I’ve made a slight change to the schedule: this month we’ll be talking about body diversity. In this post, I’ll talk about writing fat characters, and in my next, I’ll touch on physical difference and disfigurement as a continuation of our disability discussion. (We’ll do class difference in August.)
As with disability, bodily difference is often used in fiction to signify either villainy or “sidekick” status. Very rarely does a fat person get to be the hero. (Think Samwell Tarly at the beginning of Game of Thrones–though I do have to say I’ve been pleased with the way Sam has been given his own story/ journey over the course of the series, as well as a love interest. He’s become a hero in his own right, but for a while he was definitely Jon Snow’s sidekick.)
Sarah Hollowell in “Writing Fat Characters” (stop reading this and go read her blog!) writes,
I want to see a fat girl go on an adventure. I want her to go to Faerie and be just as tempted by fairy food as anyone else and not think about the calories. I want her to ride dragons and steal magical artifacts and seduce a pirate captain (I really like pirates, can you tell?). I want a fat guy to get into a sword fight over a lady’s honor and win. I want him to defend a castle, or be the best mage in the land.
More than anything, I want to have fat protagonists in YA and have them be treated as more than their fat. I want it to be a fact of their character – they are fat – and then that’s it. Their entire lives don’t revolve around them being fat. It doesn’t run their life and it certainly doesn’t ruin their life. Can we just have that? Please?
Sarah offers the following guidelines for (thin) authors wanting to write fat characters:
- If you’re skinny, don’t write about what it’s like to be fat. Instead:
- Take any story you’d give to a skinny character and give it to a fat character.
- Use “fat” instead of “plump” and “chubby.” Avoiding the word “fat” implies fatness is something to be ashamed of.
- Write all different kinds of fat people (intersectionality!) and avoid stereotypes.
- Do your research and follow fat activists. (She lists a ton of great resources at the end of the post.)
She concludes, “One of the most radical things you can do is write a fat character who’s just living their fat life, going on adventures, and being happy in their own bodies.”
Call to Action
One of my favorite podcasters, Hannah McGregor, just started a new podcast called Secret Feminist Agenda. In her inaugural episode she talks about body acceptance and references the advice of Lindy West, who says, “Look at pictures of fat women on the Internet until they don’t make you uncomfortable anymore.” Hannah recommends some great Instagram accounts to follow (at about a minute in), so give her a listen and add some body positivity to your Instagram feed.
January: Understanding Identity and Representation
February: Acknowledging (and Battling) Colonialism, Marginalization, and Erasure
March: Writing Race and Ethnicity
April: Writing Gender
- Improving Female Representation
- Writing Transgender and Non-Binary Characters
- Gender and Sexuality Terms
May: Writing Sexuality
June: Writing Disability
July: Writing Body Diversity
- Writing Fat Characters