Taking Back the ‘F’ Word: A Book Review of The (other)F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, edited by Angie Manfredi

Laura Davis
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville, TN, USA

Manfredi, Angie (Editor). The (other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce. Amulet Books, 2019. 224 pgs., $18.99.

“Your body is perfect. Yes, yours. Exactly the way it is, right now in this second.”

In The (other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, editor Angie Manfredi brings together thirty voices, from middle grades and young adult authors to fat influencers and pioneers, to provide young adult readers with differing modes of storytelling – personal essays, poetry, and visual art – to celebrate the “fat” body. Across the anthology, authors and illustrators from diverse backgrounds convey their experiences with fat bodies. The variety of concepts throughout the anthology celebrate the uniqueness of the human body and champion owning all aspects of identity. With Bill Maher proposing “fat-shaming doesn’t need to end, it needs a comeback,” books like Manfredi’s push back against fat-shaming and encourage those who are fat to “realize there’s nothing wrong with being fat” (p. 1).

The title of the anthology, The (other)F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce, immediately calls attention to the negative connotation of the word “fat” – calling it the “other f word” – indicating its wide use but derogatory connotation. Manfredi’s title demands people’s attention. Flipping through the Instagram stories of fat influencers and body positive champions, the text is being revered by those who had access to advanced readers’ copies. The outright use of “celebration” in reference to fatness draws readers to question what the contents could possibly include. Paired with a self-proclaimed fat girl review from Matty Matheson, author of Matty Matheson: A Cookbook, stating “I love being fat; I loved these powerful stories, poems, and lessons! Thank you, fat people! I love you!” the anthology names its audience and urges readers to pick it up (cover).

In her preface, written as a letter to the reader, Manfredi addresses why she felt this text was necessary. Manfredi intends for her collection to celebrate – hence the title – fatness and encourage readers to appreciate individuality. The (Other) F Word discusses intersectionality and “encompasses the true breadth and depth of fat life in a truly unique way” and gives readers a “chance to see all the possibilities of living a full, happy, fun life as a fat person” (p. 2). Ultimately, as the opening quotation says, Manfredi challenges readers to see that their bodies are perfect in all the right and good ways.

Though not sectioned by writing style, Manfredi includes varying styles of writing and media in order to engage readers of all modalities. In personal essays, contributors discuss their own experiences with fatness and the world surrounding them. Author Adrianne Russell writes to her younger-self, highlighting how being fat was not the end of the world. After detailing what motivated young Adrianne, she writes “Please know that your body is still sometimes a mystery. It’s thrown you a few curveballs (while also developing awesome new curves) and you’ve made it through […] Being fat is no longer a curse or a punishment. Your body isn’t the enemy. It’s your partner, your home, your vessel in which you go through life” (p. 187). Messages like Russell’s appear throughout the personal essays. Each bringing their own experiences to life and providing positive images and outlooks on life as a loud and proud fat person. 

Some of the personal essays appear as advice columns meant to coach how to embrace being fat and not letting fatness ruin lives. Lily Anderson and Virgie Tovar both discuss and herald being a “fat babe”. Anderson’s “How to Be the Star of Your Own Fat Rom-Com” lays out how to embrace romance. Each category provides a step to follow and an “Avoid This Trope” to combat the socially constructed view of fat romance. The nine steps and epilogue share one main concept: readers “being authentically themselves” (p. 21). Romances come and go, and fatness should not detour anyone from owning their identity. 

Tovar follows this same concept in “The 5 Things You Need to Start Your Very Own Rad Fat Babe Revolution (from Someone Who Knows).” Tovar’s advice stems from social interactions and observations of fat people embracing their “radness” and owning their bodies. She reminds readers that “fatphobia is never, ever [their] fault,” encourages them to “find & create amazing fat representation,” “wear what [they] want to wear,” and “have high standards for who gets to be in” their lives, and lastly, echoes Anderson by asserting “don’t ever date someone who thinks [the reader] need[s] to lose weight” (pp. 75-78). Both women, and others throughout the anthology who provide advice, inspire the reader to embrace who they are inside and out.

Manfredi also includes poetry. Well-known author Renée Watson’s “The Story of My Body” champions understanding that a body is made up of individual experiences:

And when I say fat it is not insult or disclaimer 

My body does not apologize for being big, got being black, 

for being woman

she writes as she opens. The poem then proceeds to address that her belly, hands, hair, legs, eyes, and memories are 

All housed in this fat, black, girl body. 

These stories, these parts. 

All me.

Watson’s purpose for “The Story of My Body” is not to call attention to fatness, but rather the sameness of all bodies. She encourages readers to see that all bodies have stories, and her fat black girl body is no different. Other poems appear in the text sharing the poet’s experiences with hating, understanding, accepting, and loving their bodies.

A unique element of Manfredi includes is the visual art scattered throughout the anthology’s pages.  Beginning with the cover and continuing throughout the text, bodies of varying fatness, race, and (dis)ability brighten the pages. They are all dancing and appear vivacious. These images appear, supporting the overall tone and intention of the text: happiness. Like the authors with their written entries, artists create visual representations of their experiences with their bodies. Mel Stringer, an Australian-born artist and comic creator, documents her struggle in “Love You,” an illustration with a young girl sitting on her bed reading a comic book. As if manifested from the comic book in her hand, she is surrounded by women who share her body shape. To Stringer, these women were the women she was grateful for growing up because they taught her there was not one body type. Instead, they taught her there are many body types, and they are all beautiful. Her image represents this understanding.

Overall, The (Other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat and Fierce is what the title claims it is: a celebration. Manfredi has brought together a chorus of voices with diverse backgrounds, experiences, sexualities, ethnicities, and races to develop an anthology for all readers. Each author shares their story with palpable vulnerability allowing readers to see the intersectionality present worldwide. As S. Qiouyi Lu so eloquently states in their vignette, “Fat, and,” being fat is a range of body shapes, it is what makes up the person that matters. The presence of differences, being “fat, and,” throughout the collection achieves Manfredi’s goal: to shine a light on body positivity and awareness. 

The (other) F Word is a necessary text for readers of all shapes and sizes in and out of the classroom. Young adult literature as a vehicle for teaching empathy is a hot topic in academic circles. Teachers are using young adult literature in whole-class reading and group reading settings to expose students to diverse voices and situations to foster discussions of acceptance and change. Manfredi’s anthology has the potential to amplify discourses that will reshape and revise students’ – and even society’s – view of body discrimination. It approaches difficult topics, such as bullying, discrimination, self-hate, and societal expectations, without malice or hate, but rather with poignance and resilience. Each page positively shines. The vulnerability of each contributor creates a model for which readers can strive. Incorporating The (other) F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce alongside texts broaching sexuality, race, gender, or economics will allow teachers to introduce the concept of intersectionality as contributors in Manfredi’s anthology discuss the same topics in conjunction with their experiences as a fat person. 

Author Bio

Laura Davis is a doctoral student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville studying Young Adult Literature. Currently, she’s interested in the varying representations of intimacy in contemporary YA romance novels and how such novels can be tools for empathic discourse. Prior to attending UT, she taught high school dual credit English III and IV. In the future, she hopes to either return to the secondary classroom or teach at the university level: whichever best allows her to impart her love of YA on readers.

Reference Citation:

Manfredi, A. (2019). The (other) F word: a celebration of the fat & fierce. New York: Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams.

Davis, L. (2020). Taking back the ‘F’ Word: A book review of The (other)F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierce edited by Angie Manfredi. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 7(1). http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v7-issue-1/taking-back-the-f-word-a-book-review-of-the-otherf-word-a-celebration-of-the-fat-fierce/ 

Davis, Laura. “Taking Back the ‘F’ Word: A Book Review of The (other)F Word: A Celebration of the Fat & Fierceedited by Angie Manfredi”. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 7, no. 1, 2020. http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v7-issue-1/taking-back-the-f-word-a-book-review-of-the-otherf-word-a-celebration-of-the-fat-fierce/