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Chicagoist Contributor Hits Your Local Bookstore

By Scott Smith in Arts & Entertainment on May 10, 2005 3:11PM

2005_05_10_shea.jpgWhen Chicagoist highlighted some local authors a couple weeks ago, we omitted a book (and author) that’s very close to our hearts. Making its official debut in bookstores today is Erin J. Shea’s Tales from the Scale. Foodies and other frequent Chicagoist readers will already be familiar with Erin’s witty and insightful prose here. Permit us a few minutes to brag on one of our own, won’t you?

Upon first glance at the cover, you might assume that Tales From The Scale is another how-to tome on weight loss. Far from it. The book distinguishes itself first by its all-blogger lineup of contributors and its qualitative look at life as “the Fat Chick.” Like a compendium of blog entries, the writers discuss the horror of “weigh-in day”, buying “fat” clothes, and the uncertainty of identity that can come when the weight is lost.

With great reviews from various trade magazines already pouring in, we figure it's only a matter of time before Shea hits the big time. So we sat down for a recent interview with her to discuss the book before she stops returning our phone calls.

Chicagoist: You’re competing in a field that’s not exactly hurting for books about weight loss. What need were you trying to fill with the book?
E.J. Shea: The market is saturated with these sad "Fat Girl Triumphs Over All" stories. What she ends up triumphing over varies but for the most part weight loss and women are caged in these tidy, tangible, digestible little packages where everyone can feel good about [himself or herself] because someone -- whether it's the Fat Girl or the reader -- has learned something in the end. Body image and weight loss isn't that dramatic and the story is never quite that tidy. Anytime it is, invariably someone is leaving something out somewhere or lying.

I just wanted to assemble a myriad of voices from women whose experiences were completely different from each other but shared common themes. Dating, sex, clothes, body image -- these are things that most people can relate to no matter where they fall on the scale. It's really more about the stories than anything else.

C: These folks are all bloggers, right?
EJS: Some of us who are relatively old-school consider ourselves, "online journalers." Some of us have lost upwards of 125 pounds, some around 50. Some have kept it all off, others gained all of it back. None of followed the same "diet plan," though some lost weight in similar ways. We don't really talk about that stuff much, though. It's not really important. The only common theme is that each woman wrote about these issues online for an audience. Sometimes it's sad but most often it's hysterical. Really. What we put ourselves through and the messages we've bought into are worth a laugh, not some introspective navel gazing.

C: And there is some funny stuff in here like your frustration over the Weight Watchers points system and how you like your weight loss programs like you like your porn: soft-core. But the stories don’t shy away from deep emotions either.
EJS: While there are certainly poignant pieces in the book, we wanted to comment frankly and honestly about dieting and exercise beyond some of the tragedy that results in weight gain in the first place. Because honestly? It's not always that fucking tragic. It's not always symbolic of anything other than a person enjoying a great meal and hating aerobics classes.

C: Even though you set out to put together a book that doesn’t wrap things up in a tidy way, each of the stories in the final chapter do end on notes of optimism and acceptance with statements like “I’m a work in progress” or “Fuck ‘em.”
EJS: If the book somehow convinces someone to quit hating herself so much, wasting so much caring what everyone thinks of her ass, then we did a good job. I think.

Erin J. Shea will be reading selections from Tales from The Scale at 7 PM tomorrow at Transitions (1000 W. North Avenue) and this Friday at 12:30 PM at the Borders on State.