Thursday 1 December 2011

Devouring Books: Butterbabe by Rebecca Golden

I got this book out of the library on a whim, I fear because it had a pink spine, or maybe just because the word butter was included in the title, and I kind of sort of thought it might be a food memoir, a genre (ok, I've just decided it deserves its own genre) that I've had a super good time with in this past year (See: Toast, Julie and Julia, and, sort of, Heartburn) I thought I'd pick it up. Turns out, it was less about food, and more about one woman's dysfunctional (read: pretty abusive) childhood, her subsequent weight gain to 40 stone, and then her gastric bypass operation and eventual happiness. Wow did I just give the whole story away!

From that description, to me, this sounds like kind of a bad book. Like a cross between one of those terrible child abuse books called things like 'Please Daddy, no!' (which I have complete issues with. Like, why are there so many of them? And who reads them? And do they read them because they're really concerned with child abuse, or because it makes them feel better about themselves and their lives? And why does being abused as a child seem to automatically offer a publishing deal nowadays? Such questions I have!) and a big weight loss/worldly revelations kind of book. And it probably would be, if Rebecca Golden wasn't so awesome. Like, seriously. From her writing, you don't get a hint of self pity, for the pure reason that she never hated herself, much as almost everyone in her life would have wanted her to, and I just think that's so awesome. Indescribably awesome, in fact.

So Golden's life has basically been one long struggle against people who find her inadequate, too fat, not groomed enough, and just generally a nuisance (this one's mainly her father). Reading this, I could hardly believe the way people behaved though- at school especially, children just full on hated her, on sight, for no good reason, other than, I guess, her fatness. And here's the thing- I think that most of us, although we don't do it out of hatred or anything other than noticing things that are really different, have seen a morbidly obese person and gone 'Oh. My. God.' At least in our heads, and most of us, I would hope, wouldn't say anything abusive to that person because, how horrible would that be? What Golden does in this book, is gives us an insight into the head of, at least one morbidly obese person, and makes us understand that, inside, there is a person who is really just like us (there are a lot of things about Golden that are exactly like me, actually), and also that, while about 99% of people wouldn't say anything derogatory, she has encountered the 1% who do, and what odious little assholes they are.

Golden is big on the childhood anecdotes and abusive behaviour of her father (he continually mocks her for being fat, for example, but the thing is, she eats because it's about the only thing in her life she can control, and her only method of defying him), but she's not quite so forthcoming about exactly how much she ate to get in the position that she was in. I think that's ok- I didn't really need an average day's eating itinerary or anything, but I think that it must have been quite a lot more than she owns up to, to get to the size she was. The main thing about this book was, the more I liked Golden, the less I liked basically everyone else around her, all the kids at school who refused to be her friend, all the adults at college and workplaces who refused to be her friend, all because of what she looked like. And Golden said herself that she lived too much in her head, ignoring her size, and naively believing that people would see past what she looked like anyway, and into her shiny soul, and just magically want to be her friend. Naive, yes; not doing herself any favours, yes; but that's absolutely what I want to believe about people too, and I think with the right people, that is the way it works.

What spurred on Golden's decision to have a gastric bypass was essentially health problems, but there is also a sense, even if she doesn't necessarily see it this way, that her weight was indirectly causing her to live only a shadow of a life, even though this was mainly down to other people's attitudes towards her rather than her own view of herself. I adore the fact that she says she never hated herself, and nor should she (I recently read this quote by someone, I wish I could remember who, but they said 'it's much harder to hate yourself than to be fat', and honestly, it was the most liberating thing I've heard in my life) but I definitely feel like, having had the surgery, her life is going to be so much easier physically, not to mention socially, although I suppose that the friends she had before she lost the weight are going to be the ones she wants to hold on to.

I feel like I've been a bit fat-negative during this review, but allow me to clarify- As long as you're happy with yourself and on the inside, I don't think what you look like on the outside matters, but when your weight gets to a level where it's affecting your health, then I think the bravest thing to do is to face the fact of it and work as hard as you can to get to a place where you feel healthier and happier. I definitely think there's far too much of a focus on thinness in the media (obviously) and the idea that there is only one kind of beauty, and that beauty only comes from being as thin as possible. NOT that there's anything wrong with being thin either, but I think that thinking thinness is the key to all happiness is completely untrue and just no. Clear enough? (I also think that Kate Moss saying 'nothing tastes as good as thin feels ' was not only potentially damaging and super irresponsible of her, but also that she has no idea what anything other than thin feels- how does she know that having a bit of a belly doesn't feel utterly awesome? And you know what doesn't feel good? Starvation. So there).

Anyway, this book was good! I liked it, but then I like memoirs of random people who are kind of like me in many ways. I wouldn't necessarily buy it because, much as I enjoyed it, there weren't really any earth-shattering moments for me, but if you happen to see it at your library or something, I'd recommend borrowing it for an entertaining and mildly thought provoking read.


  1. Has Kate Moss had butter? or little bacon and sausage things you get at Christmas? She's a knob.
    Nothing feels as good as good food tastes... oh no! that doesn't sound healthy either!

  2. Oh my GOD, the little sausage and bacon things!! NOW I'm in the Christmas spirit! She is such a knob. And I don't think yours sounds as bad as hers, especially if you add 'in moderation' or 'on special occasions' on the end so you're not encouraging binge eating! Hehe.

  3. You know when you said "Food Memoir" as a genre I thought "I never thought of that before but yes, that is totally a memoir category"

    Also whenever I think of Kate Moss I think of Family Guy and "crack in the floor".

  4. Kate Moss and Family Guy in the same sentence sounds so promising I can't even tell you! Food memoir is absolutely a thing, and I've managed to read 3 this year somehow! Way to go me! I hope one day to write a food memoir- it will be exciting, and contain many burgers :)

  5. ALSO, the other thing I think of when I think of Kate Moss is 'why did Johnny Depp go out with *her* in the 90s, when he seems all smart and think-y, and she... doesn't?' All I can think of is that Depp doesn't necessarily pick partners on their personalities, to which I say: :(

  6. Mmm burger food memoir. I'd read!

    I tried to find a Family Guy Kate Moss clip but my 40 seconds of Googling it didn't pull it up and I got distracted.

    Also I'm pretty sure at that point Johnny Depp was much more "you're very '90s pretty, I'm very '90s pretty, let's destroy hotel rooms and have '90s pretty sex together"