Confessions of a Plus-Size Reader: On YA and Body Diversity (Again)

Maybe this is a dead horse and I’m still beating it with a stick. Maybe the turnip is out of blood. Maybe aforementioned dead horse has already bolted from the stable I just locked. Maybe the milk has spilt all over to carpet and I’m just sitting here sobbing.

Are we done now? Because I’m fat and I’m tired of not seeing fat girls in your stories. I’ve read a couple of articles in my years that ask why “Must Every YA Action Heroine Be Petite?” (find the full article here). It points out YA powerhouse series Hunger Games and Divergent for their slight and bird-like protagonists. While arguments can be made for dystopian characters being smaller and of slighter stature the above article also brings in Beautiful Creatures, a welterweight in the YA fantasy/realistic fantasy genre that features a protagonist built like a string bean.

I may have been able to make my peace with this, had the article not brought up a good point. When Divergent’s Tris meets her nemesis Jeanine, she  is described as wearing a tight dress that reveals “a layer of pudge around her middle” and knees “crossed with stretch marks.” Naturally the heroine is delicate and birdlike, while the antagonist has fat. It’s not even that the majority of YA novels praise their sleight heroines, but there seems to be a disturbing  connection between the small framed, feminine, unassuming beauty and the virtue associated with a main character.

Their body issue are present, but never something that stands in their way. How could it, when the bird-like girl is able to fly, cast, summersault, and fight as well as and better than any of the men in her story? Bird-like girls soar, standing David-like against the Goliaths in their stories. But the women who look like Goliath aren’t given the chance to really stand.

If anything, I feel that this trend feeds into an ongoing societal conversation about what women can and cannot be. We can be opinionated, but not loud. We can be strong, but not masculine. We can be smart, but not super smart. There is a narrow line we are given to walk, and bird-like girls are the only ones with feet small enough to hop along it.

A quick search for plus-size heroines on Goodreads gives us lists like this one. It includes titles like Eleanor and Park, Dumplin’, The DUFF, Fat Angie, and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Scrolling through the list reveals a couple fantasy/dystopian/non-realistic fiction works. These stories, while wonderful and needed, are all about the fat girl learning to love herself despite the fat. Fat girl making others see past the fat. Fat girl fighting for her right to take up the space her body fills naturally.

Fat girl fighting.

Bird-like girls get to fight their insecurities in the form of oppressive governments, dragons, underground revolutions, evil witches, and men with too much power. Fat girls have to, there’s no getting about it, we have to fight for each inch of space our thighs and stomachs take up. Goliath women, masculine women, fat women don’t get to project our fears and insecurities and our cellulite anywhere, because we are made acutely aware of how it looks and feels and moves on our own bodies. So our stories seem relegated to learning to accept our lot in life, showcase our shinning personalities, be funny, be pretty despite everything. Dumplin’ proves them wrong, the designated ugly fat friend reigns supreme as the underdog.

Eat. My. Fat Ass.

Fat girls can raise swords, throw knives, and shoot arrows too. We can tame dragons, kill villains, and project our character flaws onto the antagonist. We can lead armies and facedown evil witches and somehow manage to find decent armor that doesn’t cut into out boobs. We deserve to take up as much space as we please, stand tall and wide and make the earth shake.

We deserve more stories.


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