women and ask them some questions about Hemingway and Colonial America and the Battle of Midway and fractions and how to make pecan rolls from scratch and what the difference between "lay" and "lie" is and what the plot of Madame Butterfly is. I'd like to level – or raise – the playing field.
It's not clear here whether Kuffel is accusing and women of being stupid, but a few lines later, she says, "and while we're at it, can we all stop talking about the cellulite of movie stars? Can we cut them a break as well?" Madame Butterfly aside, Kuffel appears justly enraged by the unrealistic body standards that affect all women. However, her story isn't about learning to feel comfortable in a fat body — it's about what she sees as an addiction to food. She tells Drummond,
The day one comes to the conclusion that one has a food addiction and that the addiction must be treated is a terrible day. Nobody goes into a twelve-step program or a bariatric surgeon's office because it's a pretty morning and the roses are in bloom. You go in on your knees, and they're bloody knees from all the other things you've tried and failed at, from the shame and the terror of what you are becoming.
I'm an addict, no question about it. There is no cure. There are days of relief from the desire to overeat and there are days I want to be out of my own consciousness by way of doughnuts. My boyfriends are Ben and Jerry. They understand me better than anyone in the world – except another addict.
Kuffel also describes healthy eating as "abstinence," saying, "when I'm abstinent I tend to focus very hard on the work of eating clean and the work that fulfills me enough to beat the sugar demons back." Using the language of addiction to talk about food isn't new, but what makes Kuffel's position unique — and perhaps problematic — is that she criticizes size-zero culture while at the same time "urg[ing] women who struggle with weight to consider why they eat and seek the appropriate venue to address that." Kuffel isn't some Self magazine columnist telling women to eat celery sticks so they can fit into a bikini, nor is she one of the many charlatans who claim that losing massive amounts of weight and keeping it off is simple as long as you have willpower. However, though she says "I would never call someone a food addict unless the person in question has already done so," she does see her own weight gain as a psychological problem, and suggests that others might benefit from doing so as well.
To some who ascribe to fat acceptance or Health at Every Size, or who have recovered from restrictive behaviors, Kuffel's references to "abstinence" and "sugar demons" may be troubling, especially since removing the concept of good and bad foods is often a cornerstone of eating disorder recovery. But as we've said many times before, HAES doesn't mean that every fat person (or every thin person) is healthy, and an uncontrollable addiction to certain foods can definitely cause both physical and psychic pain. Kuffel's experience doesn't apply to everyone who "struggle[s] with weight" — those who are dissatisfied with their weight despite healthy eating habits, or who are prone to restricting, may have trouble identifying with her. But it's worth remembering that fat acceptance doesn't mean denying the existence of binge eating disorders — nor should it keep anyone from seeking a healthy relationship with food.