Anyone struggling with the battle of the bulge will find the first of many jolts of inspiration on the title page of Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self. This aptly-chosen title is set against the backdrop of two photos - one of author Frances Kuffel weighing more than three hundred pounds and the other at her slim and trim weight closer to one hundred and thirty. The dramatic differences between these photographs (offering the resemblance of distant cousins, at best) will immediately pull you into Kuffel’s world as she provides the intimate details of losing half of her body weight and the emotional rollercoaster ride that takes her from the left hand side of the title page to the right.
On the most basic level, Kuffel’s story centers on her struggle with obesity and the trials and tribulations of her dramatic weight loss. Through a wide range of personal experiences, Kuffel provides an intimate perspective on her battle. She explores the shame and hopelessness associated with the most mundane tasks and illustrates the extent to which being obese defined her life. She openly describes walking a short distance and tying her shoes as fatigue-inducing activities and shares the painful experience of not being able to sit comfortably in an airplane seat. While admittedly only a finite number of people will ever find themselves needing to lose half of their body weight — and even fewer will possess the discipline and commitment to reach this goal - her honest and intimate details create a memoir that is a warm, refreshing and inspirational read.
Although Kuffel’s journey is a personal one, it is inextricably linked to her personal and professional relationships, and a great deal of attention is paid to this theme. Interactions between Kuffel and her friends and family members masterfully illustrate the difficulty that both Kuffel and others have accepting her weight-loss success. For example, at one point Kuffel’s mother, who finds it incredibly difficult to compliment her daughter, comments that a certain pairs of pants are too large for her daughter’s shrinking frame. In response to this statement, Kuffel almost instinctively divulges that her hectic schedule leaves little time for the proper ironing of her wardrobe. Conversations such as these not only put her battle in context, but also illustrate the powerful emotional and psychological components of her weight loss journey.
This memoir explores all phases of Kuffel’s transformation, and she tackles each with grace and compassion. She does a wonderful job of educating the reader about the challenges of being overweight, then shares her subsequent joy as she overcomes them. Just as she explains her obesity within the context of ordinary tasks, as she loses weight she revels in the fact that her new self can curl up in a movie theater seat and purchase attractive clothing in stores targeted to ordinary women. While Kuffel may have lost half of her body weight, she certainly did seem to gain a new self — my guess is that she is still composed of the same parts but merely found a better fit.