As spring and summer draw near, swimsuit season is almost upon us. That's also the season I constantly compare my body to others.
As a woman, I've felt extra pressure to stay slim. I've also wondered what other women say about the demands to lose weight and diet.
I scoured the internet and my bookshelf for the best body-positive books, written by women who understand the burden of societal expectations. I read reviews from other well-known authors, critics and media organizations and researched what other bookworms had to say. And then I drew up this curated list of the most popular and celebrated books about loving your own body.
Whether you want to accept yourself more or just read, these books are for all of us.
Established writer, professor and avid Twitter user Roxane Gay published her seventh book and first memoir, Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, in 2017. It quickly became a New York Times Best Seller for its honesty about weight gain and the struggle with food, health and body image.
I currently have two other books by Roxane Gay on my bookshelf: Bad Feminist and Not That Bad. Both are a collection of essays from Gay and other contributing writers. I'm a fan of creative nonfiction, and Gay captures exactly what I love about the genre in all three books -- authenticity.
In Hunger, Gay explains that her memoir is not a weight-loss success story and that she won't be describing how she went from a plus-size to thin. (Spoiler alert: She doesn't lose any weight.) Instead, what Gay learns is much more, such as self-love, compassion, companionship and acceptance.
Gay doesn't write from a pedestal. She speaks to her audience directly and in ways someone who has also struggled with body acceptance would understand.
"This is a book about my body, about my hunger, and ultimately, this is a book about disappearing and being lost and wanting so very much, wanting to be seen and understood. This is a book about learning, however slowly, to allow myself to be seen and understood." -- Roxane Gay
You might like this book if…
You enjoy raw, vulnerable work or prefer nonfiction or memoir writing. This book is for those who aren't looking for that perfect fairytale ending but seeking a piece of work that is human and relatable.
Following a very successful online career, blogger, photographer and self-love advocate, Jes Baker published her first book, Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living. Her blog, The Militant Baker, has been featured in prominent media outlets, such as Time Magazine, People, Buzzfeed and CNN.
Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living details the life-changing movement of learning to love your body. At the forefront of the fight, Baker encourages her readers to reject fat-shame and to challenge preconceived notions about the "perfect body."
Baker writes that her book is for those with a body who are sick and tired of apologizing for it. She believes that you should be allowed and expected to do all the things that make you happy, which includes just being able to live your life.
A unique aspect of this book is that it includes challenges. Baker calls them "The Fat People: Do All the Things" challenges. The idea is based on one of her satirical blog posts calling out things fat people are told they aren't allowed to do. Readers can choose to participate by accepting these challenges.
"We are more likely to be told by the world that we are good people than anything else. Funny, creative, intelligent, commutative, generous, maybe even extraordinary. What we are not told is that our bodies are perfect just the way they are. Like, ever. We are taught that our outsides are flawed, and not only that, but the majority of our worth lies in our physical appearance." -- Jes Baker
You might like this book if…
You are someone who wants something more from a book. Jes Baker's guide is for those who want to make the lessons in this book and the movement of self-love a lifestyle.
If you've followed any body-positivity accounts or body-positive women on Instagram in the past couple of years, chances are you've already heard of this book by Caroline Dooner. As an ex-dieter, Dooner has healed her unhealthy obsession with food and weight.
Dooner believes that you don't need to change your diet or try something new -- you need to change the way you think about food. She says diets aren't sustainable, at least not in the long run, and thinks that putting your body through constant dieting and binging is not a healthy or enjoyable way to live.
A memoir with heart and humor, The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy encourages readers to eat. That means understanding when your body is hungry and meeting your body's needs with food. Dooner says eating should be simple, and she breaks it down to its truest and natural form.
"When you eat, you are actually bringing 'the earth' into your body -- tying you to the planet and keeping you alive. It's bringing weight to your physical existence. The act of eating and coming back into your body is asking you to accept being human. It is asking us to integrate with the most uncomfortable, messy, earthly, painful, and base parts of our existence." -- Caroline Dooner
You might like this book if….
You're looking for a laugh while you read, Dooner does a great job describing and poking fun at the struggles we all face. The book, which resembles laughing and conversing with a friend, is for those looking to no longer feel guilty for eating and gaining weight.
Former beauty fanatic Anuschka Rees wrote Beyond Beautiful: A Practical Guide to Being Happy, Confident, and You in a Looks-Obsessed World as a captivating self-care publication. Don't just take my word for it -- Caroline Dooner (author of The F*ck it Diet above) called this book a "self-confidence bible that every woman should read."
Beyond Beautiful reads like a guide for a college course, and the first chapter is adequately named Body Image 101. This book has taught me a lot, for instance, I had never heard of the term "body neutral." Rees explains that being body positive is a step in the right direction, as we need to change beauty standards in society, but we also need to be body neutral. It's a call to respect ourselves as human beings, not just body parts that we shrink and pick apart.
Rees's guide is unique in that over 600 real women were interviewed about their struggles with body image. Their quotes and real-life stories are scattered throughout the chapters. There are also reflection questions, colorful artwork and advice about when and how to receive professional help.
"A healthy body image is a bit like a great work-life balance: we know we definitely want it, but we are not 100 percent clear on what it actually looks like, or how to get it. And the fact that body image is a hot topic right now hasn't made things any more straightforward; because mixed in with all the good advice, there is a whole bunch of conflicting information and misconceptions that have muddied the waters further." -- Anuschka Rees
You might like this book if….
You are looking to take a crash course on positive body image and self-love. I would recommend this guide to those new to the present-day movement who want to learn but don't know where to start.
Lindy West began her writing career as an opinion writer for The New York Times. With this professional background, you wouldn't expect West to produce such a comical piece of writing as her memoir, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.
The title of this memoir might sound familiar to you -- as it did to me -- because the book has recently been adapted into a Hulu series of the same name, starring Aidy Bryant from Saturday Night Live. Bryant's performance in the series earned her a nomination for a 2021 Primetime Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
West's Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman is a feminist, and most times, humorous, take on women's body image. It describes the experience of many women who feel they need to shrink themselves down to hide and to blend into society. West writes about her personal struggles with body weight and that exact feeling.
"Please don't forget, I am my body. When my body gets smaller, it is still me. When my body gets bigger, it is still me. There is not a thin woman inside of me awaiting excavation. I am one piece." -- Lindy West
You might like this book if…
You're looking to expand your library on feminist commentary, especially around body positivity. This memoir is also for those who enjoy or are interested in Roxanne Gay's Hunger. Both are from the same genre and tell a story with intimate detail.
Why these books are important
This is far from an exhaustive list of body-positive books. As this movement becomes more popular, I hope this list grows and the audience expands.
These books are important because they offer a voice to those who feel shamed or discounted by diet and exercise-excessive culture. They also provide a supportive community for those who struggle with society's beauty and weight standards.
Positive body image and self-love are ideals that everyone should bring into the new year. Here's hoping these books encourage and guide you into a more profound love of self.