Do you know Nicole Byer? She’s a comedian who does a bit of everything, but is most famous for co-hosting Nailed It! on Netflix. Apparently, Byer fills her Instagram page with photos of her wearing bikinis, and so she was prompted to create a book. Of course, it has to be a funny book — Byer is wacky and silly — but she’s also a fat activist. So, readers get the sarcastic book with a long title: #VERYFAT #VERYBRAVE: The Fat Girl’s Guide to Being #brave and Not A Dejected, Melancholy, Down-in-the-dumps Weeping Fat Girl in A Bikini.
The title alludes to people calling fat women “brave” for wearing bikinis, as if skinny people are normal in swimwear and fat women have done something that takes courage. Maybe you’ve also heard the insidious cousin of “you’re so brave,” a dingleberry that goes by “you inspire me!” which is said, TO fat people, when they go to the gym. Ew. Stop objectifying other people — and this extends beyond fat people, which I won’t get into here. But long story short, if you assume someone is struggling because they’re not thin, white, straight, cis, able-bodied, and have money, then you need to go swim in a corner of the pool all by yourself because you’re not nice and no one wants to be your friend.
Byer explains her book with a mix of fact and sarcasm:
Real quick, I just wanna tell you why I wrote this book. I wanted to write a book about fat ladies — because I am one. Not curvy, not plus-size, not big-boned, not fluffy, not phat. I’m FAT. I am a fat lady who loves wearing bikinis. Which is #verybrave in our culture today.
How do you support fat women? How do you separate the seriously disgusting and deranged memes humiliating fat people from the humans you know? LOOK AT THEM! Whew, that’s easy. I believe it was Lindy West who wrote in her book Shrill that one way to get over fat prejudice is to look at fat people until it’s normal to see a body that is different (or maybe similar but you’re still prejudiced) from your own. Samantha Irby wrote a fat girl pool party scene for the TV version of Shrill, and the internet lost its mind in a positive way.
There isn’t a lot of text in #VERYFAT #VERYBRAVE and I think that’s done intentionally. Byer shows how much fun she has at the pool, the beach, and other random settings because it’s more humorous, and she’s nothing if not funny. There are some tips in the book, which are both serious and silly:
The humor mixed with fat activism takes boiling body hate and slows it to still waters. What might a troll say about Byer’s body in a certain image? She’ll guess and write it on the page for them. While it might seem like she’s giving voice to trolls, what happens is you read more and more things actual people might say, and what they might say becomes delegitimized because what they’re thinking is so stupid. Here’s an example:
But Melanie, that’s hyperbole. No one throws up when they see fat people eating fast food. But you’ve surely heard other stupid things. Like the non-diabetic person who jokes they’ll need an insult shot because they ate one donut. Like a stranger on the internet commenting that Tess Holiday’s gym photo suggested she was preparing for a hot dog eating contest. Like Anthony Bourdain (yes, I know everyone loves him) and Ted Nugent arguing that fat people should be rounded up and left on an island to die (source).
What’s “truly wild” (thanks for that phrase, Nicole Byer!) is that the more photos of her I looked at, the more shocked I was when I turned the page and saw a thin model in a bikini. By comparison, she looked awkward, unhealthy, like she’d been photoshopped into a Popsicle stick. I don’t know if her image, or any image, was actually photoshopped, but here’s why the thin model was included:
This is a lady I don’t know. She’s in the book in case you needed a break from #bravery and fatness. This woman deserves to be in a bikini, but she is not #brave or fat. She just exercising her right to be a thin, happy woman. If you flip the page, we get right back to the #bravery.
Byer surprised me! I thought again of how looking at photos of people who are not thin models actually changes the way we feel about fat women. What’s normalized becomes humanized. Thin models aren’t often humanized because they’re placed in strange positions with unusual expressions on their faces, but since magazine photographers aren’t working with many fat women, people like Nicole Byer can take gorgeous, funny pictures that represent their personalities. And remember! There are no bad angles. Highly recommended book you can finish quickly that will make an impact.