Author Wendy Shanker weighs in on life in the fat lane

Originally published on April 7, 2004

Don't call Wendy Shanker hefty, pudgy or stout.

She prefers Fat, with a capital F for fabulous.

"The vaguer the euphemism, the worse it is," says Shanker, a stylish brunette who tips the scale at more than 200 pounds. "I'm not afraid of the word 'fat' anymore. I'd rather that people say it until it doesn't have the capacity to hurt."

Indeed, the fulsome adjective appears on practically every page in "The Fat Girl's Guide to Life," (Bloomsbury, April 17, $23.95), Shanker's hilarious and informative new book about battling the bulge. In it, she describes everything from her disastrous experience at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center - she forked over $9,430 and lost a measly 2 pounds - to unsolicited comments from smug slimkins. She rails against the government's ever-changing food recommendations and how they feed into the "conspiracy" of weight-loss programs and products that don't work.

"It's about a lot of experiences I had related to weight and how it's treated in the media," says Shanker, who filled a filing cabinet in her New York apartment with articles, essays and photos pertaining to flab over the years. "When it actually came to writing the book, it gushed."

Jennifer Henderson, the Maine-based founder of, a Web site that reviews books with plump heroines, is a fan of Shanker's writing. "A lot of women these days are not the perfect size 2, 4 or 6," she said. "I'm a size 16. There's an appeal to reading about women who look like we do."

Life writ large

Shanker wasn't always full-figured - oops, Fat. Growing up in Michigan, her mother carefully monitored her meals. Then her mom died suddenly of leukemia, leaving a grieving 10-year-old Wendy to pack on the pounds. By age 14, she was tallying points on the Weight Watchers teen program.

Thus began 16 years of "self-loathing and self-doubt." Shanker writes, "I've met with seven weight-loss specialists, worked with three nutritionists and three personal trainers, tried a dozen weight-loss programs, taken thousands of pills, joined six gyms, read 31 books, and spent enough money on weight loss to buy myself an Ivy League degree."

The grossest diet she ever tried was the red beet, vanilla ice cream and hot dog regimen, promising a 7-pound loss in three days. "I still can't eat beets," cringes the author. Disgusting, but not exactly dangerous. That came later, when her Weight Watchers meeting on the upper West Side was held up by masked gunmen.

"For a moment I was confused, thinking this had to be some sort of dramatic new scare tactic - like, 'Weight Watchers: Lose Weight or Die!'" she recounts in her book.

The robbery was enough to turn her off Weight Watchers. But Shanker didn't stop dieting until after her stint at Duke. Not only did she have to put up with morbidly obese older men hitting on her, but the workouts and classes were about as slimming as Fro-Yo.

Today, Shanker, 32, practices healthy moderation. She works out regularly and doesn't beat herself up if she enjoys a sweet treat. "I'm just trying to be normal."

For Shanker, that also means fighting back. She refuses to fly Southwest Airlines - which makes heavy passengers buy two seats on crowded flights - or to shop at stores where she can only fit into the accessories.

And she no longer puts up with rude remarks from strangers.

Recently, she shared an elevator in her building with an older lady.

"I take the stairs to stay slim," announced the woman in a self-righteous voice.

"I take the elevator," snapped Shanker, "to stay really fat!"

Chubby Chic

Shanker shares a few fashion tips from her book:

  • Create a trademark look. "Some women are fashion chameleons, but I've always thought there was something cool about a style signature," writes Shanker. Hers is a black bob, red lipstick and nail polish.
  • Wear clothes that fit. Choose tailored garments instead of shapeless sacks. It's much more flattering.
  • Accent your favorite features. Shanker wears low-cut tops that show off her sexy cleavage. Other women might want to highlight their small waists or slender ankles.
  • Buy it in every color. When you find something you love, purchase it in every color and pattern.
  • Get a better bra. A bad supporter can make you look like you've got four boobs. A good one can reshape your torso. Go to a real lingerie store and get fitted by a pro.
  • Accessorize, accessorize. Stock up on jazzy jewelry, bags and shoes. They always fit and make outfits look extra festive. And while you're at it, get your nails, eyebrows and hair done. Pampering does wonders for self-image.

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