TW: discussion of weight loss, body image issues, mention of eating disorder
Today I’m going to talk about an issue I don’t discuss on this blog a lot because it’s very difficult for me in my daily life, and that’s fat representation in books.
Something you may not know about me because I don’t post full body selfies is that I am overweight. I have struggled with my weight since my sophomore year of college, but have been having an extra hard time with it the past few years. I have cycled through many diets, seen a nutritionist, and tried to change my habits time and time again. I have dealt with body shaming from people around me as well as eating disorders, and have an extremely fraught relationship with my body when it comes to weight.
This is why fat representation of books is important to me. Every time I see a book come out, especially YA, with a fat protagonist, it immediately goes on my TBR. I am eager to see nuanced stories of weight issues and representation of a variety of body types.
I’m going to begin by saying that I can count the number of books I’ve read with actual fat rep where the fat person isn’t vilified or negatively stereotyped on less than two hands. In probably a third of those, the fat character still tries to lose weight and it’s framed as healthy weight loss and as a positive thing for the character. I have read very few books where weight loss is still not the end goal for a fat character and they still have a genuinely happy life while being fat.
Fat representation in books is not very nuanced. I’ve noticed that fat characters tend to be either a) vilified and shamed and used as a cautionary tale or b) body positive with no doubts about themselves. When fat characters are portrayed positively, it’s usually after they’ve gone through a self-transformation and chosen to focus on “self love and self acceptance” and “embrace their body and themselves.” Sure, they often get hate either from online anyonymous haters or in person from family, but they are usually portrayed as so confident in themselves that it doesn’t hurt as much as it used to and doesn’t make them doubt themselves or completely fall off the acceptance wagon.
I think portraying body positivity in books is great and important, but the journey towards body positivity is not a straight line or as simple as deciding to accept yourself. Body positivity isn’t something that happens all the time; it’s something that fat people strive for every day and sometimes we don’t get there. Even when you think you are body positive, you can still be tempted by diets and the promise of feeling “normal,” whatever that means, and negatively influenced by social and social media messaging about bodies. Body positive people aren’t immune to doubts about themselves and their bodies, and that’s why I don’t feel seen in a most body positive books because body positivity is a daily struggle.
Basically, I’d really like to see more books about the journey to become body positive. Though seeing body positive characters is great, personally I just wish that we could see how those body positive characters arrived at self acceptance and body positivity, as opposed to having it glossed over. Body positivity isn’t and doesn’t have to be all or nothing in order to be valid, and I want to see more books with fat characters that portray an array of our experiences.
There is no one fat experience, and fat experience is more than only being the villain or idiot or only being body positive. I just hope that soon, publishing and the world in general are ready for portrayals of fat people’s lives that are more nuanced and fully exploratory of our experiences.