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Book Review: Measure By Measure by Rebecca Fox and William Sherman

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Measure by Measure is a lengthy, but engaging story that lives up to its promise of being a soap opera in prose. But instead of depicting the sordid lives and dramas of the “pretty people,” it centers on a group that promotes size acceptance and the love lives of a handful of plus-size men and women, as well as the “normal-sized” people who love them.

The novel was adapted from a series of stories written by Rebecca Fox and Blogcritics writer William Sherman published at Dimensions Online, the online edition of Dimensions Magazine , which is targeted to full-figured women and those who are attracted to a larger body type. In the more than 100 “episodes” (instead of chapters) presented, we follow the adventures of Jenny, a woman who is not at all comfortable with her size, and her newfound friends/acquaintances at the Chicago branch of the Respect and Dignity for Fat Americans (RADFam) organization.

The story is overflowing with characters, from Dex, the large RADFam president who is married to a small Asian woman; to Connie, the charismatic, yet manipulating former president who runs her own plus-size clothing shop for women; to Paul, the handsome, average-size newcomer who never was able to acknowledge his attraction to larger women openly, but has found some acceptance at RADFam.

In the end, though, like the back cover says, Measure by Measure fleshes “out the truth about soap opera: It’s not just for the rich and slender.” The characters and plot show that within any culture lies the capacity to hate, malign, ostracize, and stigmatize. There is certainly no wanting for drama (as is due the genre), it’s simply put into a new context that still espouses the essence of human nature.

Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with who is speaking and when because their paths are all crisscrossing from episode to episode. But in the end, you get the point. Online, I’m sure this format made great sense. However, I’m not sure that it works so well as a whole book. The series began in 1997 and there are many references to antiquated cultural symbols, such as the dial-up modem.

That said, I think this is a totally unique type of story that I found both fascinating and very personal. Dating is hard enough when you’re young and thin. But the majority of people in the U.S. simply don’t fit the archetype of the “ideal” dating partner we see on The Bachelor or The Bachelorette.

I’ve always considered myself as being overweight. It probably came from being teased as a kid because I was taller and more developed than they were. I was never the waifish size-two that many of my classmates grew to be. But still, even when I was size 10/12 in high school, I didn’t realize that I was really thin and relatively nice to look at.

Sure, I had my share of boyfriends, first kisses, PG-rated trysts behind the gym during the occasional school dance. I was even married at 19 to one of the most notorious bad-boys in town. But still, I never saw myself a thin or desirable. Well, you know how the story goes when you get married. I got divorced by the time I was 21. I ended up taking with me not only the shreds of my self-esteem that had been all but destroyed by my marriage, but also our 10-month-old daughter.

Though she was the best thing to come out of that relationship, being pregnant with her started me down a new path: the one toward being a full-fledged plus-size woman. Long story short, my pregnancy had jump started a condition that had been lying dormant in my hormonal system.

Today, my ovaries are covered in cysts. This has caused me to have fertility issues (which, thankfully, did not prevent the birth of my second daughter), to have massive hormonal imbalances, and to be about 85 pounds overweight. It’s a condition known as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and though I’m being treated for it, it’s something that will never go away completely and makes it doubly hard to lose weight. PCOS is the most common cause of infertility in the U.S, yet thousands of women have this disease and never get diagnosed.

The thought of having to dive back into the dating pool after my divorce was scary. Who would want a 21-year-old overweight single mom? It took two-and-a-half years before I even started to try to date again, mostly for that reason. I didn’t want to go through all of that judgment involved with first dates and such. To me, men only thought about sex and sex meant thin and desirable: both things that I clearly was not.

It wasn’t until I realized I had to get over myself that things started to change. As I adopted a “if you don’t like me how I am, then that’s your problem” attitude, I started to gain more confidence in myself and started dating – online. I still didn’t think meeting guys in bars and such was the scene for someone like me (especially when competing with 18-year-olds who were a size 2). My students always get a kick when I tell them I met my husband through Match.com, considering the stigma they attach to Internet dating in general, too.

To this day, I still don’t know what my husband sees in me. When I look in the mirror, I see the girl who was reasonably hot in high school, but now isn’t. And even though I know I have a medical reason for being a size 18 and not my normal 10/12, it’s still something that’s not acceptable to my ego, such as it is. There are two things that I do know, though. The first is that my husband loves me very, very much. The second is that he is attracted to me as I am. Why, I have no clue, but he is all the same.

I do have to say, though, that reading Measure by Measure introduced me to a whole subculture that I hadn’t even been aware of and gave me a new appreciation for size acceptance. BBW’s (big beautiful women) and FA’s (fat admirers) really do exist and have their own groups, Web sites, and publications. You can be overweight and beautiful to yourself and others – two things I used to think were mutually exclusive.

The new shows, More to Love and Drop Dead Diva are also helping with my view of beauty in larger women. Seeing how other women who are around my age or even younger are being shown as beautiful and desirable, and also having their stories of hardship also shared, make me feel like I have more realistic images to base my own subconscious images off of.

I think that’s why I liked Measure by Measure so much. It’s real in its honesty about relationships and being fat, and gives those of us who have been there a nod in mainstream media.

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About Robin Kavanagh