Woman Writes the 'Book' on Fat Kimberly Brittingham, a zaftig New Yorker, decided to confront the vicious comments and dirty looks she was getting on city buses in a very direct way. She covered her book with a fake cover reading Fat Is Contagious.
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Woman Writes the 'Book' on Fat

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Woman Writes the 'Book' on Fat

Woman Writes the 'Book' on Fat

Woman Writes the 'Book' on Fat

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Kimberly Brittingham, a zaftig New Yorker, decided to confront the vicious comments and dirty looks she was getting on city buses in a very direct way. She covered her book with a fake cover reading Fat Is Contagious.

TOURE, host:

Continuing with our most theme, one of the most e-mailed stories from The New York Times Web site today is called "In the Fatosphere, Big Is In, or at Least, Accepted." It's about certain bloggers challenging svelte people to accept those who are super sized. Among those is Kim Brittingham. Kim is fat. Can I say that? Is that okay?

Ms. KIMBERLY BRITTINGHAM (Author, "Fat is Contagious: How Sitting Next to a Fat Person Can Make You Fat"): Of course. Yeah.

TOURE: She has no problem with me saying that. She's sitting right here in front of us, and she's unafraid to call herself fat. In fact, a year ago, she got so sick about the way she was treated on New York City buses, where people avoided sitting next to her and some suggested that she should pay for two seats. How rude. She launched a little experiment. She created fake book covers that said, "Fat Is Contagious," and wrapped them around every book she read.

She's here in the studio with us to tell us what happened. And what happened? How did it start?

ALISON STEWART, host:

You subversive little New Yorker, you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: You know, it was an idea that popped into my head. And it was so easy to execute, how could I not do it?

TOURE: Mm-hmm.

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: The reactions ranged - it was kind of funny, because people don't hesitate to be verbally abusive with you when you're fat. And a lot of thinner people find that hard to believe. But I had been on the receiving end of a lot of verbal abuse on the buses, so it was ironic that when I started carrying this book, people didn't really speak to me directly. It was - the reactions were kind of funny. There were a lot of double and triple takes, people leaning in to read the subtitle which is, "How Sitting Next to a Fat Person Can Make You Fat."

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: People would skid a little closer sometimes to try to read the back, where I have these phony reviews. Sometimes people would actually sit down, see the title of the book, look at me and run to the back of the bus.

TOURE: Now, let me paint a picture for the listeners, because they can't see you. How much do you weigh?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: You know, I don't know, because I'm not a scale-watcher. I'm going to guess around 250.

TOURE: Okay. Okay. All right.

STEWART: And you're about 5'5", right?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: More like 5'7".

STEWART: Yeah.

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Yeah.

TOURE: Do you think that being positive about being fat is a good idea?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: I think being positive about almost anything is a good idea. Being negative about it is not going to help you. You're not…

TOURE: But isn't it a health problem?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: It could be for some people. I don't think that just because you're fat necessarily means that you're unhealthy. I think that's a generalization that a lot of people make. And just because you're thin doesn't mean that you're robust with health, either.

TOURE: Right. Well, that's true. I mean, there are definitely skinny-fat people who are skinny, but they're actually sort of weighty for their frame. But you had an incident with a Ms. Hostility and a Caribbean lady.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Oh, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

TOURE: What happened?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: I was on the bus, in a row of three seats. And I was on the one end, and there was a Caribbean-American woman on the other end. And a little older lady got on the bus, and she hovered over me and said, excuse me. And I looked up, I didn't know what was wrong. And then I realized that a little triangle of my shawl was in the seat next to me. So I picked it up and said, I'm sorry. And she said, uh, never mind. And then she looked at the other woman and said, you know, if some people won't lose weight, they should just have to pay for two seats. And instead of…

TOURE: How did you feel?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: You know, I guess I wasn't so much angry at the time. I was a little angry after the fact. But I think I laugh at these people more than I get angry, because it's such ignorance.

TOURE: So do you think that Americans are prejudiced against fat people? Is there fattism, akin to racism, sexism, homophobia, et cetera?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Oh, definitely. And, you know, I certainly didn't invent this idea. It's been written about a lot. But fat prejudice is definitely the last acceptable form of prejudice in this country. Because when you think about it, parents will tell their children don't say mean things to other children because of their religion, their race, if they have a disability. But nobody says, honey, don't make fun of the fat kid. Some parents will even encourage it.

STEWART: It's interesting. We actually found a piece of tape back in August. Mike Huckabee, who's running for president, came by THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT and we interviewed him because, you know, he's written this book about losing about 110 pounds.

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Right.

STEWART: And just listen to how he described the way people treated him before he lost weight.

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Mm-hmm.

STEWART: Did people treat you differently after you lost all that weight?

Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Former Governor, Arkansas; Republican Presidential Candidate): Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

STEWART: Tell me about the difference in your life, the way people treated you before you lost all the weight.

Mr. HUCKABEE: Even being a public person, you still had a certain level of people that would just give you that look. If you went somewhere where they didn't know you were the governor of the state, into a clothing store, they will just look at you, like, oh, my gosh. What are we going - we're not a tent shop. We sell clothes.

STEWART: Right.

Mr. HUCKABEE: And especially if you're going, let's say, to a theater or a stadium or getting on an airline and they just look at you, like, oh, please. Dear Lord, don't let that man sit next to me, because he's going to take two seats. You could just see it. And, you know, it's awkward. It's not something comfortable. I used to make jokes about my weight, primarily to sort of get it out of the way. And I think a lot of people who are overweight sort of compensate for it by either use of humor or some way, because you're just really not wanting to feel the pain of somebody's gaze at you, or the cutting words that…

STEWART: Does that sound familiar to you?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Oh, very much so. Yeah.

STEWART: Yeah.

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Yeah.

STEWART: I mean, he was the governor of the state, if you can imagine…

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Right, yeah.

STEWART: …people treating him like that. Do the cutting words - does it hurt when people make…

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Not so much anymore.

STEWART: Yeah.

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: And it used to be mainly because I dismiss them as ignorant. But now there's another level to it, where I realize that people are addicted to complaining. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: …if they didn't have me to complain about taking up too much of their seat, they'd find something else. So I'm really very dismissive of it now.

TOURE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Was the political message you were trying to get across received?

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: I don't think I'll ever know for sure. I made this book cover really just to jar people. You know, the thought of doing it made me giggle, so I did it. And I don't - I think I definitely jarred people. I thought if I could stop them for a second and have them consider how ridiculous the premise of this book is, they might reconsider their own feelings about fat people.

STEWART: Kim Brittingham is a New York City-base memoirist and essayist.

Hey, Kim. Thanks for sharing your story…

Ms. BRITTINGHAM: Thank you.

STEWART: …and coming by the studios.

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