Book Reviews

8 1/2 Stone by Liz Jones: Raging fatphobia masked as body positivity

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.

angry dota 2 GIF
A GIF of an angry person knocking things off of and flipping a table.

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

Synopsis:

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?

There’s more:

“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.”

Hmmm.

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


~ Shruti

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34 thoughts on “8 1/2 Stone by Liz Jones: Raging fatphobia masked as body positivity

  1. I’m crying a little. My heart is also broken. Shattered. So many of us suffer from all the ideas surrounding our body. Hell, there are so many people out there who comment on YOUR body not helping in the least about how you feel about yourself especially when you’re younger. No matter how you look, you’re told the opposite of what you are is better. At no point has society taught us to be kind to ourselves and love ourselves and see beauty outside of so called socially accepted norms, that we should all just see for what it is: bullshit. Stand up to that person that comments on your body, or anyone that dictates you on what or how you eat or comments on your choices. *cries in the corner*

    I can’t articulate beyond this. Love your review Shruti 😭😭😭😭. I sad. I mad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ugh, so true, Ahana. And this is how we also internalize fatphobia. And I don’t see anyone beyond fat activists calling out fatphobia. Even bloggers don’t.

      If we can have a conversation about diversity in fiction, we definitely should extend that to different bodies too.

      Why is “thin” the norm? Why is the media so intent on portraying a size that is not even the average size as the norm? We’ll never understand. :/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Exactly!! How many times have we ourselves had to beat these negative thoughts out of our heads? And they STILL reappear sometimes!!! It’s horrible!

        I agree. I’m seeing a few books that don’t follow this norm but they’re so few and in between that they either go unnoticed or fade away after their short lived fame ☹️☹️ they need more awareness, support and readers.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m sorry you read this book. One of the hardest parts about seeking out books with fat acceptance is you find a load of clogged toilet pipes in the search. I’ve been doing this deliberate hunt for….I want to say three or four years now. It’s been rough.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I didn’t even think of this. I saw body acceptance and immediately jumped at the opportunity to read this book. 😦

      I’ve been saying this for a while now, but I should really look at your list of reviews for my next fat acceptance read instead of going for the next big release that claims to be of the same movement.

      Like

      1. I keep adding to the list! I’ve separated them by genres, so you can even head to a type of book you like. I also maintain a list of books that I would not recommend, so you can avoid those if you wish. I would never tell someone not to read a book, but I do give some notes about why I wouldn’t recommend it in general (and of course people can click the link to go to the review).

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow!!! First off , AmAzing review!! Loved every bit of snarkiness you poured into it.

    This book sounds awful in a lot of different ways. Internalised fatphobia exists . That doesn’t justify a straight sized woman to write a really demeaning book with such hate. I hate that you had to go through with this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It really was! The saddest part is I kept hoping the MC will soon realise how much she’s internalized, but nope, that never happened.

      And the author being brazenly fatphobic in the postscript was the last nail on an already tightly nailed coffin. 👀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What POSSESSES a straight-sized woman to write such a thoroughly negative book about an issue she has never experienced??? And what possesses a publisher to think it’s acceptable??? Good grief – I thought we’d got past this type of disgusting type of prejudice! Great review, Shruti:))

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Right?! The author quotes Helen Fielding in her postscript but I don’t think she understands that it’s 2020 and while Bridget Jones did do a lot of calorie counting and weighing, the times were different back then. To write a book like this now, when we’re having conversations about fatphobia and BoPo, is just a poorly calculated move.

      Then again, right next to my one-Star review on goodreads, there’s a 4-star review saying every woman should read this book, so maybe it’s me who’s wrong. :/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, I don’t think so – I think you’ve nailed it, Shruti. I get very uncomfortable with TV programmes who, under the guise of trying to help, shame morbidly obese folk and hold them up for us to tut over. And yes – I know it’s life-threatening and self destructive. But it’s also a very complicated issue, bound up with self esteem and mental health. We have stopped putting people born with physical deformities on show – pity we don’t give overweight people the same respect.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, I don’t think I could even read a book like this. It would be so triggering. Why can’t we get some plus size/fat-positive books that have nothing to do with the character hating his or her weight? Why can’t it just be who she or he is like having green or blue eyes? And then the hero or heroine goes off and saves the day in some fantasy world? As a plus-size woman myself, it bothers me when movies or books say ‘curvy’ or ‘plus size’ and then the character is a size 8. It’s like anything over a size 12 is not in a book out there.

    *sigh* thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right?! If there is a fat character, the story is almost always about their weight. And to think that growing up, the only books with fat heroines were all about their struggles to lose weight.. Sigh.

      But hey, Julie Murphy’s Faith is releasing in July and it’s about a fat superhero! I know I’m going to preorder it if a campaign ever opens in India! ❤️

      Like

    1. Ooh, I’m not familiar with her other work but I can believe that a woman who brazenly writes about the fat experience like it’s something she’d have any inkling about in her straight-sized body makes me believe that she IS vile.

      Like

  6. I saw your tweets but didn’t realize it was this much of a trash. I’m only upset that you had to suffer through the book Shruti. But thanks for the review so that none of us have to go through it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I didn’t think it was possible to cringe so much but some of those quotes from the book really shook me. I don’t know if the author was aware of the message being sent and I also don’t understand why the editors believed it was ok to publish it. Well done to you for pushing through and for voicing your concerns! I definitely don’t think I would have been able to get past the first few pages.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really wanted to drop it after the first few chapters but continued reading because I thought there would be a self-acceptance message somewhere. There wasn’t, unless you consider the half-hearted one in the last few pages. :/

      Like

  8. Definitely the snarkiest review I have read here. I remember you speaking about this book and it is everything and above that! Wow. Did you hear from the publisher again?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. SHRUTI I’M SCREAMING AT THE INTRO. We stan snark.

    Okay, but on a serious note, this book sounds like a dumpster fire and I’m sorry you had to go through reading it where can we burn the book? It sounds like this book is just contributing to what society thinks in general about being fat or gaining weight (and it’s especially showing right now because people are making comments about how they’re going to gain weight staying at home – I don’t know, Karen, if you’re that uncomfortable, go run around the house a few times).

    *chucks this book into over my fucking dragon shelf*

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is so sad to hear. Especially how it is just so easily assumed that being unhappy has to do with your weight. And while I agree that being too overweight can have medical consequences, it should not influence someones self-worth.
    You can be beautiful in every size there is. Body positivity is so important these days!

    Liked by 1 person

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