Shadows on a Tightrope has the distinction of being one of the earliest fat activist/liberation books. It was a collaboration of works by different fat feminists over a decade, of essays, narratives and poems all about standing up to the diet industry and reclaiming fat bodies. Many of the authors had body re-awakenings and learned to love, accept, and cherish their fat bodies while rejecting mainstream objectification. Others are hoping to reach that path, while some were just telling their story about how hard it was to live in a fat body.
"We know what they mean they say "attractive"-- It's not us."
When the book came out in 1983, I was 12. At the same time some of the writers were already on their fat path, already fighting against the Hollywood, medical and diet industry cookie cutter, I was at the beginning of my body hating journey that wouldn't end for 20 years.
I got fat when I was 9. I ate the same junk food as my peers, but when I got fat, the teasing and the "well-meaning" lectures began. Somehow I resisted dieting and body hatred until I was 12. Even though Shadows on the Tightrope was out, it was not part of my world. At 12, I wanted nothing more than to be accepted by my peers. I believed that "dieting worked" because that was no discourse. At 12, you went on a diet, you got thin, the end. There was nothing in the mainstream media, from my doctor or my parents that mentioned anything about the high failure rate, the dangers of weight cycling or the fact that I would completely destroy my self-esteem. I always assumed I was overeating. If someone had just handed me Vivian Mayer's essay on the fat illusion where she points out that fat people are assumed to be overeating when more often they are eating normally, my life might have been different.
Today this book is still relevant especially with the pressure now on children to be thin or else. Some of this has changed since Shadows on the Tightrope. Many of the writers wrote about dealing with doctors who gave them pills and/or screamed insults at them. Women talked about being fat as a child and having to become bullies so they wouldn’t be picked on. One personal by Lynn Mabel-Lois "We'll Worry About That When You're Thin" taked about how she became addicted to diet pills and first getting access to them when she was 10. We would never think of giving our children amphetamines now, but we are still willing allow growing teens and children to have weight loss surgery. And it would be socially unacceptable for a doctor to scream at a child, yet it’s perfectly okay to scare children into thinking they are dying like the ads in Atlanta.
Reading the stories in the book sometimes made me sad because I saw my story from the 1980’s in the narratives that took place in the fifties and sixties. The only change was doctors went from pills and screaming to diet sheets and lectures.
But things have changed because of what Shadows on a Tightrope started. It influenced countless fat authors who then influenced hundreds more. I didn’t have Shadows on a Tightrope at 12, but when I finally decided to stop hating my body at 30, it had created a loving fat positive environment.
Today we have more than just this book that tells us to resist the message of hatred. We have countless books such as Fat? So! By Marilyn Wann, Taking Up Space by Pattie Thomas, Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, Hot & Heavy by Virgie Tovar, my own book Fat Chick Rules and so many others I don't have space to name. We have activist groups, blogs, websites, e-groups, and Facebook groups which project the same message: You are perfect just the way you are.
Those blogs today will all be giving thanks on how Shadows on a Tightrope changed everything for the better.