I received a copy of this book from the publicist in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.
I warn you in advance, reader. This is going to be the snarkiest review I’ve given a book, especially a review copy. But I finished reading this dumpster fire of a novel a few minutes back and I’m seething.
This so-called “honest, funny, and poignant novel” had the misfortune of landing in my mailbox for a review.
Moi. The born-again body positive, fat acceptance kween, if I do say so myself.
And what happens when said person reviews a dumpster fire of a novel that’s plain fatphobic? A review like this.
I hope you’re wearing black because it’s this book’s funeral tonight.
Trigger warning: Fatphobia, racism, ableism
8 1/2 Stone is the story of Pam, a woman who has always been fat and wanted to lose her weight. She’s been through endless diets but she’s never been able to reach her dream weight of 8 and a half stone (around 54 KG). And now she wants to lose weight all the more because her fit Indian husband Neps no longer gives her any attention. Obviously it’s because of her weight, right?
*cue eye roll*
And so starts Pam’s journey of — oh what was that? Body positivity? No no, my sweet summer child, we can’t have that — getting liposuction because obviously being thinner means you’ll be happier. But hey, she learns her lesson the hard way, as an afterthought, with a halfhearted last chapter slapped in on how women should accept their bodies.
Everything problematic with 8 1/2 Stone
The first half of the novel only has one mantra.
Fat = Ugly
Become thin and the world will be so much easier for you.
We all have internalised fatphobia but it’s that times a gazillion for Pam in this book. I really thought this would be a body positive read, but hoo boy.
Page after page, she moans about how ugly she is and how her fatness is what everyone around her notices. Even a small trip to Sainsbury’s with her children has her thinking this:
“I remember…people looking at me — really badly dressed, ugly people — and then at them [the kids], then back at me, and I could see them thinking, “Dear God. Who on earth would have sex with that?”
Also, do you notice how she calls the other shoppers ugly? That’s a trend in this book. Appearance is everything, both in her and others.
Unable to deal with how
ugly fat she looks, Pam considers plastic surgery. And here’s her list of pros for getting it done:
“I will be able to wear normal clothes, my husband might want sex with me, I might not die of a heart attack.”
Umm, excuse me? Normal clothes?! You’re not desirable if you’re fat? And those two are above your own health?
“If I were a man, the sight of me naked would make me vomit.”
As a fat person myself, I too have said unkind things about my own body. But Pam is on a whole other level.
She’s not even fat!
Not Pam. Pam is fat. But the author, Liz Jones? She admits in the Postscript of the book that she’s never been above a size 10 and has never had a tummy tuck. She was however anorexic. If the book had been about the fatphobia in eating disorder recovery campaigns or the thin privilege that usually goes with them, I totally would have been game.
But no. Here’s an author who’s a size 10 or lower speaking about the fat body, something she’s never inhabited, and in such an unkind way.
Even common sentences about everyday life reiterate that Pam is fat.
“I squished my way into the hallway.”
“‘Look at you,’ I say, plonking down on the other end of the sofa, which makes him lift a few millimetres into the air.”
“…like me, it’s really thick and solid and boring”
“I move slowly around the room, trying not to knock lamps off tables with my bulk, which precedes me by about four seconds.”
I could go on and on.
Picturing a straight-sized person sitting at their laptop and writing all of this about a fat body, I could not help but grind my teeth the entire time. This book should legit reimburse my dentist bill, it was that bad.
She goes on to explain the in postscript that all the supposedly relatable bits about living while fat came from two fat friends. Or as she says, “all came from the mouth of these two; that is, when they weren’t eating.”
Wow. Just wow.
And we’re not even halfway through the problematic bits.
When her sister-in-law quite bluntly speaks about colonisation, Pam is put off by her brashness. She doesn’t want her to attend her dinner party, hoping she “has a heavy head cold or gets mugged my a huge black man on the walk here down the alleyway from the Tube.”
Fatphobia, racism… Might as well finish this holy effing trifecta with some ableism, yeah? While complaining about her marital woes, Pam says her husband said that without makeup she looks like someone with Down’s Syndrome.
Honestly, I wanted to DNF the book here. I don’t know why I ever bothered finishing it.
Feminism? What feminism?
Female friendships are absolute shit in this book. Her best friend really tells her “At least if you’re dead you’ll be a skeleton” and Pam doesn’t bat an eye. Hear me out, maybe, just maybe, you should claim to write a poignant, heartwarming novel and also not add what you think maybe refreshing dark comedy to it?
Like Pam wasn’t insufferable enough already, she does not deal with her husband and later, a boyfriend’s infidelity well. She doesn’t blame the men in a bloody relationship with her as much as she blames the other women. Or as she kindly calls them both, The Whores. For the second “whore”, she even writes a threatening email as soon as she finds out her boyfriend cheated. Excuse me, but maybe direct more of that anger the guy’s way too? Just emptying a vat of water on his head is not enough, madam.
When she finally reaches 8 1/2 stone…
…she’s just as miserable. Obviously.
Did no one tell her thinness has nothing to do with happiness?
If you were wondering if this is where it becomes body positive, HAHAHAHA NO.
She worries constantly. She doesn’t want to go back to the old size. “What if one day all the lard returns?” she asks herself. In fact, on seeing how thin the Model of the Year is, she wonders if she needs to be under 8 stones even.
She sees flabby women being happy and content by the poolside and she wonders how they could possibly be so.
I’d love to think this was a novel about internalised fatphobia, but that would mean it gets resolved by the end. But in 8 1/2 Stone, we just get one last chapter about self-acceptance and how women shouldn’t pay that much attention to their bodies.
Nothing about how you shouldn’t be unkind to yourself. Nothing about how your body is just an instrument and the aesthetics don’t matter. And nothing at all about what a raging fatphobe the main character still is even after realising thinness didn’t make her happy.
Rating: 1 out of 5