Real Live Woman
And I no longer justify reasons for the way that I behave / I offer no apologies for the things that I believe and say / And I like it that way.
—Trisha Yearwood, “Real Live Woman”
Kirstie Alley’s How to Lose You Ass and Regain Your Life is not a how-to at all. There’s not a single mention of any specific activity vital to living a more fulfilled life, and nowhere does it instruct on losing that ass or regaining anything. The book, an accompaniment to Alley’s Showtime series, Fat Actress, is about that all-important self-acceptance and realization that You are in control of Your life, Your experiences, and the size of Your butt. And that not a single soul, not Kirstie or Oprah or L. Ron Hubbard, besides You can make the necessary changes to get Your ass, and Your life in shape.
It might sound standard and maybe a bit sappy, but don’t break out the violins just yet. Alley’s book is not a sob story of weight woes we’ve heard a million times. It’s an intimate look back at key moments in the star’s life that have formed her as a woman, in mind and body. She recalls her “geeky” childhood and her struggles in Los Angeles as a wannabe movie star, noting along the way several life-changing moments that forced her to push harder for success or to pull back and wallow a bit, in self-pity (after numerous failed romances), drug-induced shame (throughout a raging coke habit), or understandable sorrow (following the death of her mother).
The point of all this reminiscing is to decipher exactly what led to Alley’s letting go of her body and ending up a food-addicted, fat-butted, 50-year-old former star. She does this with a stripped back, ultra-dry, Rebecca-esque humor that doesn’t overwhelm the seriousness of her weight concerns or the issue at large. For Alley and for the women she seeks to assist (“This is our journey,” she says in the book’s introduction), humor is a necessary part of coping with what she calls the “social brutality” of “fatty haters”.
At the same time, she refuses to consider being fat some kind of emotional prison, too delicate a situation to tiptoe around. She makes fun of certain elements of fat-life:
[An] advantage to triple-X is anonymity. At a moment’s notice, if threatened with being spotted by an old high school friend with a still-hot body, or an extremely attractive man who shouldn’t see you yet in a triple-X, you can whip the triple-X over you head, drop down to you knees and pose as a big bag of dirty laundry waiting to be picked up by a service.
And highlights the silliness of a concentration on it when other things are more pressing:
I wish sometimes that the woman who killed my mother the night could have known her… After [the] whole ordeal I realized I’d learned a very good lessons about life—the Beverly Hills diet was really effective, but there’s nothing like death to take of those last four stubborn pounds.
Or more life-affirming:
December 21st, 2004: New Year’s Eve. Made giant bonfire in forest in Oregon with True and Lillie… Danced with children for hours around fire… Forgot to make New Year’s resolution. Too consumed in wonderment of my beautiful, dancing children.
In these short passages, she makes clear her belief that weight can be debilitating, embarrassing, and difficult to lose, but that such a reliance on it as a maker or breaker of personal happiness is positively bizarre when the solution is readily available to anyone who chooses to put in the effort: “I screwed myself,” she says about gaining weight. “No one put a gun to my head.”
Alley’s backwards search through her life doesn’t bring forth easy answers and it certainly doesn’t give her something to spirit blame on to. She discusses Christmases with family that connected ideas of “fun” and “food” in her young mind, but never does she openly condemn that connection. Nor does she blame her “Nazi helmet” haircut as a school kid for her feelings of physical inadequacy among other beautiful, potential stars. She doesn’t blame former boyfriends or bad choices within past relationships for her divorces or her four-year celibacy following her weight gain. Alley’s point when considering these things is simply to assess. She refuses to look anywhere other than inwardly for the reasons behind her particular style of living up until 2004 when she decided to make her own effort to get in shape.
Alley’s public persona prior to 2004 and Fat Actress was that of an overweight has-been, something, she notes, that was distressing to her not because of its effect on her, but because of her kids’ reaction, especially her son who periodically became as weight-obsessed as his mom: “I worried that he worried that if her were photographed with me by the paparazzi, he might publicly be called fat, too,” she writes. “This thought broke my heart.”
As tragic as that is, it’s part of what makes Alley’s story so convincing. This isn’t Suzanne Somers telling women of the world that a plastic triangle between the knees for ten minutes a day will turn them into Chrissy Snow. Kirstie’s desire to lose weight has nothing to do with appearance, or health. It has to do with what she wants for herself after her very specific and very personal 50-year history as a food-loving, comfort-seeking, real live woman.