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  Fat Stupid Ugly: One Woman’s Courage to Survive
by Debrah Constance as told to J.I. Kleinberg
Foreword by Penny Marshall
  Category: Inspiration / Self-Help
  Publication date: September 2004
  Publisher: Health Communications, Inc.
  Binding: Trade Paper
  Size: 5 1/2” x 8 1/2”
  ISBN: 0-7573-0225-4
  Pages: 220pp
  Price: $12.95


“Debrah's journey should be an inspiration and give hope to those who feel they've been dealt an unfair hand in life. A remarkable story of determination and faith.” Johnny Carson

“The most compelling part of this book relates how Constance, who was named California’s Woman of the Year in 1994, founded A Place Called Home—a youth center in South-Central Los Angeles that has become a refuge for inner-city gang members and gives them a chance to turn their lives around....largely thanks to the author’s hard work and commitment.” Publishers Weekly

“The remarkable Debrah Constance has been one of my great inspirations—a successful businesswoman who decided that she wanted her life to be about something larger than herself and created A Place Called Home, a haven of safety and creativity for children and teens. Her life story is heartbreaking and inspiring, filled with passion and hope. Read it and weep... and cheer. And be prepared to rethink your life.” Arianna Huffington, syndicated columnist and author of Fanatics and Fools: the Game Plan for Winning Back America

“Debrah Constance is a hero to me. She has not only turned around the lives of the children at A Place Called Home, but she’s turned around my life because she’s taught me to do, not just talk. Her story is so important for America to hear.” Jasmine Guy, actress and author of Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary

“...A Place Called Home sprang from the imagination of Debrah Constance, who tells her colorful and unconventional story in these pages. The need for such a place—and dozens like it—is indisputable. But to assemble a devoted paid and volunteer staff, to build and maintain unique programs, to continually attract new donors, and to keep the whole operation going, through good times and bad, for nearly eleven years, is a tribute to Debrah’s passion and a gift to the community. It is an honor to be a part of A Place Called Home.” Penny Marshall, Director, from the Foreword to Fat Stupid Ugly: One Woman’s Courage to Survive.

“Fat, Stupid, Ugly” is gut wrenching, horrifying and inspiring. Debrah’s story of how she takes the difficulties of her life and uses them to fuel her drive to help others; the children, the gang members and the mothers of APCH is painfully moving. Her actions and choices are an inspiration and profound teaching to us all. Debrah brings her miraculous love, Beauty, hope, learning and a chance to make a difference to her people. It is an honor and privilege to know her. This woman is a Heroine of our times.” Ana Forrest, Creatress of Forrest Yoga, Founder of Forrest Yoga Circle, Santa Monica, California

“Not only was I moved by Debrah's chilling story, but also completely inspired by her incredible dedication toward life. It was intriguing to witness her ability to keep a tight grasp on the gifts of lightness and humor during her darkest times. Debrah's remarkable strength to persevere motivated me to move down my own path with more grace and dignity. As a survivor of childhood abuse I found Fat Stupid Ugly to be a refreshing answer to the typical and unauthentic recourses available today.”
N. Poole

“This book made me feel like I could accomplish anything. For most of us, good self-esteem and good self image drives us to do great things ... make more money, create a home for our family, be the best kind of person we can be, and do right in the world. But for Debrah Constance, not having any self-esteem and being labeled “Fat Stupid Ugly” pushed her to help a displaced community deal with life's hardest issues -- drug addictions, gang violence, single parenting, school drop outs, and death. Debrah is the founder of “A Place Called Home,” a South Central Los Angeles youth center that provides at risk children, ages nine to twenty, with a secure, positive family environment where they an regain hope and belief, earn trust and self-respect and learn skills to lead to a productive life. Debrah's memoir chronicles her life as an abused child who thought so little of herself she endured deep psychological and emotional problems, drug and drinking addictions and abusive relationships throughout her life. After a life long struggle with her poor self image, she found a way to change her pattens, get help for her drug/alcohol problems and give back to children who have lost hope. This is an amazing person. I found hope and direction for my own life after reading it. I hope I get an opportunity to meet her one day so I can thank her. Her story belongs on the Oprah show so that other people can learn that even when the most unfortunate situation occurs ... there is hope. Thank you Debrah!” Tony, South Jersey, from Amazon.com

“My name is Olivia, and I'm 15 years old. I just read your book “Fat, Stupid, Ugly”. I originally read it for a school project, but now I can't tear my self away from books dealing with the amazing places and things people have done to help others. Originally I wanted to become a pediatrician because I wanted to help children. Reading your book opened my eyes to another area were I can help people of all ages, and not just children. I think, I will still keep my dream of becoming a pediatrician, but I hope to start and organization like your A Place Called Home were I can help others. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years I'll come to visit A Place Called Home. I would really love to join your staff one day. I'm writing you this e-mail just to let you know what a big impact your book had on me. I've always had a knack for helping others; weather is just simply donating food for a food drive, or giving my clothes that don't fit me to children, to the Salvation Army, or to my church. Your book has inspired me to do even more, to go further. Even though I'm only 15 I want to make a difference in the lives of others, weather it be sharing my talent of dance and music with the people of my community, or simply letting a friend know that they can talk to me. Thank you for inspiring me to do more, and showing me that I can make a difference. Good luck to A Place Called Home. I hope your success keeps rising; all of you there are true angels to those who are in need.” Olivia, student


EXCERPTS from Fat Stupid Ugly: One Woman’s Courage to Survive

Excerpt, Author’s Note, page xv-xvi:

I began life, it would seem, as some kind of Grimm’s fairy-tale creature, large and oafish, undesirable, grossly imperfect. Neatly penned in my baby book were the words, “Debbie was a fat, unattractive baby.”

Fat and ugly aside, my life was fairly normal for the first couple of years. During that uncomplicated time I could have set out on any of a dozen different paths toward an orderly life. Found my way to happiness without significant chaos or pain. But it was not to be.

Before I could talk, the abuse began, followed by a haunting succession of smoking and pills, rage and rebellion, alcoholism, cancer, and broken marriages. The path I took was rutted and slippery, dark and twisted, looping back on itself in unmarked detours.

But this is not a story of defeat. This is a book about surviving. It’s about hope. It’s about the amazing resilience of the human spirit. It’s about how each of us—ordinary, imperfect, damaged—can dream and empower and heal.

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Excerpt, page 18:

During the day, I practiced piano in the already smoky den. I’d sit at the upright with an ashtray nearby and a cigarette dangling from my lips. But once I had stubbed out the cigarette, I couldn’t leave the butt in the ashtray as evidence, so I’d quickly shove it behind the music holder. Mother caught me smoking at the piano many times, but it wasn’t until Tchaikovsky developed a smoker’s cough that the piano tuner, and Mother, discovered the extent of my subterfuge: hundreds of cigarette butts had fallen inside the piano, packed themselves beneath the keys, and, dropping down further, piled up beneath the pedals until the pedals jammed, useless.

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Excerpt, page 40-41:

I did a lot of sewing and decided I wanted to work in the motion picture business designing costumes. Grandpa offered to pay for me to go to school to learn pattern making, so I signed up for classes at Santa Monica College. I was so proud. College! I wouldn’t have to be a high school dropout for the rest of my life.

I showed up that first day for my pattern-making class and I couldn’t have been any more excited. I sat down in the classroom and looked around, surprised to see that all of the other students were young men. There were no sewing machines, just big tables and huge pieces of industrial equipment. It turned out to be a class on making patterns for machinery. The first things we made were a nut and a bolt. I stuck with it until one of the boys bloodied himself on a saw. I never told Grandpa I had quit. I just kept working.

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Excerpt, page 51-52:

If ever there was a child that was wanted, it was Gideon. I had wanted a child all my life. I had practiced on my dolls, but I had dreamed of a real baby. I was ecstatic through my pregnancy, and couldn’t imagine being a mother to anyone more perfect and beautiful than this little boy. And I knew exactly what to do: I treated him the way I treated my dolls, loving him more than anything in the world. I nursed him, fed him, changed him, and sewed for him. I didn’t hit him or molest him or call him names. He was my living doll.

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Excerpt, page 61-62:

In the midst of these wild times, I came up with the idea of bartending as the perfect job. I could be home with Gideon and do my weaving during the day, and work at night while Gideon slept, making decent money to support the two of us. So once again, I enrolled in school, this time at the Berkeley School of Bartending. Never did I imagine that memorizing hundreds of recipes would be so difficult. The reading and numbers were agonizing, but by this time I could talk to anyone and I knew something about drinking, so I stuck with it.

Gideon must have just started reading and every day he would test me with my three-by-five recipe cards. My friends took me out shopping, and I bought all these Lucille Ball-style bartending outfits—off-the-shoulder blouses, cinched waists, short, flouncy skirts. I went to school every day and studied really, really hard. I memorized my recipes and practiced making all kinds of exotic drinks, and finally, I graduated. My friends threw me a big party. I was very proud. It’s the only diploma I’ve ever earned and it’s still framed and hanging on my wall.

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Excerpt, page 76:

While work was my respite from my personal anxieties, from time to time, on the way to lunch or a meeting, I’d catch my reflection in a window and see Arnold looking back at me. Here I was—like him an advertising executive, hair cut short, a smoker, a drinker—emulating the father who had abused me. If there was irony in that, I managed to lessen its sting with another glass of wine.

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Excerpt, page 95:

Except for my pregnancy, when I put my baby first and managed to stop smoking and drinking, I had smoked through good times and bad. I smoked when my beautiful son asked me not to. I smoked through cancer and marriages and divorces and right on into my sobriety, where I found myself surrounded by equally cigarette-fixated alcoholics. I simply saw myself as a smoker, even doing a self-portrait weaving in which I have a cigarette hanging out of my mouth.

I was a smoker for life at the rate of two and a half packs a day.

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Excerpt, page 99:

Growing up, I carried a terrible burden of shame, knowing that I was too ugly for other people to look at. I would turn up my collar, try to hide my face, and went out of my way to avoid seeing my reflection in a mirror.

I was the Ugly Duckling, but I continually failed to turn into a swan. I looked at my mother and my sisters, who were all beautiful, and I was certain that I was adopted. How could those beautiful people be related to me? I searched the house for adoption papers, convinced that they would reveal the truth.

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Excerpt, page 112:

To become a member of APCH, the children had to sign a written pledge, agreeing to ten rules that haven’t changed since we opened our doors: no smoking, no drinking, no drugs, no weapons, no graffiti, no racism, no fighting, no profanity, no gang-related “colors” and no gang-related apparel.

Our earliest members were high-school age and we stretched the age range at the upper end to include older children who were out of school and had no place to go. If they weren’t gang members themselves, almost every child had at least one gang member in their family, often more. Most lived well below the poverty line; many had parents and siblings in prison or otherwise missing from their lives. Many had seen their friends and family members gunned down in gang warfare and drive-by shootings. The pressures and dangers of the street were, and are, powerful and unrelenting.

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Excerpt, page 131:

If “it takes a village” to raise a child, we quickly learned that it would take a flock of angels to operate a successful youth center. During our grand-opening celebration in 1993, one of our volunteers answered the phone and, turning to me, said, “It’s for you—it’s Johnny Carson.” Oh sure, I thought, as I picked up the receiver and a woman said, “I have Johnny Carson on the line for you, one moment please.” It really was Johnny Carson, calling to say that he had seen an article in the paper, loved what I was doing, and he wanted to send me a small check showing his appreciation. A couple of days later, a check arrived in the mail. Mr. Carson became—and has remained—one of our angels.

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Excerpt, page 143:

No matter what we do, we can’t shield the children entirely from the realities of the street. We’ve lost some children to gang violence, drugs, and drive-by shootings. But we have also witnessed great change: drug-dealing gangsters turning into professional musicians, high-school dropouts earning scholarships to college, scrawny children turning into graceful dancers.

In ten years, many of our original members have entered adulthood. A whole new generation of children comes through our doors. From the earliest days, my vision for A Place Called Home has been fueled by hope and dreams, inspired by the heroic lives of our young members, and challenged by the economics of survival in an uncertain world.

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Excerpt, page 149:

The children came into my office and I’d pay attention to them, ask them what do you want to do, what do you like, tell me the truth and I’ll listen. In their lives, nobody listens to them. Nobody sees them as individuals; they’re always lumped together with all the other “bad” kids. Even their parents are afraid of them. But I wasn’t afraid; I saw them as children with dangerous toys.

One day one of my staff members came to me, indignant, and said, “Julio is stealing food, I saw him take food from the kitchen.” I said, “Okay, here’s what I want you to do. I want you go back there and pack up four more bags of groceries for him to take home.” Things like that aren’t done out of greed, they’re done out of need. If he’s hungry, there are probably hungry people at home, too. We had food and they didn’t. The solution just didn’t seem complicated to me.

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Excerpt, page 183:

In the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, steps eight and nine ask us to list those we have harmed and then make direct amends to such people. There is no compensation for the loss and injury that I have caused my son; there is no way to remake the past or undo the harm. So today I make living amends to Gideon by living a sober, safer life; he no longer has to take care of his mom. By loosening my suffocating grip on him, I am giving him the respect and unconditional love that he deserves and has always given me. I am also giving him the stories in this book, which are our stories, as imperfect and unfinished as our love for each other.

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Excerpt, page 198:

Losing weight is a measure of my success. A pound makes all the difference. I gain a pound and sink into a self-loathing abyss; I lose a pound and I’m capable of miracles.

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©2004-2007 Debrah Constance and J.I. Kleinberg. All Rights Reserved.