Kristan Higgins on Women and Self Acceptance

Sarah Harrison Smith on August 10, 2018


You probably know Kristan Higgins's books -- she's written 18 of them! Her latest, Good Luck with That, came out this week, and it represents something of a departure for her. As she writes below, she had always "shied away from writing a character who really struggled with size." Until now.  "It was time to write about someone like me, because I knew I wasn’t alone." We hope you'll enjoy hearing more about the thought process behind that decision, and the writers who inspired Higgins along the way.

In many of my books, I’ve written female protagonists who’ve struggled with their looks and size—Faith, who wore Spanx to smooth out her surplus weight; Millie, who felt she had to diet before pursuing her romantic interest; six-foot-tall Chastity; Posey, who always felt too small and thin; even beautiful Harper, who saw the mother who abandoned her every time she looked in the mirror...

But I always shied away from writing a character who really struggled with size. In fiction, so many women of size are portrayed as being completely happy. They love their curves. They’re confident, attractive, sexual women who kick ass. And that’s great. It really is. We should all be so evolved that size and looks don’t matter.

Unfortunately, a lot of us aren’t there yet. If you’re like me, you’ve struggled, sighed and even cried over your looks… especially your size. But it’s hard to admit, harder still to come to terms with the fact that you may never have a body like the supermodel or singer or actor whose beauty is held up as the impossible standard. We’re not supposed to care. We have far more important issues facing us.

And yet, so many of us do care. Society cares. Weight loss is a multi-billion dollar industry. Every time you go to the supermarket, you see magazines shouting at you—"Keep the Weight Off for Good!" "Lose 30 Pounds This Month!" "Get Your Body Beach-Ready!" Every time we go to the movies or turn on the TV, we see impossibly beautiful women with perfect breasts, a flat stomach and just the right amount of junk in the trunk. As we get older, we’re told we need breast lifts and injections, Brazilian butts and liposuction. It can be nearly impossible to truly embrace body-positivity.

Good Luck with That doesn’t shy away from these struggles. In it, three friends battle to find self-acceptance in a world obsessed with looks and food. Two of them succeed; one doesn’t. Their friendship reminds them of what it means to be valued and loved exactly as they are, for what really matters in life. It’s not size; that’s for sure.

In my novel Now That You Mention It, the heroine, Nora, is visited by the plagues of adolescence and an unhappy family life. She gains weight, breaks out, can’t control what professor and author Roxane Gay terms an “unruly body.” Nora’s sister, on the other hand, is slender and beautiful, which becomes Nora’s obsession—how can two sisters be so different? What’s it like to be so physically perfect in the eyes of society? Eventually, Nora goes off to college, where she’s happier, and the weight melts away bit by bit. No longer an issue.

But it’s an issue that I’ve dealt with all my life. I’ve never had that “ideal” figure, and I’ve been aware of it since I was four years old. I wanted to write a book about women who felt like I did—always thinking about food, how much or how little; always concerned that I was too big. I was tired of thinking “I’ve got to lose weight for this,” whatever this was.  It was time to write about someone like me, because I knew I wasn’t alone.

Enter the three friends of Good Luck with That: Emerson, who struggles with what’s termed super-morbid obesity and the health complications related to it; Georgia, who’s yo-yo dieted all her life, never able to find happiness no matter what she weighs; and Marley, who’s overweight, happy, healthy, but still missing a piece of herself as the result of her twin’s death when they were four.

Roxane Gay talks about the difficulties of her own unruly body—things so many of us take for granted. Will she fit in a chair?  Who will give her unsolicited advice about weight loss? Who will be cruel to her because she, a fat woman, simply exists? Gay was an inspiration for Emerson’s honesty about her size. Emerson is a smart, kind, insightful woman who isolates herself out of fear of judgment. While Gay recently made the decision to get weight-loss surgery, Emerson never manages to take control of her unruly body, and tragically, she dies from complications early in the book. Like any addict, Emerson is helpless in the face of her drug of choice —food—the same as an alcoholic, opioid addict or anorexic is helpless.

Journalist Lindy West was a touchstone for the character of Marley. West decided long ago that there are so many things more important than size. Her talent, her sense of humor, her intelligence speak for her far more than society’s idea of what a woman should look like. Marley, a chef, knows too much about food and fat to believe she’ll ever successfully lose weight, so she embraces her size—her body works, and works well. She takes care of herself, exercises, eats right and loves food. She learns to understand that she has more to offer by being honest than by trying to be perfect all the time.

Just as I started to write Good Luck with That, America finally got to see a woman of size presented as a whole person, not a sidekick or a joke. When Chrissy Metz wrote the character of Kate in This Is Us, it was perhaps the first time when an obese person was presented as someone more than “just” fat — she is adored by her brothers, her father’s darling. She’s pursued by a love interest, struggles to find her own identity in the shadow of her successful siblings and overbearing mother. Finally, a woman of size was given a voice. Her weight and food are issues, but they’re not the only issues. They never are.

Good Luck with That embraces all the issues women face, no matter their size. Self-esteem, family roles, relationships, friends, work…they all figure into a life of self-acceptance, kindness and the knowledge that we have so much to offer, exactly as we are. 

-- Kristan Higgins

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