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.
do you have recommendations of books with plus-sized characters and body positivity?
thank you so much for reading, and until next time ♡