discussions

fatphobia in books

TW: fatphobia, weight loss, disordered eating, mention of JKR

hello magical reader, I hope you’re doing well! today I’m going to do something a little bit different because I would like to start a conversation that is long needed in the book community: fatphobia in books. as a plus-sized reader, this topic affects me because it is my reality. as much as it is hard for me to write this blog post, it is also something that I find important to discuss. I would like to share my thoughts and opinions on some (recent) things that have happened or that I have noticed both in books and in the book community. perhaps not everyone will agree with everything that I have to say, but I need to get it off my chest so here we go.

disclaimer: throughout this post, I will be using the term “plus-sized” because it is the term that I’m most comfortable using. if I’m feeling brave, I might even use “fat” sometimes, but that word still holds a negative connotation because of personal experiences, and i’m sure a lot of plus-sized people will agree with me. as much as we’d like to reclaim it, “fat” is a word that has been used against us too often as a synonym for “ugly” or “lazy”. that’s why even now, it’s hard to use it as a simple adjective. but no other terms will be used in this post. and since we’re already touching on that topic, I’d like to suggest to (skinny) writers to please not use terms such as overweight or obese to describe your characters, as this tend to be triggering. of course, I cannot talk for everyone, but the fact is that these are scientific terms used by doctors, and weight-bias in medecine is a big issue. I’ll stick to fatphobia in books, but if you’re interested in learning more, I’d recommend looking it up.

a slap in the face

fatphobia is everywhere. this shouldn’t be news to anyone, and I have come to that conclusion a long time ago. give me a movie, a tv show, a book, or whatever that has a plus-sized character, and I will already brace myself for the possibility of fatphobic jokes or remarks. it’s saddening, but at this point it doesn’t even surprise me anymore. however, I will never get used to this: opening a book that does not have a plus-sized main/side character and does not have ANYTHING to do with weight and *bam* there it is, on the page. casual fatphobia.

here’s an example that has happened to me last week. I was reading Vampires Never Get Old edited by Zoraida Córdova and Natalie C. Parker. in case you are not familiar with this book, Vampires Never Get Old is an anthology described as the comeback of vampires, but make it diverse. it has lgbtq+ representation, POC protagonists, disability representation, and fat representation. indeed, it contains a short story written by Julie Murphy, the author of Dumplin’. so I knew going into that short story that there might be fatphobia. luckily, the whole story was very much body positive (which wasn’t surprising considering Julie Murphy’s other works, which sadly I haven’t read yet but I’ve seen from reviews that the fat rep is accurate and positive). what did surprise me, however, was when I encountered on-page fatphobia in the very first short story of the book written by Tessa Gratton. here, the main character was complaining about “having a belly and fat around her bra” for eternity if she doesn’t lose a few pounds before her transformation. this is what I mean with a slap in the face: it was unnecessary, it was harmful, and the story would have been just fine without those two sentences. why should “having a belly and fat around the bra” be a negative thing? why can’t vampires have that? why can’t anyone have that unless they complain about it? why did the author think it was necessary to add a fatphobic remark like this in a book about vampires, a book that should promote body positivity because another short story is rightfully doing so!!! needless to say, it made me angry.

this is only one example. another example would be J.K Rowling and her blatant fatphobia towards Dudley which is so incredibly triggering (although not surprising considering who wrote it). honestly, I cannot tell you how often this happens to me. way too often, and always when I’m least expecting it. this thread I saw on twitter explains beautifully how easy it is for an author to write a book without being fatphobic. and yet…

body positivity and nothing else

here’s what I, a plus-sized reader, want in books with plus-sized characters: body positivity. I do not want to read about a plus-sized character losing weight for whatever the reason might be. especially not if the author is skinny! because here’s another thing for you to look up: diet culture. as a plus-sized person, society expects us to lose weight. they force their diets upon us. they do this to us even when we’re just kids. they promote disordered eating to us. they clap when we start counting calories and lose a big amount of weight in a short amount of time because that’s good, right? that’s healthy? except that it’s not. so no, I do not want to read about a plus-sized character losing weight and going through diets. what I want is for a plus-sized character to just… live their life. as simple as that. I want them to show me and teach me how to accept my own body and how to feel good in my own skin. I want them to give me hope and strength when I need it. sure, these characters can deal with fatphobia. sure, fatphobia can be an important topic of the book. but I need those plus-sized characters to deal with that in a way that says “yes, I’m fat, so what?”.

the best example that comes to my mind at this moment is I’ll Be The One by Lyla Lee. surprisingly, the author isn’t even plus-sized so the fat representation isn’t own-voices. but it is done so beautifully. here, the main character Skye is plus-sized and gets a lot of shit for it, both by her mom and by society. but she stays true to herself, and she dismantles the myth of “fat people are unhealthy” by joining a K-pop dancing and singing competition. and yes, damn right, she’s good at it! this has a whole different message to the audience then, say, if she would have lost weight for the sake of the competition. for those who watch a lot of K-drama, you might be familiar with Dream High. it has the same kind of story: a plus-sized woman trying to make a career in K-pop. the big difference though is that in the drama, the character did lose weight, and that my friends, is fatphobia. we do not have to lose weight to be good in what we do. dancing is not for skinny people only. let us breathe and let us live, that’s it.

does no one care?

here’s where I’m going to make some of you feel uncomfortable. when I scroll through reviews of Vampires Never Get Old and see no one mentioning the fatphobia, I wonder if people do not care. when I see 3 people on my twitter timeline angry about the Nina Zenik cast, and I realize that those 3 people are all plus-sized, and that everyone else is being quiet, I again wonder if people do not care. if you aren’t up-to-date about the whole casting thing, Nina is a character from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I personally have not read this series yet, but it’s a well-known fact that Nina is plus-sized in the books. the author has talked about it on multiple occasions. it’s canon, that’s it. however, the books are getting adapted into a netflix tv show, and surprise surprise, they hired a skinny actress for the role. I don’t know if people realize what this means, but we do not get represented often. when we do get represented, it’s often in contemporary books or tv shows. fat representation in a fantasy setting though? now, that’s the dream. a bad-ass fat character in a fantasy world, imagine that. and that’s what we got in Six of Crows! but then they stole it away from us. when the casting first got released, I remember clearly how a few people including myself were talking about it on twitter, and we were rightfully angry. but the responses we got… we were told we were exaggerating. we were told that the actress “isn’t even that skinny”. it got even worse recently, when someone pointed out that Danielle Galligan, the actress, was saying fatphobic things on her instagram. this whole situation is all kinds of f*cked-up and I don’t even know how to explain my frustrations. but again, who was talking about it? who was angry? plus-sized readers. everyone else seemed to be perfectly fine with the casting choice and I think that says a lot about fatphobia within the book community.


let’s chat

do you have recommendations of books with plus-sized characters and body positivity?

thank you so much for reading, and until next time ♡


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45 thoughts on “fatphobia in books

  1. The inevitable fatphobia is why I tend to avoid books that advertise plus-sized main characters. When I started reading it, I didn’t know that Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson has a plus size main character. There’s a brief scene that features fatphobia, and the main character deals with some self-esteem issues regarding her weight, but she never internalizes the need to lose weight even when she learns about healthy eating in her mentorship program.

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    1. I understand why you want to avoid those books, but I’m sure you could find some hidden gems that do advertise plus-sized MC but with no fatphobia whatsoever. I recently read Get A Life, Chloe Brown. the MC is plus-sized but there isn’t any fatphobia or weight related remarks! I highly recommend it.

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      1. I don’t like adult romances because the content is usually too explicit. I trust Renée Watson to write good plus-size rep, but I’m wary of authors I’m not familiar with.

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  2. Very brave and eye-opening article, great comments. As one who struggled with weight issues when she was actually exactly the “right size” (I look at pictures now and think, what on earth was I worrying about then?), I’ve got a couple of comments that are not meant to challenge anything you said, because I think it’s all spot on, but to illuminate the depth to which fatphobia permeates our society.

    My mother took me to a fat doctor when I was 16. I was 5’5″ and 120 lbs, but she was convinced I needed to lose at least ten (only got to 8, which jumped back on the second I got off the pills). I’m now almost 60, and I’ve spent the last 20 years at various weights, but all past the magic 200 lb mark, having gotten over 200 after my second child, lost it, and climbed back up, lost it, and back up again. My self-analysis was that my internal picture of myself won out–that I believed I was fat without reason and so what’s the use. But, reflecting on it after reading your post, I realize that even that is fatphobic.

    So, two points: one, that as annoying as the people are who go on about the two pounds they need to lose, they may truly have such a distorted self-image and fear of “getting fat,” that they do think it’s the equivalent of being plus-sized in this society. Not an excuse for insensitivity, but they aren’t as bad as the ones who say it to fish for a compliment.

    Two, that we internalize fatphobia so that we don’t even notice it. I make that comment because of recent anti-racism reading that has talked about Blacks internalizing racism, and part of the process is realizing that internalized bigotry that makes people buy into it and let it roll over them without comment.

    I would say I’m in that internalized category, because I can’t remember reading any of those kinds of comments–and I know I must have–because they seemed, well, the right way to think about it. So now you’ve given me something to reflect on, darn it and thank you.

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    1. thank you for your message, and I agree: fatphobia is so deeply rooted into our society that it can cause body dysmorphia. I also internalized fatphobia for many years. for example, I’ve watched and read Harry Potter many times, but it’s only recently that I realized “wait a minute, this way of describing Dudley is deeply offensive and it affects me”. it’s only now that I start seeing fatphobia for what it is, and I might have let it roll over me for many years but at this point, I’m sick of it and I want and need people to talk about it more openly.

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  3. Thank you so much for the time and mental/emotional labor you put in to write this post. This is such an important topic but one that I feel is still very taboo, especially because I think fatphobia is so ingrained that we as a society are at the beginning process of unlearning the casual fatphobia. Even as someone who has gained a lot of weight in adulthood and pretty sensitive, I don’t notice it a lot of the time! Which is why we need to continue to call out fatphobic remarks and educate ourselves.

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  4. Thanks for writing this. Reading fatphobic things in books is so jarring…it’s just unnecessary and lazy! It’s exhausting reading about people with the same types of bodies while plus-size characters get subtly or not-so-subtly shamed. No thank you! The casting for Nina is so disappointing, too! I’m going to be reading Spoiler Alert soon, I hear it has great plus-size rep so I’m excited to get to it.

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    1. exactly, and the “let’s make all the characters skinny except for the villain, they’re plus-sized and i’m going to describe how disgusting that is” is such a harmful way to write books! I hope to buy Spoiler Alert soon, it’s been recommended quite a few times! I hope you enjoy ❤

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  5. This post was so good and so important! Fatphobia is so common in books it’s absolutely appalling and I’m glad you’re talking about it! it shouldn’t just be plus-sized people who care, everyone needs to do better at noticing and dismantling fatphobia in media and their own perceptions. So glad you wrote this!

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  6. Thank you so much for writing this. I agree with everything you said. I think fatphobia can be especially damaging in ya and middle grade books because young readers may not recognize it. I know I didn’t. When characters felt bad about being fat, I thought I should feel that way about my body too. This post is so important. Thanks for sharing!

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  7. This is such an important discussion! Like you, I too got tired of unnecessary fatphobic sentiments in books and for the past year or more, I’ve been trying to read and boost more books with fat MCs.

    More and more authors are writing books with fat rep and it makes me so happy. These are the books that would have helped me so much growing up!

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  8. One of the things I noticed when looking up info about all of this, is that the actress for Six of Crows apparently did have a decent amount of weight on her during the filming of the show, and most people are seeing her “after” on Instagram. It feels like another instance of people jumping the gun on Twitter, because unfortunately people like to do that. :\ With that said, I agree that fatphobia in media is just… Annoying. It’s like how Sookie in Gilmore Girls never had any humor regarding her weight on the show, but in the reboot they’re fatshaming a heavier guy at the pool during the summer episode. I wish people would just realize how damaging and awful that is.

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    1. I don’t think this is to blame on people being angry on twitter. the actress may have lost weight, but she still wasn’t plus-sized the way we imagined Nina in the first place, and the remarks she made on instagram were still fatphobic. she literally laughed at the fact that people gained weight in 2020, which is cruel because there has been a pandemic and we shouldn’t feel bad for the way that had consequences on our bodies. so, no, I don’t agree, it’s not the people on twitter.

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      1. I actually disagree that the statements were made about others. She was making light of her own quarantine weight gain but I don’t agree with how twitter reacted at all to her being announced for the role or her showing her losing weight on her account. So we can just disagree on that point.

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      2. wether it was a joke about her own weight gain or not, it was a poorly chosen and insensible joke, especially considering the role she’s going to play in a popular tv show. and sure we can disagree on that point, but I find it almost ironic of you to talk about this under a post that is literally explaining why this behavior is hurtful.

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      3. No one is attacking you I was simply pointing out that one fact about her role in the show because I’ve seen the weight she has in some of the promo pics and she’s a plus sized girl there. And I think people have seen a ton of pictures of her recently and thought that this was what she’s gonna look like in the show, but we don’t know yet.

        That was my only counterpoint to what you said. There’s no need for hostility.

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  9. this is such a great discussion, and i remember being so taken aback by the fatphobia in dream high (but really with south korean culture being the way it is…i shouldn’t have been surprised) it was terrible to see how IU was treated and that she felt the only way to “make it” was to extreme diet. it just perpetuates and normalizes disordered eating. i hope we can see more body positive and plus-sized characters just LIVING ❤

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  10. 100% agree with everything you’ve said. I have such low self-esteem due to my weight and the world I grew up in. I grew up watching and loving Friends and only as an adult realising how damaging the fatphobia in it must have been to my teenage self. I agree that we definitely need to do more and I essentially DNF a book now if it becomes too fatphobic/diet centred because I just can’t read that anymore.
    I can’t think of any off the top of my head but I will send body positive recs soon! 🙂

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    1. it’s so heartbreaking to watch a movie or read a book that we loved as a kid and to realize how fatphobic it is. and same, I don’t spend my energy on those kinds of books anymore. it’s time we take care of ourselves! and thank you ❤

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  11. Thank you so much for this! We really need to talk about this more. I also really loved I’ll Be the One. One thing I struggle with though is that most books that have a fat main character and that are in fact body positive, still deal with so much fatphobia that it’s really triggering. Sometimes I’d like the fat characters to just be… and be loved. I really love how Talia Hibbert does this in her books!!

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    1. I agree, sometimes we just want a character to be plus-sized without there to be any fatphobia. just like we want books with lgbtq+ rep without it to be a coming-out story! I wish more authors knew that though. I still need to read Chloe Brown but it’s on my kindle, so I hope to read it soon! (although I tend to read contemporaries in the summer so perhaps it’ll have to wait a bit more, oops.)

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  12. this is such a great post alison, thank you for taking the time and effort to write it. i’m so sorry you have to keep facing all this unnecessary pain when you read books. i’m really glad to hear you loved the fat rep in i’ll be the one—i’m so excited to read that one!! 💗

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  13. I really enjoyed this post. I’ve been plus size for most of my life and I’ve always been a little afraid of showing my full self especially on twitter in the book community. How often do we actually see the praise towards plus size bodies compared to booktubers dressing up for twitter to love on? Nothin’ Book twitter is especially fatphobic imo. I remember the Six of Crows casting thing happening and even though i haven’t read the book I did get upset about that. I would recommend reading Olivia dade’s newest. I did have some other issues with it but the fat rep is so fucking beautiful. I can’t think of any other book that has better fat rep than that book.

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    1. thank you! it’s been so hard to talk about this online because like you, I was afraid of showing that part of myself. but I’ve seen too much in a short amount of time to stay silent this time. and I’m so excited for Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade! I hope to buy it soon ❤

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  14. Great post! I agree wholeheartedly. Fatphobia is so ingrained in society that it just pops up in the most random unnecessary places, I swear. Thank you for talking about this (btw I’ll Be The One is amazing)

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  15. This was such a fantastic post! Thanks for making me aware of the fatphobic part of Tessa Gratton’s story as I want to read Vampires Never Get Old soon. I truly hate how many books perpetuate the “fat=bad” crap. For recs: All of Julie Murphy’s books, Miss Meteor, Spoiler Alert

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    1. thank you so much! it’s always easier to get through it when you know there will be a fatphobic remark somewhere and you see it coming, but since no one mentioned it to me, I was really surprised. it also feels like something the editors should have noticed and corrected since they were also working with Julie Murphy but yeah… thank you so much for your recommendations! I didn’t know Miss Meteor had fat rep but I’m excited!

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