How Aubrey Gordon of “Maintenance Phase” Discovers the Humor in Health Myths

A force of nature, Aubrey Gordon’s laugh is an event. It has a warmth and power that could lift a fleet of hot air balloons off the ground. It is thunderous and bubbly. She is easily recognized in public thanks to her distinctive laugh. She recalled, “I was on the phone the first time, and the person I was speaking to said something funny. When I laughed, a person on their front porch spun around and exclaimed, “Is your name Aubrey?! “

Gordon is the author of “You Just Need to Lose Weight” and 19 Other Myths About Fat People, which will be released in January, as well as the book What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat. She is best known, however, as the co-host of Maintenance Phase, a well-known podcast whose goal is to “debunk the junk science behind health fads, wellness scams, and nonsensical nutrition advice” — a topic that is frequently depressing but also full of comedic opportunities. She and journalist Michael Hobbes delve into complex topics every two weeks, such as the BMI, The Biggest Loser, or Karl Lagerfeld’s diet manual, The Karl Lagerfeld Diet. The podcast, which debuted in the fall of 2020, has experienced tremendous success; a story about it appeared in the New York Times, and Vulture named it one of the best podcasts of 2021. On both Apple and Spotify, it frequently ranks among the Top 10 health and wellness podcasts. Like a lecture from your hippest college professor—the one who’s young and can text—each episode is humorous, chirpy, and thoroughly researched.

Despite the popularity of the show, Gordon rarely receives public recognition. Only three or four times has it occurred while she is walking the dog, which she frequently does to get rid of writer’s block. But given that Gordon’s identity was a bit of a mystery until 2018, the mere fact that she is recognized at all is noteworthy.

She became well-known using the alias Your Fat Friend. Under that pen name, she wrote about the psychological and physical hardships of being a fat person in America, including the horrors of air travel, being denied access to quality healthcare due to your weight, and being compelled against your will to deal with everyone’s complicated body image issues. Her Medium essays frequently received millions of views and thousands of views. She had tens of thousands of Twitter followers. She began contributing to Self magazine. While working a regular office job at a nonprofit where no one knew about her increasingly successful side-gig as the Clark Kent to Your Fat Friend’s Superman, she attracted the kind of attention and success most writers would gnaw their arms off for.

She described the surreal experience of juggling these two realities when we spoke over Zoom earlier this year. She also recalled how she watched as her essays went viral as she went about her daily routine. She says, “All day at work, I would go into a half-hour or an hour-long meeting, and when I came out, I would have hundreds of notifications saying things like, Roxane Gay sharing a piece, or James Corden sharing a piece, or Gavin Newsom sharing a piece. It simply blew up.

After obtaining a book deal, Gordon wrote an essay disclosing her name and weight before her debut book, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat, was published in November 2020. The choice was primarily rationally sound. She said, “It’s really challenging to do a book tour with a bag over my head or something.”

But she was also very concerned about her safety. Though they shouldn’t be radical concepts, fat acceptance and fat justice—the notion that obese people are deserving of respect, dignity, safety, rights, and freedom from oppression and discrimination—are. They also pose a serious challenge to those who uphold the status quo. Gordon had received a number of serious, targeted threats to her safety ever since she began writing in public. Her wrongdoing? being a fat individual who opposed fatphobia. She admits, “I was really scared that someone was going to show up at my house. Then a shrug, “My main concern was, can I do this and physically stay safe.” She chuckled.

“I’m still kicking!”

Oregon’s Beaverton is where Gordon grew up. Her father was a commercial airline pilot, and her mother had been an early childhood educator before becoming a school administrator. She was “a chubby little nerd who liked swim team and Shakespeare day camp,” in her own words.

After graduating from college, she spent many years working as a community organizer, concentrating on the rights of LGBTQ+ people, immigrants, and voters. Olympic-level communication skills were necessary for the job. Gordon had to be ready with facts, research, and the emotional intelligence necessary to persuade people to agree with her positions on every ballot measure that her group supported or opposed. She would need these when she began publishing her writing, but she would also occasionally need to use them in social situations.

Gordon and a friend got into a fight in 2016. It was one of those tense exchanges that don’t quite amount to a fight but nonetheless give both parties a bad taste in their mouths. What actually happened was that Gordon’s friend was talking about how she felt extremely badly about her body and her relationship with it. Yes, fine. The toxic diet culture fumes that tell us our bodies are flawed and bad and that the only way to fix them is to spend money on diet plans, protein shakes, exercise classes, and supplements are almost impossible to avoid.

However, she was discussing her body image with Gordon, who at the time, in Gordon’s estimation, weighed three times as much as she did. Gordon made an effort to persuade her friend to take into account how she might feel if she realized she was using fat-shaming language toward a fat person. I just need you to be aware that when you’re talking about what it means to be a fat person, you’re saying that to a fat person, she recalled trying to say. And listening to a friend wax lyrical about how much they would loathe to look like me can’t just be water off a duck’s back.

They continued to converse. Both she and Gordon’s friend thought the other wasn’t listening to them. They parted ways amicably, but there was still a problem. Gordon made the decision to draft a letter to her friend at home. She wasn’t sure if she would send it, but she wanted to express how their conversation had made her feel in as few words as possible.

She sent the letter to a different friend to make sure she wasn’t being “a total *sshole,” and he confirmed she wasn’t and even asked if he could post the letter on social media because he thought it was so powerful. Gordon paused. Even in her well-intentioned, left-leaning bubble, she might face serious personal and professional consequences.

There are a lot of leftists who support the idea wholeheartedly. That corporations and capitalism are the only reasons why fat people exist is absurd, according to Gordon, as though we have never existed before.

She looked online for a place to post it anonymously and eventually found Medium, where she posted it as Your Fat Friend. He posted it on his Facebook while she didn’t post it anywhere. After that, his friends and their friends began reposting it, and after a week, the post had received over 40,000 views.

Gordon became aware that she had a lot more to say after observing the enthusiastic reader response to the essay. Well, listen, I’ve got at least 30 more of those in me, she reasoned.

What Gordon wanted to write about was the somatic and emotional experience of being a fat person in the world, which her friend had not been able or willing to understand in their initial, unsatisfying conversation. She wrote in her essays about how she felt cut off from the people she loved when they said, “You’re not fat!” She wrote about how strangers felt entitled to make comments about her body and how doctors told her to lose weight when all she wanted was treatment for an ear infection. Because of prejudice against fat people, she claims that fat people frequently find themselves in extremely dangerous situations. She intended to speak about that.

At the time, Gordon’s writing was uncommon in the media. Outside of academic and activist circles, a large portion of the body acceptance discourse consisted of lots of cis, white, able-bodied, straight-size (i.e., sizes 00 to 14) women loudly declaring their willingness to love their bodies despite flaws like cellulite or rolls of belly skin in public. Really, a lot of the discourse is still focused on that kind of material. Gordon, however, wasn’t particularly interested in that discussion. “It just became a vehicle for people who were already well within the beauty standard to feel like they were the most within the beauty standard,” said the author of the study.

As Gordon typed, her inbox flooded with requests for comment from fans, trolls, and journalists. A message from reporter Michael Hobbes asking if she would be willing to be interviewed for a story was one of them. She ignored it and all the other messages because she was so overwhelmed. Because it was so much more than I had anticipated, she says, “I was really freaked out.”

Eventually, she did get along with Hobbes. They had lunch in Seattle in 2019 and stayed in touch after she saw his message when she went to contact him regarding a piece he had written for the Huffington Post in 2018 titled “Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong.” Then, in 2020, close to the start of the COVID lockdown, Hobbes, a co-host of the well-known podcast You’re Wrong About, made the decision to launch a spinoff program devoted solely to debunking health and wellness myths. He immediately considered Gordon as a co-host.

Hobbes claims that Gordon’s capacity to strike a balance between narrative storytelling and factual knowledge is what makes her both a successful writer and host. She excels at incorporating both personal details and context from a scientific, factual perspective. The same thing happens when you speak to her. She seamlessly transitions back and forth between the two. Therefore, it gives the impression that a smart person is explaining the science and explaining why it is important to them.

In Gordon’s words, “Mike called and was basically like, “Do you want to do a podcast?” and we were both like, “You seem fun, and I’m bored.” that is how Maintenance Phase began.

There were initially only six episodes of Gordon and Hobbes. They had no idea how guests would react or whether they would get along as co-hosts. However, they did, and after they began to release the episodes, which covered subjects like the Presidential Physical Fitness Test, fen-phen, Snackwell cookies, and Moon Juice, “it got big fast,” in Gordon’s words. Maintenance Phase resumed with a regular, biweekly schedule after a brief break. The popularity of the show grew over time, and Gordon and Hobbes eventually started a Patreon and sold merchandise featuring show quotes like “Ohio: A Paradise for the Incompetent” and “History Should Make You Feel Weird.”

Gordon is no longer employed by her company. She wakes up every day at 6:30 or 7, takes her dog for a walk, spends her mornings doing research, and her afternoons writing, calling her typical day “super boring in a way that I deeply love.” About once per week, she and Hobbes record a joint album. She enjoys watching women’s soccer, Taskmaster, and spending time with her family when she is not working.

Because it enables listeners to realize that it’s not their fault if they feel bad or confused about a lot of the health and wellness messaging out there, Gordon claims she believes the podcast has struck a chord with people. In actuality, confusion is frequently intentional. She says that in many discussions about body image, it is assumed that the problem is with the person’s brain. And not about how you constantly hear people yelling at you about what will happen to you if you gain weight, change your appearance, become disabled, or anything else. So in reality, it’s not a problem with your brain. In essence, that is the intended result of a number of marketing choices.

Micheal Kurt

I earned a bachelor's degree in exercise and sport science from Oregon State University. He is an avid sports lover who enjoys tennis, football, and a variety of other activities. He is from Tucson, Arizona, and is a huge Cardinals supporter.

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