SparkleFat: Poems That Intend To Be Seen

Every now and again, the internet gives me a jewel. Sometimes when we look hard enough, we find the things we so desperately need more than the things we want.

SparkleFat: Poems That Intend to be Seen by Melissa May is one of those things. I found it looking around on Amazon for books about fat studies. Lo and behold came a body positive book of poems. It was written back in 2014, so reviewing it is kind of like showing up late to a party, but May’s poems have affected me profoundly. So here we go.

SparkleFat struck me first as unique in its existence. It’s rare enough to see literature that celebrates or even features fat characters. One has to sift through diet books on Amazon just to reach the fat studies books and body positive memoirs (of which, I have acquired a small library, oops). It’s hard enough to find any of these things and the last thing I expected to find was a book of poems written by a fat women for her fellow fat women.

Obviously I bought it right then and there.

In this book of poems, Melissa May lays bare the scars of a fat woman, of a person with mental illness, of a woman who had convinced herself that she was unworthy. The vulnerability she exposes it the same as I my own. She finds a way to speak my shame and my pride in the same breath. This book of poems is a monologue of May’s life, but her experiences are familiar to many.

There are 19 poems in total. Now, as an English major and writer my expertise has never been in poetry. That disclaimer in mind, I think her poems are beautifully written. There is a gentleness to the way she writes about her fat body. There is a softness that has been developed in her reclamation. She writes a love song to her belly. She blesses the softness of her skin and it convinces you that you can do the same.

“Belly — you deserve roses. You deserve sonnets and balconies of lovesick declarations. You un-uglied ducklin, high-tide of miracle. ripple-wave of womanhood, this is for you.” from Belly (A love song)

At times it was painful to read. Painful in a useful way. It’s the Pull-Yourself-Away-From-This-Book-Before-You-Cry-at-Starbucks kind of painful. Many people know what it’s like to feel shame. Many people know what it’s like to feel shame about their body (like, everybody). Melissa May knows what it feels like to spend decades (two decades for her and for me. For some, even more.) feeling hatred and loathing for one’s self.

“I learned to operate all of your weapons with better accuracy. I learned all the words to my own eulogy. I learned more danger than your mouth is capable of holding. I learned to fill myself on hatred for this body without the smug satisfaction chaser. I learned to swallow it all down. I learned to swallow it all down. I learned to unravel into the most deserving whipping post. I learned it all.” — from An Open Letter to Fat-Shamers from an Incendiary Body

And right alongside the gentleness and the vulnerability there is righteous anger. There is a how-fucking-dare-you message to the stone-throwers and body shamers.

“I know what fat is. It is the body, not the cross that I carry, and you cannot have it anymore. I am taking fat back. I am putting it on the highest of high shelves, I am tending to its broken and bloody and misused. I am spooning nourishment past its lips. I am giving fat its life back.” — from To the Strangers and the Not Strangers Who Continue to Use the Word Fat Like A Weapon (A Linguistics Lesson)

Melissa May writes to me. She writes to the family that refuses to say ‘fat’. She writes to everyone who has shamed her. She writes to those she has envied and coveted and hated. She writes to her body. And if you’ve ever known shame and depression then she writes to you. I wish I had found this book sooner, but I’m glad I found it now. I recommend it for any fat girl who has felt the too much/not enough paradox of fatphobia. I recommend it to people who seek to understand what fatphobia even is. I recommend it anyone who enjoys spoken word poetry (because, even if you read it out loud you can really feel it was meant for spoken word). I highly recommend Sparklefat, the body positive book of poems.

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Originally published at on October 10, 2016.