The last event of my Australian tour was a speech at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Onstage at the Sydney Opera House, I began my talk about how it’s O.K. to be fat by sharing an example from my own life. A few years ago, I posted a link on Twitter to a 1969 interview with Jim Morrison, in which he said, “Fat is beautiful.” Minutes after posting the link, a friend responded angrily that being fat is unhealthy because it causes high blood pressure and other health problems. This response, I told the audience, is an example of what I call “Fat Derangement Syndrome,” where even people who consider themselves to be open-minded, critical thinkers become outraged if fat is spoken about in any positive way.
During the audience question-and-answer period, people stood up, one after another, and made negative comments about weight. I felt like a witch surrounded by torch-wielding villagers. It was clear that even for many urban sophisticates paying to attend a festival about difficult ideas, thinking about fat as anything but bad was borderline impossible. As my protagonist realizes in the novel, a person can never simply be fat; a fat body always needs to be fixed.
Backstage, the moderator of the event asked if I was O.K. This wasn’t the first time someone on my tour had pulled me aside to ask that question. I said I was fine, but in the hotel that night, I crawled into bed, relieved that I no longer had to perform as a professional fatty. I wanted to go home and hide. I am ashamed of this response. I wrote a novel to give fat women a voice, but then became exhausted using mine. I had begun to feel like the fat lady in a freak show, on display for public amusement.