Skinny Daily Post

Invincible.

Frances Kuffel lost 170 lbs. Half her body. Gone. It took years. It was hard. It still is. Luckily for all of us, Frances Kuffel is a remarkable writer, and managed, somehow, to write brilliantly about the messy, confusing, painful, joyful, complicated, hard work of losing lots and lots of weight.

Don’t buy this book if you’re looking for diet tips. The real “how to” in the book is a lesson on walking into a recovery group – maybe Overeater’s Anonymous or Eating Disorders Anonymous, but she never identifies her group, of course – and giving oneself over to the hard work one does there. Roll your eyes if you choose to, but recovery groups, 12-step programs, are working every day for hundreds of thousands of us. Why not you? Why not me? Brilliant, funny, jaded, busy Frances walked into one of these meetings one day. That’s how she did it.

Get this book if you have a lot of weight to lose, love someone who is losing a lot of weight, want to lose your fattist edge, or just if you’re a fan of the memoir genre, because this is a good one. It’s actually also, weirdly, a great coming-of-age novel, if the heroine of such a novel can come of age in her mid-40s. Except of course, this isn’t a novel. This is Frances’ life, and it is hard, painful, touching.

But not at first. When I first met Frances in these pages, I had a very hard time warming up to her and her story. At the beginning of the book and 338 lbs, Frances was prickly, fell in for that brand of easy sarcasm that passes for comedy these days and is just so tiresome, distancing humor, self-deprecating humor, belittling humor. It’s annoying in its monotone. But as the book goes on, as her fat comes off, as Frances becomes more and more exposed, vulnerable, willing to take on and take responsibility for changing things, she becomes more and more and more genuinely funny, likable.

I have to be careful here. It’s not skinny that made Frances likable. It was Frances learning to like herself that showed us all what’s to like. And there’s plenty. Frances does have good stuff.

She carefully crafts this telling so that her brains really shine along with her courage at the point when she joins her group. Slowly, she becomes more tolerant of others, more generally accepting, appreciative, curious, gentle, funny. She never drops her wit for a second, thank God. And by the end of the book, I was not only sobbing along at her story, but also cheering for this woman as she literally and figuratively climbs the mountains of her childhood and finds a place to belong. It’s that kind of book.

But it’s not sentimental. There are no Cinderella moments. When Frances drops enough weight to “pass for normal,” and realizes, in a dressing room, with her mom, for the first time, ever, “I’m pretty,” the moment is not so much celebratory as terrifying. This woman who has been obese since childhood has been handed her femininity and has no clue what to do with it. Very little experience to draw from. Moments when she spies on other women, adopting their fashion sense, their gestures, when she considers everything from how she will dress to how to handle casual flirtations are full of pathos without being at all pathetic. It is all new, it’s hard, it’s upsetting. She can’t go back. She often can’t go forward. Or has too many choices, and is frozen with indecision. She almost has no choice but to rely on other people, and other people do what they do. They give her what she needs when she needs it. And they let her down.

I use journey and discovery metaphors a lot when writing about losing lots of weight. And here it is again. Frances has been on a long expedition. She bravely faced down a lot of things many of us have never seen or tackled before. She took good notes, and came back to tell us all about it. Read this if you like stories of hope hard won. Read it if you are losing lots of weight and just need someone around who understands how weird it is, how hard, how at sea you can feel. Read it if what you need is courage. This is above all, a good book for courage.

The slow, slow dawning, building, developing of her ability to trust in her own wisdom, claim her due, protect herself, discover what it is that people like, and have always liked, about her. The internalizing of lessons she has to learn over and over. The setbacks and unanswered questions, messy and so like real life. Oooph, that’s good stuff, right there.

This woman did not need to write this book. It’s a powerful part of her recovery, though, to reach back and help the rest of us. And she does that here in a big way, using all of her astonishing talent to do it. Exposing herself. Putting it all in. It’s good. I recommend.

Passing For Thin at Barnes & Noble
Overeaters Anonymous

7 thoughts on “Passing For Thin

  1. yvonne says:

    Julie — Long-time reader, first-time commenter . . . 🙂

    I picked up Passing for Thin on Tuesday and literally could not put it down. It really is a beautiful account. I was very much struck by her "growing up" as she lost weight. I’ve heard/read other places about addicts getting stuck at whatever age they started their addiction, I just had not ever associated that with food.

    I agree with your review completely!

  2. Jen says:

    I loved reading this book too and am glad to see it reviewed so eloquently here. I lost 50 pounds myself, and I am still getting reoriented, and Kuffel’s "planets" metaphor really resonated with me.

  3. Jessica says:

    I found it very comforting to know that someone has recovered from this horrible addiction and is living life to it fullest. I loved reading this book. Very well written and expressive of the feelings people who are 100 lbs or more overweight feel everyday.

  4. Quinn says:

    It’s very rare these days for a book of any kind — memoir, novel, history, whatever — to so entrance me that I cannot put it down. A few weeks ago I checked this one out of the public library, took it home and spent the entire next day and a half reading it.

    ohmigod.

    Oh. My. God.

    What a story. And so well told. And just what I needed at the time that I needed it. Now I have my own copy and will reread it from time to time.

    Thank you, Frances Kuffel.

  5. Constance says:

    Incredible story of a personal journey/saga of weight loss – with humor and frankness that will make you think twice about how you deal with food. This book is written frankly from the prespective of an obese person – and that makes it real. The realities of ‘Passing For Thin’ show that the food demon is only partially dealt with even after the battle appears to be won – losing half of her body weight. It is always there, always lurking, always a comfort, always a problem. Wonderful prespective on weight loss, and weight maintenace. This is a GREAT book…!!!

  6. Barb says:

    Had seen reviews of this book when it first came out and thought maybe I’d get it. Your comments here reminded me of it and finally went to the bookstore. Wow, it is real and heart-wrenching. I just started in February 2004 to lose 100 pounds, and like the author have been obese since childhood. God, there were so many things she said that I thought were my own personal quirks and embarrassments. I am thankful to her for her honesty about going to the gym. Because of that,(and encouragement from this web site) I joined one and am actually going three days a week! I never thought in my wildest dreams I would do that before I got to my goal weight. I read this book the first time through very quickly, because of my prurient interest in others’ success stories. Am now re-reading it to pick up on more of the emotional components of her tale. And hey, whatever size we’re at- that’s is where it all begins and ends.

  7. Stretchy says:

    A friend gave me Kuffel’s book and I loved it.
    **** I read many sad or “miffed”reviews of the book online that said Kuffel became obsessed with clothes, fashion, etc …AFTER she lost weight, but if you really read the book, Frances LOVED clothes and fashion from the time she was six years old. She loved fabrics, textures, colors.She loved plaids and soft velour….I think a lot of people found this one thing to pick on–she lost weight and became fashionable and phony, so that’s what happens when you lose weight?
    Why shouldn’t Frances Kuffel fully enjoy how clothes feel / look on her body? Wearing designer clothing was a dream she’d had for decades, why shouldn’t she be feeling like a queen in some of these clothes. She never got to dress up for a date, for a prom, etc… Let her enjoy fashion! She worked hard and used a very smart food plan .

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