'Fat' author says love of body should come first, weight loss second

June 25, 1993|By Kathey Clarey | Kathey Clarey,McClatchy News Service

Irene O'Garden spent some 30 years of her life hating her body. She'd overeat and balloon up in weight, then go on a diet, then overeat again. And all the while a voice inside would tell her how stupid and unworthy she was.

Finally, Ms. O'Garden accepted herself and, as she writes in her new book, "Fat Girl" (HarperSan Francisco, $12), "I gather up the cookie-bloated child, the aching-hearted teen, the wounded Bitch Within, and thank them all for teaching me. I give them love. I let them go.

"Who takes their place? A body supple with beliefs. Now I love my body and my body loves me back. I love this face, these arms, these breasts, this waist, these hips, these thighs, these legs as they are now."

In a world where fashion models starve themselves to thinness and 90 percent of fourth-grade girls are on a diet, the 41-year-old author is a voice for reason.

"The idea today is the survival of the fittest," she said during a telephone interview from her home in New York.

"We can't trust our bodies. We have to do everything intellectually and scientifically. As an approach to life, that doesn't work. You can trust your instincts."

Ms. O'Garden's turning point didn't happen on a certain day at a certain time. To accept herself was a decision she kept making.

"I listened to myself. The more I learned to rely on the voice saying I was a worthwhile human being, [the more] I learned to forgive myself and go on.

"Eating is a pretty basic human function, and once I let go of my obsession with it I was able to act, write a book and tour the country. It was quite liberating."

She also dropped 50 pounds and now wears either a size 8 or nTC 10. She even started exercising, something she previously hated.

Ms. O'Garden's book began as a list to keep her from regaining her weight. When it assumed book form, she realized "Fat Girl" contained a lot of feelings and emotion.

However, publishers rejected the book for eight years. They thought it had merit, but didn't know what to do with it. After Ms. O'Garden performed at Vassar, a writer friend asked to take a look at the manuscript. They made a few changes and the second publisher Ms. O'Garden sent it to said yes.

"I think this is the right time for the book," she said. "When midi skirts came in in the '70s, women rejected them and broke fashion wide open. There was freedom in what people wore. I think we're ready for that to happen with bodies."

Her next creation, due out in January, is "The Fat Girl Companion," a 128-page illustrated paperback of tips, advice and encouragement.

Ms. O'Garden believes the media and weight loss groups can help alleviate eating disorders and food obsessions by changing their goals. "I think the goal should be feeling comfortable with yourself. Then you take the pressure off and grow as a human being."

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