Q&A with Wendy Shanker

After the success of The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life, how did writing ARE YOU MY GURU come about?

It certainly wasn’t in the gameplan! After publishing “The Fat Girl’s Guide,” I spoke to women all over the country (and world) who were just like me, over hating their bodies and ready to embrace a different attitude. I could have gone on talking about that shift forever – but then I got sick. Like, didn’t think I was going to make it to my 35th birthday sick. I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease called Wegener’s granulomatosis, and traditional treatment (steroids and chemo) didn’t work. When my docs ran out of options, I explored the world of alternative healing, sure that someone could fix me. I tried acupuncture, Ayurveda, spirit healers, astrologers, Orthodox rabbis, Zen priests, body workers...looking for the one girl/guy who had all the answers. That’s the story I recount in “Are You My Guru?”

How is this book similar to the first book? How is it different?

They’re both pretty funny, while forcefully encouraging women to empower ourselves when it comes to our bodies. In a way, my inability to get thin and my inability to get well felt like the same problem. A treatment/diet would work for a while, and then it wouldn’t. I kept getting sicker/fatter. The cycle reminded me of dieting. Trying so hard, failing, beating up on myself. It occurred to me with health, just as in weight loss, maybe it wasn't ME that was failing. Maybe I just hadn't hit on the right course of action. I'd just have to cobble one together my own.

Your illness led to a pretty significant weight loss. Are you very concerned that you might no longer have “cred” as “The Fat Girl” icon you’ve proudly become?

Oh, yes. Technically I’m still fat…but am I fat enough? I wear a size 14/16, but I still can’t find jeans at the Gap. I’m still considered “overweight” on a BMI chart. I feel guilty about this loss. I didn’t want this to happen. And I feel a real disconnect with my body having lost weight, just as some people do when they gain weight. But I’m trying to look at it from the same angle that I did when I wrote “The Fat Girl’s Guide”: this is the way my body is now. If I can’t love it, I can at least learn to appreciate it. I have to be nice to it and respectful of it. And if someone else is going to judge the way I look – too fat? Not fat enough? – Not my problem. I’m grateful to be in a healthy body that affords me the ability to live my everyday life.

One in nine women in the US is diagnosed with some kind of autoimmune disease. Writing the book, did you find it hard to balance your inherent funniness with the difficult health issues addressed in this book?

I can’t help myself. In the very worst moments, there’s always something funny happening. Actually, I think humor is a great way to cope with some of the stress and lack of control you have when your life is falling apart. That, and Wellbutrin. And cake.

But if this is happening to you in your life – you or someone you love is diagnosed with lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis – not so funny. I’m here to make it deal-able for you.

What, for you, are the funniest moments you encountered in your search for healing?

I’d find myself in a situation where I was trying to “dialogue” with my liver, or laying on the floor in a bathroom in New Mexico doing a home colonic, or debating whether or not to follow a rabbi’s advice to rub pigeons on my body and think, “How the hell did I get here?” When I was debating how to drink my best friend’s breast milk (does she just squirt it in a cup? Do I add Nesquick?), I knew I had gone to a crazy place.

What is the main message you want readers to take away from your search for health, peace, and of course, humor in the face of illness?

I’d like the reader to know that even though you are the patient, you have power, insight and knowledge. The doctor or healer you go to may be the expert in your disease or disorder, but YOU are the expert on YOU. So if you’re seeing someone who isn’t interested in tapping into your expertise…well, that may not be your guru.


So I have another question for you…
Go ahead and ask me at wendy@wendyshanker.com.