Over the last few years, positive fat representation in literature has been growing. From books that demand equality for all bodies, to self-help books that empower people to boldly accept themselves, to works of fiction that set fat people as the main character… books are allowing people of ALL sizes to be the hero. It’s refreshing to imagine yourself being the celebrated focus of the story. Better still, are the books that soak deep into your bones and change you from the inside out.
The book, Starfish by Lisa Fipps, absolutely wove itself into my heart. Never in my life has a book made me feel as understood and seen! (Where was this story when I needed it in junior high?) Starfish is a young reader book, written as a series of poems. Don’t let the fact that the book is intended for 5th and 6th graders deter you. (It is THAT powerful and important.)
Starfish tells the story of Ellie, a middle school student from Texas. Ellie is friendly and kind, and a strong, loyal friend. She is well liked by her teachers, a wonderful writer, and a great swimmer. But, Ellie is also fat, and because of that she is constantly bullied and shamed for being who she is. Her classmates torture her. Her siblings are ashamed of her. Her mother pushes her to diet and tricks her into going to weight loss consultations. The way people treat Ellie is heartbreaking.
There were so many parts of the story that I could very uncomfortably relate to. It was like I saw my own words floating on the page in front of me. From her size being an international curiosity (don’t get me started on those Japanese tourists in Germany), to her complicated feelings about bariatric surgery, to dieting in elementary school, to the hurtful words loved ones used to shame her… I saw myself reflected in Ellie’s eyes. Specifically, the poems, The Thing About Fatdar, The Gift, and Adjectives and Nouns, seared into my heart.
Thank goodness Ellie has her father, a therapist, and a best friend, who are powerful allies. Their love and support help Ellie to rise up and accept herself, just as she is. The journey is difficult, but ultimately the conclusion is empowering and beautiful.
For every person who has ever been told, “you’d be pretty if…” and every person who understands the Fat Rules… this book is for you. Between its pages, you will find the compassion and empathy you long to hear. This book will teach you to be glorious and encourage you to claim your right to take up all the space you want. Go… be a starfish!