Review of Big Big Love


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review by Vamp

Big Big Love
by Hanne Blank
Greenery Press, 2000

This author should really be applauded for putting together something that speaks to the needs of people of size and those who love them. There may be other books out there that speak intelligently, specifically, and thoughtfully about this issue but I am unaware of them. Good for her (and good for Greenery Press) that they are addressing the obvious need for books of this nature!

This book doesn't say anything too earth shattering, it just takes the time to say what many of us have known for an awful long time: Fat and Sexy are far from mutually exclusive. Hanne Blank debunks old fears and myths about fat people while showing their sensuality and beauty. I think she does this in a very respectful fashion that will not be off-putting to most people, including those who generally wouldn't touch a book about sexuality. She avoids turning fat into fetish and ignoring the person below the skin.

She spends an awful lot of time on the emotional challenges and issues surrounding weight in this country, and attempts to detail positive ways of handling them. I won't kid you, this was not an exceptionally easy emotional read for me. I found myself feeling rather insecure as I read this book since it brought up a lot of my own weight issues and insecurities. That said, it was good to explore these things that I generally try to ignore. I doubt that it will bring up the same level of insecurity in people that are more openly dealing with their issues in a day to day way in regards to weight.

Hanne Blank definitely shows how our culture has helped to shape our body images and how false many of the messages we receive really are. One thing that particularly reached me was when she referred to an old joke that asks how you make ten pounds of fat sexy. The answer is put nipples on it. This was such a good example, presented in a simple way. In our culture we seem to worship body fat on a woman's chest and yet shame that same woman for fat found anywhere else. I thought about how comforting, enjoyable, and sensual a nice breast is...and it helped me to understand why someone might find those same qualities sexy about the rest of my body. The smooth, warm, and comfortable nature of my breasts is something that the media has hammered home forever. Using my positive feelings about them and generalizing those thoughts to the rest of my body was a real moment of enlightenment.

Aside from discussing myths and cultural hang ups about fat, the author takes the time to explore and explain the communities and cultures that form the political and subculture elements of the fat population. I think this may be a tad over the heads of some readers who just want to read a book about their own bodies and have no interest in politicizing it, but I personally found this section fascinating. I don't happen to know a lot about fat acceptance organizations so it was helpful to get some insider knowledge like NAAFA (The National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance at http://www.naafa.org) is mostly heterosexual and was founded in 1969, while some of the newer organizations like SeaFATtle (http://www.seafattle.org) are much more open to lesbians. She takes the time to discuss many of the organized groups, magazines, and stores that have come to serve people of size and gives the inside scoop about what you can expect from most of them. She also explains special terms that one is likely to run into in fat culture such as FA or Fat Admirer (someone who seeks out fat partners). The author does a good job of addressing issues not only pertinent to heterosexual readers, but also to the Gay/Bi/Lesbian/Transsexual cultures and their subcultures (chubs, bears, and such).

After explaining the cultures a bit, she does a great job explaining how to hook up with partners. She addresses topics like self-esteem, asking for what you want, flirting, and more. She also addresses harder issues like how to bring up to your date that the activity or place that they have suggested is outside of your level of comfort. Most importantly, she tackles the internal demon that a lot of fat people have...the one that does not allow them to see themselves as beautiful sexy people when people are telling them that they are. She explains the internal mechanism behind such paranoia and defensiveness in a way that is easy to understand and which challenges the reader to look inside and do some personal housecleaning. Beyond the purely psychological, she details much practical information like how to write an ad and what you are likely to find in most social venues specific to fat people.

There is a heavy focus on building self-esteem and reclaiming power in this book, and much of that goes into the area of the book titled "Getting A Grip". This area of the book details damage that is usually done to people of size by the culture and their own families and how they must recognize it and stand up to it.

I thought that one of the best sections of this area was "Friendly Fire: Coping with Family and Friends". This section is brilliant in how it offers information and advice to people who are taking cheap shots from their family and friends that are harming them. It reminds people that they have a right to the same respect everyone else has, and that the only way a person can reclaim that is to stand up and not take it anymore. If you have ever had a family member or someone else try to offer inaccurate and hurtful statements like you'll never find a partner unless you lose weight, this chapter is for you!

A rather fun bit in the "Getting A Grip" section is a part set aside for "Confrontations & Comebacks", it offers ways to handle rude people. I think my favorite was in response to the age old "You have such a pretty face...if you'd only lose weight" nasty statement. She recommends coming back with, "I'm so glad you brought it up! I was just thinking the same thing about you!"

This book does go beyond the psychological and social aspects of weight, it tackles issues of health in a fresh and intelligent manner. One incredibly helpful part of the health focused section is "Patient Diagnostics- Questions to Ask A Primary Care Physician, Gynecologist, or Obstetrician." This is an EXCELLENT guide for people looking for a physician who is aware of size issues and not prejudiced or led by cultural myths and easy answers to always tag things with "just lose some weight" when you have a health problem. Speaking of that, this section makes it clear that while fat is linked with higher risk in some areas of health it certainly isn't a factor in as many things as it is made out to be. It is also not something that should get in the way of a physician treating a patient as they would any other client who engages in an activity that puts them at higher risk for things, such as smokers and people in contact sports. Hanne Blank offers up many good resources such as the Fat-Friendly Health Care Provider's List at http://www.cat-and-dragon.com/stef/Fat/ffp.html and the Plus Size Pregnancy website at http://www.plus-size-pregnancy.org. I must say I was particularly pleased with one reference to Ample Stuff (http://www.amplestuff.com) which makes available plus-size hospital gowns for men and women since I know this is a major issue in why some people don't go to the hospital or physician when they should!

Along with great references and specific concerns for larger people examined in intelligent ways, she does a great job about speaking of mental health issues also (particularly sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape). She also spends a good amount of time on birth control options and pregnancy. All in all, this section is handled extremely well and was one of my favorites to read (hardly surprising given my medical research pervert side).

Speaking of perversion (this said in the most loving of ways) she delves into the world of BDSM and fetish in her section on "Titillations and Tactics: Practical Sex for People of All Sizes". It is a minor exploration of these topics, but very nice to see right alongside more traditional forms of sexual expression such as masturbation, vaginal sex, anal sex, and sex toys.

She goes over different positions that may be advantageous for certain body types and what toys are best for different special needs (such as reach difficulties). This section also deals with the always controversial Feeder and Gainer subcultures. She explains the differences between those who have an interest in watching people eat/feeding people and those who have the specific aim of making their partner gain weight/gain weight themselves. I think this is the most nonjudgmental and healthy look at those subcultures that I've seen anywhere by someone who is not a part of it. She certainly expresses reservations about the practices, but she does it in an intelligent fashion and simply calls to the attention of readers that like in any form of sexual expression their are some guidelines people should consider such as the BDSM mantra of Safe, Sane, and Consensual.

I do have a few reservations about some of the information handed out in the BDSM section of this book, however. In specific, the area titled "The Truth About Crushing, Suffocation, and Smothering." Within this section she talks about breath play at one point (the practice of restricting or controlling airflow to a partner or yourself). She says things such as, "Any time you engage in play which restricts a bottom's ability to breathe, you have to be careful of how much you restrict their air and for how long." I felt this section fell incredibly short on information people would need to engage in this practice and sadly short on warnings about this style of play. This style of play happens to be a favorite of mine, and I am very well versed in the concept that play that restricts breathing can never be done safely. It can be done potentially safER, but not safeLY. Whenever a person's air is restricted sending the person into a state of hypoxia (lowered oxygen levels) or anoxia (total lack of oxygen) they run the risk of unpredictable death if the heart experiences premature ventricle contractions in response to it. If they experience those contractions it can send them into a particular form of cardiac arrest that is very hard to survive. Since no one can say that there are safe ways to avoid this complication or even recognize that it is happening (outside of having someone hooked to hospital equipment), I think the reader's should have been made aware of this risk. Also, since there is some evidence based on mountain sickness and police choke holds that larger people are more prone to experiencing these difficulties it should have been a real concern to bring up to this particular audience. In fairness, there isn't much general education on this topic available and most people wouldn't be aware of these things unless it was their particular kink and they'd spent a lot of times hitting the books. I just recognized it because it really is something I've spent time discovering.

Another absent bit of advice I wish I would have seen is in regard to fireplay (the practice usually includes acts of lighting someone's partner on fire in controlled ways that usually leave no burns). This type of edgeplay is particularly edgy for larger people if their partner allows alcohol to pool in the folds of their skin. If this occurs and the person is lit up, the fire will spread into those folds and cause some very nasty burning. This was learned the hard way by some women I know, and really should have been addressed I think since it is one of the rare injuries in BDSM that are really specific to larger people.

Another aspect of this chapter I feel uncomfortable with is the advice given about where it is appropriate to stand on the human body. I would have these reservations, regardless of the size of the person doing the standing. Hanne Blank says that, "Good places to put your weight, for many people, are over the coccyx (tailbone) and butt, between the shoulderblades, on the sternum (breast bone), and on the thighs." While I would agree with most of that, I have extreme reservations about the accuracy in regards to the coccyx and the sternum. I will admit that this is not a kink that I have a lot of experience in, but I do know that in terms of impact style play (that I grant has some very different dynamics involved) it is generally very poor form to strike those two areas. While it is true that an IMPACT is different than LOAD BEARING, I would have to see some evidence or research backing the claim that it was okay to stand on those areas before I ever would. I especially would get the creeping dooms watching someone step on another person's xiphoid process (the small cartilaginous sword shaped lower portion of the sternum), since I would suspect it would be particularly susceptible to damage. I would also add that she probably should have mentioned how to treat the rest of the spine aside from the tailbone, it would be my instinct to believe you should never stand on it (since you shouldn't hit it with anything either). She does do a good job of mentioning other off limit places like the kidneys, however. I want to stress that in the trampling area I am neither a medical expert nor a perverted expert on this topic so my concerns may be baseless. I would simply urge readers to do research of their own on these particular areas of the body before standing on them. The author argues that porn films sometimes show incredible amounts of weight borne by an individual and prove that such a thing is not dangerous. I would be very disinclined to trust porn films myself since many in the industry (though thankfully not all) are incredibly disinterested in the health issues of their actors and actresses and risky behavior is far from unheard of. I would have felt much happier about this advice if I had seen some explanation of why or some reference materials that she got this information from.

To be fair, this book isn't about the fine details of BDSM. She really didn't have a lot of space to go into very specific issues and it wasn't really specifically targeted to that community. I'm just a fussbudget when it comes to this sort of thing.

This book doesn't offer references in the text in the form of footnotes, but it does include a really impressive resource guide in the back. I could easily recommend this book JUST for that section, since it is incredibly thorough and helpful. It covers such things as magazines, webzines, books, sexuality resources, romance novels, artistic books, groups specific to certain orientations or special interests, videos, online personals, and so much more!

Another fascinating section of the book is the survey section. It reveals the results of a survey the author conducted on the web that received 109 rather interesting responses. It asked a lot of questions and the answers to the survey are sprinkled throughout the text in addition to the summary at the end. I found what the people offered in the way of response to be some of the most profound and incredible statements of the book and it established a great tone throughout the book.

So, who do I think would like this book?

I would recommend it mainly for heterosexual fat women and their male lovers who are into vanilla sex. This book is NOT just written for that group, but I think they would be best served by this information. To be sure, other types of individuals would benefit from reading it. I think that anyone struggling with body issues or that has a partner struggling with them would benefit from the self-examination and reassurance this book would provide. I also think that it might make a nice present for a bigot, since obviously they are in need of the education this book would afford them.

Who would I not recommend this for?

I wouldn't recommend this book for people who are mostly looking for a book on the mechanics of sexuality. The emphasis of this book is usually on the emotional and cultural, and I think if you want a simple list of positions or pictures of beautiful fat people this isn't for you. It tips the scale on the intellectual side rather than the libidinous. Also, although this book is inclusive it tends to look at things from a female standpoint (or at least it felt like that) so it may not be a book that would speak to a gay bear very well if he is put off by that. It also goes without saying that I would recommend further investigation into some of the BDSM information, because I feel shaky about endorsing it personally.

All in all, I really liked this book. It was fabulous (and about time) that someone put this information together! Hanne Blank does an intelligent, respectful, and thought provoking job of assembling a LOT of information in a very readable book. I sincerely hope that she decides to publish more books on these issues! In the meantime, you can check out her webpage at http://www.hanneblank.com

Vamp:)=

This review is Copyright © 2000 Vamp Ire.


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