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Body Image and Weight Loss, from our resident teen reviewer Cuyler

We’ve talked a lot here at TLT about body image and how popular culture and ya lit can influence it.  Today, our resident teen reviewer Cuyler shares his struggle with obesity and 5 titles that deal with the issue of being overweight well.
Did you know that there’s a threat spreading around America more deadly than any flu? More dangerous than terrorism or murder? Something so insignificant as it builds inside your body, you may not even know you’re under its spell until it’s too late. And even then, you may not care enough to fix it.

There are many names for it. But we usually just call it plain ol’ FAT.

Nine million teens in America can clearly be classed as obese, and that’s just those under the age of fifteen. This is a rate that has tripled that of obese teens in 1980.

It’s swiftly becoming a common way of life, be that a deadly one. One that can wreck irreparable damage on the self-esteem of teens. Deadly thoughts of suicide can infiltrate their minds. Feelings of worthlessness prevalent in their thinking. It is a way of life, but it’s not one I wish anyone to live.

Because I have lived it myself.

I used to be an obese teenager. Not chubby. Not even fat. I was obese. I was easily the heaviest in my family, and wasn’t even old enough to drive yet. In all my school years, I was the heaviest person in class. I was the last to be picked in any sports and was constantly picked on by my classmates and those in grades above me. When word got out that I had crush on a girl, she told me that she never wanted to talk to me again. And when someone started to like me, the other kids couldn’t believe it. Because she was skinny and I was fat. Those two things just don’t compute with each other. It can’t happen.

I dreaded PE class. When we changed into our gym clothes, I was the only one to use the stalls when everyone else changed in front of each other. When I had to run laps, all I could think about was that people were staring at me, the funny-looking fat kid trailing behind the kids who’d already passed the finish line.

The two grades above mine were horrible, holding the door open for everyone else but letting it go when it was my turn. A few older students had nicknames for me like Crisco and Tubbs. Most of the bullying came from the grades above me, and with another two years of middle school, and then high school after that, I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. After my first year in middle school, I begged my parents to enroll me in a homeschool program. After the end of my sixth grade year, I never returned to public school.

You would think the torture would stop there, that somehow school was the root of all the evil, but it wasn’t. Even though I was homeschooled for the rest of my school years, the pain I felt of being obese was still with me, and grew stronger with each passing day. In public I would wear baggy clothes, hoping no one would catch a true glimpse of what lay underneath. It was so thick in my mind that I spent much more time than I should have had to picking out my clothes to wear for the day. It wasn’t a matter of what looked good, it was all about how much it would hide. I wore hoodies and sweatshirts all year round, despite the hot months of summer, because they hid my body the best. Everyone would ask, “Aren’t you hot?” I would just smile and say I was fine, even though I was sweltering underneath. I didn’t swim much, even though it’s one of my favorite things to do, and if I did I wouldn’t dare swim without a shirt on. And even then, when I got out of the pool, I made sure I did it quick and could grab the nearest towel to cover myself up. I didn’t start wearing just plain T shirts until I was nearly seventeen, because those weren’t real good at hiding things. Most of my wardrobe consisted of button-up overshirts and hoodies. I felt like Bobby Marks in One Fat Summer by Robert Lypsyte. Always focused on my being fat while everyone else was having fun.

The only solaces I found in my life was my family, who loved me for who I was and not what I was made out of, as well as countless books. Books relived the pressure that was my constant worry of me being fat. When I read, it took me to worlds where that didn’t matter how big I was. Writing did the same thing for me, creating my own stories to keep reality away for just a little while. Like a release. But even that could only keep it away for just a little while.

I had let my obesity control my life. I remember saying to myself one day that I would have to learn to be content with living by myself for the rest of my life because no one would ever want to be with this. And I was ready to commit to that. Until one day I got a letter in the mail.

That letter changed my life.

It was a letter from my health insurance company, saying that it now supported and would pay for enrollment into the Weight Watcher’s program. I’d been through so many diets, not a single one of them that worked, so initially I threw it into the “lost cause” pile. Then my grandmother gave me call. She said that if I enrolled in the program, she’d do it with me.

I guess I should say that that phone call changed my life instead of the letter, because after I hung up the phone with her, I decided I was going to give it a try.  It was the best thing I have ever done in my life. I went in, a fifteen-year old fatty at 260 pounds, and came out a year and a half later at 160. And my grandma did the same, losing a total of 50. We felt like we had conquered the entire world.

And nearly four years later, I’ve maintained a healthy weight. Though I still hold scars from the struggle, I have a much better acceptance of my body. My self-esteem is higher, I feel great, and I enjoy life much more without worrying about my weight 24 hours a day. And I realize now that it was much more than just losing the weight that had helped me. Over the course of that year and half, I came to realize that most of the torture I’d gone through was in my head. Yeah there was the teasing at school and sometimes in other places, but who was really putting myself through most of that? Me.

I don’t really know if people were constantly watching me as I ran those laps. I don’t know that people actually cared if I got out of the pool fast enough to cover myself up. And I’m sure they didn’t care if I wore regular T-shirts in public rather than a sweatshirt or a hoodie all year long. I was creating a world of torture inside my head, when in reality those things weren’t even happening. I had to realize that it wasn’t everyone else that had to accept me for what I looked like for the hurt to stop. It was me. I had to accept myself. I know that sounds unbelievably corny and fairytale-ish, but they put that kind of stuff in there for a reason. Because it’s true. This is shown in great tales like Myrtle of Willendorf by Rebecca O’Connell and Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going, both of which put much more emphasis on self-acceptance than the “you-must-be-skinny” sermon preached by modern media. Both characters Myrtle and Troy are undesirably overweight living amongst those who are skinny and don’t understand, and sometimes make sure they know it. But through the torture and teasing, they realize that they are beautiful in their own way. They begin to understand that it doesn’t matter what other people think, as long as they find the awesome in themselves, despite the weight.

And that’s what it comes down to. Sure, losing the weight is great, but unless you lose that harmful self-depreciating spirit and find the good amongst the fat, you’ll have more than just love handles haunting you.

On more than one occasion YA novels are about beautiful people. Not that that’s a bad thing, but there aren’t many out there that tell the “fat” side of things. But there are a few little gems out there that take that inner beauty into consideration more so than the outer. These are the titles that inspired me, and I think you’ll love too:

Life in the Fat Lane by Cherie Bennett
Name Me Nobody by Lois-Ann Yamanaka
One Fat Summer by Robert Lypsyte
Myrtle of Willendorf by Rebecca O’Connell
Fat Kid Rules the World by K.L. Going

The above are wonderfully written tales of being “fat” and realizing that being fat doesn’t define you. These are still great stories that you’ll laugh with, cry about, and maybe even relate to even if the main character isn’t your typical MC hunk or beauty.

Instead of constantly wondering who’s watching, why not open up one of these good books, enjoy your life, and feel great. Do the best you can, whether it’s losing weight or accepting yourself, and do it for you,and not for anyone else who thinks you should.
More About Body Image at TLT:

Cuyler Creech is a teen author who lives in Weatherford, TX. He loves to read, spend time with his family and friends, and most of all, he loves to write. Cuyler is 18, and has been writing for many years. He’s also a published author of one novel (not in print anymore) and focuses primarily on young adult fiction. His favorite books are dystopians and horrors, and his favorite time to read is during thunderstorms. He is the oldest of three siblings, one who is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and Autism, and is going to college to become a Pediatric Occupational Therapist.

 Cuyler Creech is a teen author who lives in Weatherford, TX. He loves to read, spend time with his family and friends, and most of all, he loves to write. Cuyler is 18, and has been writing for many years. He’s also a published author of one novel (not in print anymore) and focuses primarily on young adult fiction. His favorite books are dystopians and horrors, and his favorite time to read is during thunderstorms. He is the oldest of three siblings, one who is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and Autism, and is going to college to become a Pediatric Occupational Therapist. 

Top 10: Teen titles that deal with obesity and body image

The past couple of days, we have been talking body image and the depiction of obese teens in teen fiction.  So here’s our list of the Top 10 Titles that deal with body image with an emphasis on titles that deal with teens struggling with obesity.

Obesity and Teens in Teen Fiction: a discussion
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
Coming Soon: a review of Skinny by Donna Cooner

Fat Kid Rules The World by K. L. Going
“Whats ironic,” he adds, shaking his head, “is that everyone’s so busy trying not to look like they’re looking at you that they’re really not looking at you.”

Shattering Glass by Gail Giles
“Simon Glass was easy to hate. I never knew exactly why, there was just too much to pick from. I guess, really, we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn’t realize it until the day we killed him.”
Hunger by Jackie Morsel Kessler
“Living means constantly growing closer to death. Satisfaction only temporarily relieves hunger. Find the balance, and plant your feet.”
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
“From a distance,’ he says, ‘my car looks just like every other car on the freeway, and Sarah Byrnes looks just like the rest of us. And if she’s going to get help, she’ll get it from herself or she’ll get it from us. Let me tell you why I brought this up. Because the other day when I saw how hard it was for Mobe to go to the hospital to see her, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know her better, that I ever laughed at one joke about her. I was embarrassed that I let some kid go to school with me for twelve years and turned my back on pain that must be unbearable. I was embarrassed that I haven’t found a way to include her somehow the way Mobe has.”
Butter by Erin Jade Lange

“If you can stomach it, you’re invited to watch… as I eat myself to death.”

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
“The Fat Girl Code of Conduct:
1. Any sexual activity is a secret. No public displays of affection.
2. Don’t discuss your weight with him.
3. Go further than skinny girls. If you can’t sell him on your body, you’d better overcompensate with sexual perks.
4. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever push the relationship thing. ”

Skinny by Donna Cooner
“It just wasn’t fair. God made some people naturally skinny and some people naturally fat. I’d never know how my life would have been different if I’d been one of the ones He made skinny. I didn’t know how He chose. This one will be blonde, with long thin legs and great skin. This one will be short and fat with legs that rub together when she walks. I just knew I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.”

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
Is that what you are
if you choose to improve
the basic not perfect you?” 

The List by Siobhan Vivian
“Sometimes, when you get something new, you trick yourself into believing it has the power to change absolutely everything about you.” 

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger
“Calling Vikki a slut or a whore was just like calling somebody the Duff. It was insulting and hurtful, and it was one of those titles that just fed off the inner fear every girl must have from time to time. Slut, bitch, prude, tease, ditz. They were all the same. Every girl felt like one of these sexist labels described her at some point.” 

What’s on your list?

Please see our previous Top 10 List on Body Image and Eating Disorders

Some articles about obesity in teen fiction:
ALAN “Meant to Be Huge”
Plus Size Teen Fiction
Weighing in on Weight by Rae Carson


Book Review: Butter by Erin Jade Lange

Now over 400 pounds, Butter is a teenage boy who knows all to well the loneliness that comes from being an outcast.  But when he announces that he is going to eat himself to death online, he finds that popularity is both toxic and fleeting -and often quite dishonest.  Butter by Erin Jade Lange is a heartbreaking tale that touches on bullying, our online culture, loneliness, and a teenage boy living with obesity.

“If you can stomach it, you’re invited to watch… as I eat myself to death.” – Erin Jade Lange
Releases September 18th by Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781599907802

This is not an easy book to read, Butter is full of self loathing and has the complicated attitude to match; he is not always likable and doesn’t realize how much he gets in his own way when it comes to making friends.  At one point he expresses extreme jealousy when a fat camp friend loses weight (a realistic reaction I think). However, this is a very authentic portrait of the teenage life.  Teenagers of all walks of life, especially those with body image issues, self sabotage with the best of them.  We all create a variety of defense mechanisms to help cope with the pain of who we are, or who we perceive ourselves to be.

When Butter makes his announcement, strangers come out of the woodwork and decide that they are going to be his “friend”.  There is a morbid curiosity that permeates our society and, like the arena games in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, we get an inside look at how much we are willing to derive our entertainment off of the suffering of others.  Butter is a unique look at bullying, particularly online bullying, because mocking the obese seems to be one of the last acceptable forms of bullying that we condone in society.  We can’t condone obesity because of the serious and undeniable health affects that it brings into a person’s life, but it seems we ought to be able to discuss the issues without personally condemning those that are struggling with serious weight issues.  If you spend any time reading online comments you know that this is not the case.

Perhaps an important part of the issue is that we seem to associate obesity without laziness or a lack of self control and we often fail to recognize the emotional and sometimes physical causes that contribute.  This is an area where Lange excels in her depiction of Butter, helping the reader to understand the deep emotional issues that come into play.  In the end, Butter turns out to be a sympathetic character that most teens will be able to identify with: we all hate something about ourselves and see something different in the mirror than others see in us.

The question is, will Butter go through with it and eat himself to death or not?  At times, even Butter doesn’t know the answer to this question.  But readers will definitely be turning the page to find out.  4 stars out of 5.  Recommended for all library collections.