Discussion: Personal Letter to Fat Characters

img_1856Hi, Beautifuls!

Okay, so, today’s post is something I have not done before. It’s kind of a book discussion but also heavily personal. I’ll be sharing some insights from my own life along in relation to: Fat characters. Warning: I use the word fat a lot in this post. So if you dislike it, I recommend you don’t read, or read with caution.

As a fat person, I simply can’t exist and not acknowledge that my weight makes me even more of a minority. I live in a country that’s full to its brim with diversity of body shapes yet I can count the shops that sell clothing that’d fit me (I wear size 22 UK) on one hand.

Easy to say that shopping for clothes is nothing short of a total nightmare. But that’s fine because I can put on an abaya and call it a day. But this discomfort comes at me at my most comfortable time: reading.

I have tried to read diversely since I even started reading. Being Arab did not really allow me a chance of not being aware of how little positive representation Arabs get. What reading diversely doesn’t fulfill for me (until lately) is one: positive fat characters.

If you’ve been a follower for a while, you’ll be more than aware of my special love for The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli, whom I consider to be my personal favorite to ever write a fat character. Albertalli not only wrote the main character as fat, but also the love interest. It saddens me that up to date, I have not read many books, and especially YA since that’s the age category I focus on, with positive fat characters.

Before I got involved with twitter and acknowledged how there can be such a thing as negative representation, I tried my best to read books off of lists on Goodreads titled “Fat-friendly Fiction for Curvy Women” and “Plus-Size YA Heroines.” Off of these lists, which probably contain over hundreds of books, I read around 12.

12. Books. Only.

Why? Because I’m scared.

I’m scared I’ll read another Eleanor, another Bianca, another Ann, or another Imogen. These are all female characters in YA books that were fat and I got hurt by. Some were directly while others hurt me in ways I didn’t realize up until today.

I won’t be doing a call-out or anything about the books, because this post isn’t about that. It’s about positivity.

It’s also about how difficult it could be to write a fat positive character. Especially a girl.

Before we get to the positivity, I’ll address one negative thing:

What a fat girl can’t do in a YA contemporary (often romance) book, according to other people who aren’t me:

  • Get a boyfriend
  • Feel some self confidence due to getting said boyfriend
  • Get jealous of her less fat friend for getting said boy’s attention
  • Feel insecure about being fat when claiming to be fat positive
  • Not be on a diet
  • Put her feelings before everyone else’s especially when it comes to her negative feelings about her weight.

I am fully aware that my favorite fat girl heroine is not going to be EVERYONE’s favorite fat girl heroine. Believe me, a small part of me is okay with that but what really gets on my nerve is WHY some people are adamant on putting down my favorite fat girl heroine.

There are so many people who put down my FFGH for not being confident enough in herself without a boyfriend, as if feeling desired by the opposite gender, whom you’re attracted to, is a wrong thing.

Here is a question: Which narrative is a fat girl allowed to have?

  • Her crush liking her back, hence giving her self-confidence
  • Not getting into an unhealthy diet
  • Exploring how she’s always been insecure due to her weight

Correct answer? All of the above. A fat girl is valid whether she gets her self-esteem boost from getting a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner, from not changing ONE bit of how she eats, spending hours in her own head coming to terms with longtime insecurities surrounding her body.

There are however narratives that I don’t like a fat girl getting, and yes, you might think I’m being overly sensitive because guess what? I’m fat and I hate these tropes:

  • Losing weight THEN being noticed by your crush
  • Not having a happy ending
  • Have someone tell her she’s beautiful NOT fat
  • Be selfless 100% of the time and never express her insecurities

I am sick and tired of the pressure fat girls get, whether to be more provocative and sexy in media to be considered desirable, or to be a one hundred percent project for some author to turn into an inspiration story in which YOU CAN HAVE YOUR HAPPY ENDING TOO JUST LOSE 20 KGS, or have her insecurities dismissed because Come On There Are Plenty of People Into Fat Girls.

As I said, these are all things I despise. I am a fat person and my own feelings get hurt because of these things which is why I cling to the way Albertalli wrote Molly Peskin-Suso as a fat girl with anxiety RELATING to her weight but getting a happy ending without having to pretend she’s a self-less saint who doesn’t feel an itch of jealousy. While I’m sitting here, loving Molly, I fully acknowledge that other fat reviewers might not have liked Molly. Fine. Don’t. This is what’s important: to know that one fat character won’t be the cookie cutter perfect fat character, because we come in all shapes and sizes and variations of fat.

I think it’s time we got to the positive side of this post. It’s both for me, and for you, fat or not, I want you to try and interact with me.

Here is a personal message to Fat YA characters, male female or enby, from my own experience.

  • I want you to know that it is okay to feel as confident in a pair of Pajama as you can be in a banging dress.
  • I want you to have days where you can’t look at yourself in the mirror because it’s tough.
  • Other people are not rejecting you because of how you look, if they are, they are douches and don’t deserve you.
  • It’s difficult not to associate rejection with your weight.
  • Eating outside? Hard. Eating inside? Worse. Eating alone? The most terrible thing. Eating with a group? Somehow the equivalent of rubbing pepper spray into your eyes.
  • I want you to admit that you’re scared no one will ever want you so you can start wanting yourself.
  • I want you to not limit yourself because short hair isn’t cute on round chubby faces, or horizontal lines don’t flatter your belly, wear that god damn top, snip your hair as short as you like.
  • Family will hurt you. Call you fat in an endearing tone, and that’ll make you hate the word that you’ve been working your ass of trying to reclaim.

I am not one hundred percent sure of the reaction this will generate in anyone. I’m not even sure if this is a proper book discussion. I’m simply not sure because this topic has been so personal to me that there is not a single way I can talk about it and be one hundred percent objective. It’ll probably not be my last post on this matter but I thought I’d start a new thing which is Tuesday Positivity or something. We’ll see where this takes me.

If you’ve reached this far, give yourself a pat on the back because this is a heavy topic. Whether you’re fat or skinny, or simply never fucking accepted by standards of beauty, you’re valid and beautiful.

Thank you for reading.

Till another Tuesday, beautifuls.

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17 thoughts on “Discussion: Personal Letter to Fat Characters

  1. Sophie Li says:

    Thank you for sharing this thoughtful post. I feel that fatness is a delicate thing to incorporate into a story, and I can see how it can be hurtful if done wrong. As a person of minority (Asian), I cringe when I see Asians being portrayed stereotypically or comically in TV shows, movies and books, and there are certain things that make me want to put a book down. I am glad that there is more effort to incorporate diversity into books.
    I remember liking Eleanor and Park when I read it a long while back, though I don’t remember much about the book. I am curious what bothered you about it? This is coming from the perspective of someone who wants to understand others better 🙂
    Thanks for sharing. I am glad that you are starting a conversation about something that is not talked about often. Looking forward to hearing more from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mariam's Yummy Books says:

      Eleanor as a fat character was actually something I loved when I was 18, however, it’s only very recently that I realized that EP is rifled with racial inaccuracies but since I am not Korean or Black, I won’t comment on them. My issue with Eleanor’s representation of a fat girl is that I can’t find solace in her character anymore because of big reasons related to the racism and because she doesn’t get the romantic happy ending that I yearned for while reading the book. I know that Rowell probably wrote her rep from her own experiences, but it never got to me why Eleanor and Park’s ending was such a sad one. Whenever I think of them I just get sad. Also, Eleanor was basically under the thumb of her step-father but the book never outright challenged it. She had to run away in the end and leave behind the only thing that made her somewhat happy. I know my reasons aren’t good enough to dislike a book many love, but it grates me that a fat girl like Eleanor that had to deal with harassment at home, could not even have an ending of her own choosing. Sure, she chose not to send Park anything until that very last postcard, but that didn’t cut it for me.

      Thank you so much for reading and participating in this discussion.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Vijayalakshmi Harish says:

    Hi Mariam! This is such a wonderful post. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on that, but as a fat girl myself, I can relate to what you’re saying. Completely agree, that not all fat people are alike, and that they may want different things, and have different opinions on what good rep is, but we can all agree that we need good rep.
    Do you enjoy reading mystery? Ruth Galloway, the MC of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series is a fat woman and I like how she has been written.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Peregrine Grace @ Books and Beauties says:

    I really resonated with this post; I wish there was better fat rep out there. There’s nothing wrong with dieting to get healthy, but it’s not the only narrative out there. Some people can’t loose weight due to medical issues, or genetics, and some people are happy with the way their body is. For others they struggle with it, and have good and bad days. I’m a fat kid too, but the doctor strongly advised I loose weight for health reasons, and so far I’ve lost a significant amount of weight, but I’m actually in more pain than I was before I started dieting and exercising (I have joint issues). No one ever talks about that, and everyone always seems so surprised when I tell them. I’m so tired of the “loosing weight will fix all your problems troupe” *sigh* Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mariam's Yummy Books says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your own struggle. This is why we need more than one fat character, fatness comes in so many different ways whether genetics or binging or whatever, we need properly researched characters whose weight isn’t always their number one defining thing, but isn’t something that is totally ignored. Recently, my family has been hounding me to lose weight as a way to rid me of my depression and it’s been getting to me in the worst ways possible.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Peregrine Grace @ Books and Beauties says:

        I’m sorry to hear that, my mom has hounded me my entire life to loose weight because she too thought it would solve all my problems. At this point I don’t even feel comfortable when she praises me for the amount of weight I lost. I just wish people could understand we are more than the weight on our bodies, and our feelings matter. Plus, if they really wanted to help, they’d be supportive and not be part of the problem. I should probably stop here before I get too rant-y, haha.. I’m sending positive vibes your way!

        Like

      • Mariam's Yummy Books says:

        Thank you so much! I relate so much to why you’re saying. So much of my life has been spent crying because I can’t be skinny (I don’t have the resolve to change my lifestyle) that I’m just fed up. Enough with being shamed about my weight. Rant on, friend, this is our time to be done with society putting fat people down.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. puppapages says:

    Thank you so much for this post and I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner! I’m slipping when it comes to reading blog posts.
    I just love this so much. Society makes being fat so toxic. The whole ‘you can’t be fat AND beautiful’ is awful. I totally see how fiction with positive fat MCs can change that perception, as well as blog posts like this! You’re such an important voice for me in this community ❤
    I can't wait to read Upside! Molly sounds amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

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