Fat Visibility in YA Fiction

Shapelings, let’s talk fatness in young adult fiction. YA fiction often positions fat as shorthand for countless negative qualities the writer is too unmotivated to develop – like presenting bullies as fat kids, which reinforces fatness as something sinister and deserving of scorn – or as the genesis of a butterfly story, which reinforces fat as a quality one must jettison to uncover the true self (which naturally is thin and beautiful). Of course there are other ways in which fatness is portrayed, but those two immediately came to mind.

In Blubber by Judy Blume – which I strongly advocate avoiding; it isn’t worth the Sanity Watcher Points – fat bodies are used as a learning opportunity for others, devoid of input of those with lived experiences.

The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger is a fairly sympathetic and complex exploration of fatness, despite the protagonist being problematically framed as “smart, but overweight”.

The marginally empowering messages presented in The Cat Ate My Gymsuit go completely to hell in its follow up There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, where the protagonist realizes the FoBT complete with popularity and a cute boyfriend.

Other books off the top of my head:

Fat: A Love Story by Barbara Wersba
The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Me and Fat Glenda by Lila Perl

Have you read any of these titles? What do you remember about how fatness was presented in the YA fiction you read? How did the portrayal of fatness or lack thereof inform your relationship to your own fat?

349 thoughts on “Fat Visibility in YA Fiction

  1. As a Grade 6 teacher and someone with an MFA in YA lit, I’ll be watching this conversation closely & looking over my assigned reading list to see what’s what there.

    From a boy’s perspective, the newer novel “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town.” It won a National Book Award. I haven’t read it in a while, but would be happy to give it another go through this lens.

  2. I don’t think I’ve read any of those except Blubber, which I remember not liking. I do know I read plenty of other books where someone lost weight and was magically transformed into the pinnacle of popularity.

    (One of my favorite books as a kid was Jennifer Murdley’s Toad. It blew my mind, because in the end, she made the choice that she didn’t need to be beautiful to be happy–Disney sure never taught me that!)

  3. Hmm, I’ve been keeping an eye out for it the last couple of years. The only two authors I’ve come across who do a good job with it are:

    The Magic Circle books by Tamora Pierce include a protagonist (one of four) who is fat but unapologetic about it. She’s teased for her weight, but not by her close friends and she’s generally awesome and ass kicking. Incidentally, one of the other female protagonists is not fat but is large boned and solidly built, which I thought was a nice change of pace.

    Several of Diana Wynne Jones‘s books have fat characters; Hexwood in particular places a short, fat young woman in the leading role, though the fact is mentioned in passing and not dwelled on (which I find refreshing). She also gets to have a romance, which is extra refreshing.

    At least those are the only two I can remember. I read a string of god awful books about fat when I was a kid. The absolute worst I remembered I think I recounted over on the Ning site – it involved a boy who was clumsy (because he was fat, natch) and who lost weight as part of a bet that he wouldn’t injure himself before the summer was over. If he lost the bet (which he did) he had to kiss the fat girl on the first day of school in front of everyone, shock horror. But then it turned out that she had lost weight at fat camp over the summer, so it was all good. I have no idea the name of the book or the author, which is probably just as well.

    Slightly better, but still problematic, was Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade and the sequel, by Barthe DeClements. One of the main characters is fat and is mocked by her classmates. On the one hand, she is treated as a real person. On the other hand, she’s only fat because she eats too much (to deal with her feelings over her parents’ divorce) and once she stops, she becomes thin super quick and then, in a future book, is described as “looking like a thin Dolly Parton.” I can’t believe I remember that turn of phrase.

    And then there was Sweet Valley High which never failed to dwell on Jessica and Elizabeth’s “perfect size six figures.” Especially the book where Robin Wilson, reformed fatty, is worried about being fat again, so becomes anorexic and then recovers in, like, three weeks. Lovely.

  4. I liked Fat Kid Rules the World, by KL Going. The protagonist is very unhappy, yearning for invisibility, and shamed for taking up a lot of space–he weighs 300+ pounds. He befriends a musician who asks him to drum in his band, though, and emerges from his shell. I haven’t read this in a while, but I remember being happy that he opts to be “seen” in the long run, and that finding support and something that he loves is very empowering to him.

    Also love, love, love Angus Bethune from the short story of the same name in the Chris Crutcher book Athletic Shorts. He’s hilarious, witty, sensitive, insightful, has two gay moms, and a crush on the prom queen. It’s really great character who is fat, and dealing with some of the social pressure that comes with that, but his fat is not used as a shortcut to represent sloth, or laziness, or bullying as can so often happen in YA fiction. (And Angus makes an appearance in Angry Management, too, when he meets up with Sarah Byrnes from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, and they fall in love. Awesome.)

  5. The absolute worst I remembered I think I recounted over on the Ning site – it involved a boy who was clumsy (because he was fat, natch) and who lost weight as part of a bet that he wouldn’t injure himself before the summer was over. If he lost the bet (which he did) he had to kiss the fat girl on the first day of school in front of everyone, shock horror. But then it turned out that she had lost weight at fat camp over the summer, so it was all good. I have no idea the name of the book or the author, which is probably just as well.

    For some reason I thought you were describing Where Kissing Never Stops but after refreshing my memory, I realized it’s probably some other horrible book.

  6. I was actually thinking about Blubber recently and I remember LOVING it when I was a fat kid. This isn’t to say that I disagree with your assessment, snarkysmachine. Part of my contemplation was wondering what sort of self-hating messages the book may have shot into my developing brain, and I’m not surprised to read your take on it.

    It does make me think about negative messages inherent in current books – having seen New Moon this past weekend, Twilight springs immediately to mind. I know lots of people dismiss criticisms of those books, claiming that the books are just fun, fluffy reads. But I think this stuff really gets into our heads in ways that we maybe don’t understand until much later. It was only in the last year or so that I recognized the extent to which messages linking women’s worth to their sexual availability really shaped my own feelings about my self worth and steered my own decisions about sex. The normalization of date rape is another message that I unfortunately took to heart. The reason why I couldn’t join in the lamentations after the death of director John Hughes was that I had recently rewatched Sixteen Candles through my adult eyes and understood how that movie, which I named as my favorite movie ever for many, many years, skewed my perceptions of my own experiences with rape.

  7. Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars. The narrator is self-described as “portly” and through meeting the title character, comes to terms with himself and the world. And he gets back at the horrible gym teacher.

  8. I am seeing more and more YA books that deal with fatness in that style of last year’s Weight Watchers commercials — Love your body, but if you REALLY loved your body you would eat steamed vegetables and go to the gym! Diets don’t work, unless you call them a lifestyle change! Once you accept yourself as you really are, good things will naturally accrue to you, such as, losing weight! And this is the “good” message because it’s positioned against the “bad” message of “Your body is unacceptable, period.”

    The unfortunate orthodoxy is that anyone who is fat must be eating too much, and they must overeat emotionally because they hate themselves. Hence, fatness can be solved by feeling good about oneself!

    “The Earth, My Butt, And Other Big Round Things” got a lot of good reviews, but it hews exactly to that orthodoxy. I loved “Fat Kid Rules The World” even though the main character’s weight is positioned as a symptom of grief, though–it’s too rich and complex.

  9. I’m sure it’s been mentioned in other threads at other times, but I read Wally Lamb’s “She’s Come Undone” when I was in about 8th grade, and it basically destroyed my brain. It may have redeeming qualities for adult readers (or it may not, I have no idea because I spent the entirety my adolescence trying to forget what I’d read), but all I can remember is that the main character is very fat, and her life is utterly devastating in every possible way. Being the self-loathing fat adolescent that I was, my interpretation of this was to reduce it to its absolute essence: fat = misery.

    So that’s pretty much the full extent of my experience with fatness and literature as a young adult, and it really sucked. As a grown person, I’ve cultivated an interest in legit YA literature (as opposed to Oprah’s book club selections falling mistakenly into the hands of impressionable young minds) and fat, so I’d love to hear of any positive/neutral combinations of the two.

  10. I seriously blame Sweet Valley for all my self-hatred growing up. All I wanted in the world was to be like Jessica Wakefield, and Jessica Wakefield HATED fatties! Hell, I vividly remember in the very first book of the “SV Twins” series, Jessica is going on and on about how Lois Waller shouldn’t be allowed to do ballet with them because she was so fat that she was “oozing out of her leotard.”

    Then there’s the book in the high school series where they torture poor fat Robin who wants to be in their club by making her wear a bikini to the beach and run laps at the track while all the kids in school make fun of her. I was absolutely traumatized after reading that book at age 11, and went on the first of what would be about 1,000 failed diets during my adolescence. I think I asked my mom if I could do Slim Fast after reading that book.

    Sweet Valley = No Fatties Allowed. Horrifying books, looking back on them….

    As for fat positive…sadly, almost every YA book I remember reading as a kid only portrayed fatties as friendless losers. Maybe I was reading the wrong books.

  11. Also: when I was in seventh or eighth grade (c. 85-6), our English teacher assigned us the task of reading a book and creating a movie poster for it, casting our classmates in the various roles. I cannot remember the name of the book to save my life, although I have some idea that it was in the fantasy genre, but a friend cast me as a supporting character who had been described as being pretty, but unfortunately fat. I remember being conflicted, but deciding to take it as a compliment (which is how I would have taken it now, so I guess it shows that the seeds of FA have always been there).

  12. I read _Blubber_ when I was in the 6th grade, and I HATED it! I remember being upset that “Blubber” didn’t end up being the one on top. After all of the torture or teasing she endured, she went back to being just “Blubber” again.

  13. ” The absolute worst I remembered I think I recounted over on the Ning site – it involved a boy who was clumsy (because he was fat, natch) and who lost weight as part of a bet that he wouldn’t injure himself before the summer was over. If he lost the bet (which he did) he had to kiss the fat girl on the first day of school in front of everyone, shock horror. But then it turned out that she had lost weight at fat camp over the summer, so it was all good. I have no idea the name of the book or the author, which is probably just as well.”

    Oh, I’ve read that one! It’s The Biggest Klutz in 5th Grade, in case anyone wants to run out and buy it.

  14. “The Earth, My Butt, And Other Big Round Things” got a lot of good reviews, but it hews exactly to that orthodoxy.

    Okay, so it wasn’t just my imagination. The protagonist was vegan, correct? It’s been a few since I read it and it wasn’t something I could myself reading in again any time soon.

  15. I’ve just started roaming around this blog and I find myself appreciating much of what I read here. While I don’t consider myself an expert on size/fat acceptance. I am a book person and I love digging through YA lit. I remember enjoying The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things and, while I’m re-analysing it from my imperfect memory, I think there was a reasonable degree of fat positiveness in the book.

    I got the sense in the book that the only person who really saw Virginia’s weight as a problem was her mother and that it was this relationship that left Virginia conflicted and unaccepting of her body. As she starts to figure herself out and rebels a little against her mother, we watch her become more accepting of herself and take more pride in her body. She starts to dress and style herself in a way that would cause her to stand out (dyes her hair purple – which I would see as a direct rejection of the cultural beauty ideal) rather than the “invisible” clothes her mother made her buy.

    It seems to me that what prevents Virginia from doing some of the things she wants is not her weight but her lack of self acceptance/self confidence. After all, Froggy wanted her all along, it’s not like she had to change to ‘get’ him. She just had to accept herself as someone he would be attracted to. As she accepts herself, she does those things that she was holding herself back from.

    There’s also that minor plot about the popular thin girl being bulimic which, while possibly too simplified, does remind the reader that thin =/= healthy. And that girl kind of seems to fade as she demonstrates less love and confidence for herself.

    Virginia also finds an ally in her doctor who apologizes for allowing himself to be railroaded by her mother at her first appt and then chooses to simply offer her an exercise opportunity as a way of dealing with her anger (healthier than kicking walls in department store changerooms). While this may be seen as a cloaked attempt to try to get her to lose weight, he doesn’t force it down her throat, merely offers her the information and let’s her decide for herself.

    I remember it being a book that I would be happy to have young women read as it’s far more about figuring yourself out and finding the confidence to be who you are then about getting the guy or looking like the cultural ideal.

    But feel free to remember other points about it that I may have forgotten…

  16. OTM, I really agree that this stuff gets into your head in ways you don’t understand till later. I read tons and tons and tons as a teen (and still now, actually) and though I read a wide variety, I also read a lot of those Issue Books. I was sort of a sheltered kid—rural, kinda poor–and I remember that my first week as a counselor at a camp for critical illnesses, I met a girl I got really close to. She was showing me the scars on her thighs one day, and said, “These are from where I scratched myself until I bled after chemo. And this one’s a stab wound.” At my shocked look she said, “What. .. you think I don’t fight?” She was in a gang at home before she got sick, and it briefly made my mind short-circuit, meeting this person who had heavy problems that were (shocker!) COMPLEX and MULTI-DIMENSIONAL. It really made me realize how much my thinking had become compartmentalized because of those books. . . and maybe the world of After School Specials, too.

  17. Jacqueline Wilson (I think), an English YA author, wrote a series of books, all of which started with “Girls –“: the first one was “Girls in Love,” e.g. The narrator was a girl named Ellie, who was overweight (probably an inbetweenie, although it wasn’t explicit). She had confidence issues that were depicted as partially weight-based, but most of her problems stemmed from, well, being a teenager. The second book (whose title I totally can’t remember right now) depicted her struggling with an ED. I remember that it struck me (who had an ED at the time when I read it) as a really wonderfully nuanced portrayal: we were sympathetic to her feelings of being uncomfortable in her body, but her behavior was never really portrayed as anything but potentially problematic. She got better, in the end, which made me feel good. :)

    Of course, then they had to go and make a miniseries of it and cast a totally straight-sized teenager to play Ellie. Le sigh.

  18. I think it’s for younger kids, but I recall liking The Nobody Club when I was little. It’s about two best friends, one fat, one skinny, who are forced to take a gymnastics class. I don’t remember it well enough to recall any fat-hating messages, but I liked that it showed both girls being uncomfortable with their bodies (instead of just the fat girl). I related because I was very small and skinny as a kid and always felt I didn’t take up enough space.

  19. the earth, my butt, and other big round things is one of my favorite books! i think there’s actually been a post about it on shapely prose before; either that, or it was on the-f-word or the rotund or something… anyway, i love it and even though there’s a lot of self-hate in it the ending is very happy and she realizes it doesn’t really matter whether she’s fat or not.

    one i’d avoid is nothing’s fair in fifth grade (which, granted, is in the weird void between children’s lit and ya lit, but whatever) by barthe declements. in it, the main character hates the new girl simply because she’s fat; the fat girl has a problem with stealing food and being generally lazy; and the point where the main character and the fat girl actually befriend each other is only after the fat girl has lost weight. NO.

  20. Okay, so it wasn’t just my imagination. The protagonist was vegan, correct? It’s been a few since I read it and it wasn’t something I could myself reading in again any time soon.

    actually, that’s a different book by the same author–vegan virgin valentine.

  21. Do not read “H.I.V.E: Higher Institute for Villainous Education”, by Mark Walden. The cover blurb looked so awesome…and yet one of the characters is Augustus Gloop with Magical Powers of Finance. Otherwise it’s a fun, somewhat campy YA adventure novel. Stereotypical Pudgy German Boy is shown as being brilliant, and no worse in physical training than any of the other new recruits whose evil genius isn’t in the physical domain. But he’s pudgy and German. So we must all make fun of him.

  22. Sarah N: I think that’s certainly a valid interpretation of the book. My bones to pick with it are kind of… not a big deal, in terms of the actual book, but a big deal in the context of the cultural story that we tell about fatness.

    -The emotional bingeing on snack food is kind of baby-donut-stereotype kind of stuff. No? Obviously there are people who do binge for emotional reasons, but I feel like it does position her weight as caused by her emotional problems.

    -We don’t see Virginia 6 months later or a year later, but I think we’re meant to imagine her as having lost weight. I think the implied trajectory of the book is that, once Virginia accepts herself, stops bingeing, and starts exercising, she will be thinner (though I do think the book acknowledges that some people just aren’t meant to be supermodel-thin.) This is obviously very debatable because it’s just subtext! But it’s the subtext that I got from it.

    I would like to see the novel where, a year later, Virginia is competing in martial arts tournaments and is still fat and doesn’t care. Is mainstream publishing ready for that book?

  23. I kind of steered clear of most of the YA lit out there when I was the right age for it. I was too busy reading things like War and Peace. No, really, I read it for the first time when I was fourteen.

    Anyway, since I was big into older books, a friend introduced me to Anne of Green Gables when I was about ten. I adored those books. One of the things I loved even then was that Anne and her best friend, Diana, looked so completely different from one another and were both considered pretty.

    Anne always wanted to be plump and petite with glossy dark curls like her friend, while Diana would have killed for Anne’s tall, slender figure and exotic red hair. Each one thought her own features were nothing to write home about and that the other was nuts for envying them. Most people, meanwhile, thought that blonde, sassy, flirtatious Ruby Gillis was about the prettiest thing anyone had ever seen.

    Just as bad messages can be sent and internalized from books, so can good ones. After reading about Anne, I started seeing more beauty in more people, including myself. It really quietly emphasized that beauty comes in many sizes, shapes, and colorways. Okay, everyone was white, but still, it broadened my definition of beautiful. It made me question those who felt ‘pretty’ only came in one very specific kind of package. It was only years later, though, that I really made the connection to Anne and her friends.

    I owe LM Montgomery a debt of gratitude for that.

  24. Twistie, I vividly remember reading about Anne being jealous of Diana’s dimpled elbows and thinking “Hey! *I* have that!! Yay!!” Thank you Lucy Maude.

  25. I don’t know if this is officially YA, but the main character in Maskerade by Terry Pratchett is wonderful, fat young woman. I think that YAs would like this book even if it is not sold as a YA book.

  26. What I took away from Me and Fat Glenda was the whole alphabet-burgers thing, which I tried to do with my family at age 10 but stopped at B because they insisted we do blue cheese.

    Anyway. IIRC, there was a creepy
    relationship between “Fat Glenda” and one of her male teachers, in which he noticed her “metamorphosis.” It was pretty much the typical makeover story–Glenda discovers her sex appeal and surprises herself and everybody else by wearing a sexy costume to a Halloween party and totally wowing everybody. Which, of course, could only happen after she lost weight. That said, I don’t remember it being fat-hating so much as it was a reflection of what a lot of overweight young women (myself among them) may have felt–like they weren’t being seen for who they were, because they were heavy. I also think that at the end of the story, Glenda realizes that she didn’t change that much after all…or maybe that’s just what I read into it.

    I do remember that when they got to X in the alphabet burgers, they did it by having an X for the burger–i.e. no patty, just the bun, which fit into the weight-loss scheme. That certainly is disordered eating, and nowhere in the book did they suggest that this might not be so healthy.

  27. We don’t see Virginia 6 months later or a year later, but I think we’re meant to imagine her as having lost weight. I think the implied trajectory of the book is that, once Virginia accepts herself, stops bingeing, and starts exercising, she will be thinner (though I do think the book acknowledges that some people just aren’t meant to be supermodel-thin.) This is obviously very debatable because it’s just subtext! But it’s the subtext that I got from it.

    I was left with a similar impression as well. Ideally, Virginia would find comfort within her own skin – even if she isn’t always able to refrain from binge-eating – but with lots of supposedly FA still exploiting good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy, it’s probably unlikely.

    Still, considering what was available when I was age appropriate – back in the stone age – it’s encouraging to see forward movement in this regard. It seemed like the way fat was often handled was in a “it’s not nice to taunt the fatties” minus any nuanced discussion of tolerance or challenging folks to embrace a diverse range of body types.

  28. And people say that the media doesn’t affect us? Of course it does. We are bombarded every day with the notion that having a fat body is always wrong. You are fundamentally WRONG when you are fat. Seeing a successful fat person is a HUGE slap in the face of society, and we all know that society will bite back with a VENGEANCE when it is provoked.

  29. I read a book when I was a tween about an overweight black girl with wide misshapen Afro, but was very confident about herself. It was based in Harlem, and I remember my grandmother taking it away from me because it made me too angry. lol. I can’t remember much because it was like 25 years ago. I do get a chance to read a lot of Young Adult fiction because I am YA librarian. Here are some my reviews….

    Models Don’t Eat Chocolate Cookies: Thirteen year-old Celeste is spending junior high hiding behind oversized sweats, Oreo cookies, and her best friend to protect herself from her classmate’s anti-fat taunts. Celeste is not afraid to eschew euphemisms and call herself fat. She uses it as a plain descriptor although her classmates use the word as a taunt.

    Fat Kid Rules the World: Sad, gritty realistic fiction that has a triumphant but not unrealistic ending. He does find his self confidence as he becomes a punk band drummer, and without losing an ounce of weight.

    Pretty Face: Pretty Face is the story of Hayley, an overweight teen who is being badgered (damn near abused) by her mother to lose weight—a woman who lost weight on a Weight Watchers program and now is cooking & badgering her family with the zeal of a skinny convert. Self-conscious Hayley hides her pain of not fitting in with the pretty skinny folks of Santa Monica by binge-eating on comfort food in front seat of her car or making up for being fat by being the funny girl. Feeling she needs a change of scene, her parents send her to Italy to spend the summer with an old family friend. This is where and when the transformations begin.

    Instead of spending days self-loathing, Hayley begins to enjoy life. And her life becomes very sweet when she finds the gorgeous, gap-toothed Enzo—her first love and lover. Their romance is strong, quick and heady, and they fall under the spell of each other easily. Best of all, he loves her body. She’s his curvy Americana with a beautiful face, and the phrase is not used as an underhanded compliment. Hayley finally accepts and learns to love her big body.

    Upon returning to California, she is immediately crushed by her mother’s size obsession as Hayley body has firmed up and slimmed down a bit from her daily walking tours and visits to ancient churches. Hayley does not revel in the compliment of being/looking smaller because she is past needing it. Then on the last page, the book takes a turn. Hayley steps on the scale and is happy about the number on it! The book tried so hard to create a journey of a protagonist who takes care of herself physically AND emotionally for the first time and accepts her body for what it is and can do, but it suddenly kills that positive message by having her equate it to the number on the scale.

    Beacon Hills HighBeacon Hills High is an ambitious book as it tackles eating disorders, adoption, drug use, unsafe sex, self-image, colorism, and self acceptance. I applaud Mo’Nique and her co-author for writing a highly readable and positive novel for teens. This book is really for those new to our/the U.S.’ fat bias. The book was written as though it may become a series, and I hope so because I found Eboni, the lead character, to be fun, strong and positive.

  30. There’s a graphic novel called “Runaways,” which is about a group of teenagers who discover that their parents are evil supervillians, and they run away. The teenagers themselves also have superpowers, and one of the girls is chubby. She does feel bad about her looks towards the beginning, but she kicks ass in general and has a romance. I’ve only read the first volume, but I think there are more.

  31. Katia: Even that book (which I generally love) ends with Agnes losing all her “extra” weight by walking back to Lancre.

    Really? Wow, I clearly need to re-read it; I completely edited that out of my memory of the book.

  32. Although, when we see Agnes in later books, isn’t she back to being fat again? (I also have mixed feelings about Perdita in those books — cliches like “inside every fat girl there’s a thin girl wanting to get out” tend to become literally true in the Discworld; Perdita is the rather unpleasant thin girl inside Agnes.)

  33. And then there was Sweet Valley High which never failed to dwell on Jessica and Elizabeth’s “perfect size six figures.”

    You know that they’ve retconned them to “perfect size four” in the reissues?

    HA! That is beyond ridiculous.

  34. I remember one of Nancy Drew’s companions (Bess, if memory serves me right) being constantly described as “overweight,” and while Nancy and George dearly loved Bess, I remember way too many scenes involving Bess having issues with her weight and denying herself food or guilting over what food she did eat. Since there were only about a bajillion books I don’t know if Bess ever finally accepted her body as it was, but I remember being mildly vexed as a preteen since I knew it was sending me A Message ™ and I wasn’t sure I liked it.

    Also, I absolutely adore Anne McCaffrey’s writing (I don’t know if she quals as YA, but I started reading her as a teen so that’s the perspective I’m recalling from), and I was particularly in love with her characters Lessa and Menolly, both strong women protagonists. I identified with Lessa because of her shortness, and I definitely give McCaffrey props for writing an influential and strong female lead that is at a social disadvantage because of her height, but I’m a little disappointed that both Lessa and Menolly are described as being quite thin. It might be a little much to expect a protagonist to be short AND stocky that ISN’T a dwarf (nothing against Gimli or Bruenor Battlehammer or any of the other great literary dwarves, and they usually are some of my favorite characters, but I just want to read about a short stocky woman who doesn’t have a beard!), and this is quite a small nitpicky sort of thing, but it is something I wish McCaffrey had addressed.

  35. I work in a library and sometimes read YA lit so I can recommend books. Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Princess Ben has a fat teenage princess as a protagonist. She’s fine with her weight, but her aunt tries to get her to lose weight in order to marry her off. There’s a battle of wills, some binging, and decent character development. Ben does eventually lose some weight, but it’s a combination of the strict diet and hard manual labor. She’s still overweight, just less so. And I think she’s disgusted by the courtiers who coo over her “new look,” if I remember correctly.

    It’s not a bad book. Murdock deals with Ben’s body image and issues very well. I’d suggest the book to anyone who likes YA fantasy fiction.

  36. I remember reading some book as a pre-teen that really struck home for me. The main character was a girl who enjoyed writing (as I did!) and would climb up a tree in her yard to write (as I did!) and was fat (as I was/am!). I remember she had a lot of self-hate, but she’d write stories about a land where fat was valued and loved…and I recall the end being somewhat disappointing, though I don’t recall why.

    The only difference between her and me was that her mother was very anti-fat, whereas my mom (as a lifelong fat person) was very into FA, though dealing with her own self-hate issues along the way. Her dad was more accepting of who she was, in a way, though he’d just say that she’d grow into her body. I remember her being happy that she could climb her tree (something that her less tomboy and skinnier friends couldn’t do) and be hidden to the world, which was exactly how I felt.

    I had it in paperback, and I cannot for the life of me remember the title or anything that will help me find it in Amazon. Does this seem familiar to anyone?

  37. I recall reading a profoundly disturbing book, which I think was called Fat Girl (but it might not have been, because I’m not getting any Google hits for it) about a boy who starts going out with a fat girl, and puts her on a diet and controls every aspect of her life, till she gets to a kind of “normal fat” size and instead of wearing his chosen outfits and doing her hair like he’s been getting her to do it (both designed to make her “magnificent” despite her weight), she gets a normal prom dress and has her hair cut, and the boy loses his shit and is just furious with her because how dare she be just a normal pretty fat girl when he’d spent so much time and energy making her stand out. I think he probably wasn’t meant to be sympathetic, but he was a first person narrator and the whole thing was pretty disturbing. Fortunately, she did break up with him at that point and presumably got on with her life. But I remember she was a really passive, rather pathetic creature who was terrifyingly easy for him to control.

  38. I remember Louise Fitzhugh’s Nobody’s Family is Going to Change with fondness, but it’s been so long since I read it … the heroine was fat, though, and so far as I recall, what shit she took for it was dismissed as shit. What I mainly remember of it … is her intelligence, defiance, and the way the kids banded together to help one another deal.

  39. @Maddie that book you’re talking about is by Marilyn Sachs and it is on my to read list.

    @Lilah, I did read most of Big Fat Manifesto. I liked where the book was going, but the protagonist was just unlikable. I wanted to root for her, but she just seemed like an a**hole. I did like the parts of the book where she is trying to talk her boyfriend out of getting a gastric bypass because the medical community is uncertain how well the surgery works on young African American men.

  40. did anyone like the character of Carmen in the sisterhood of the travelling pants? She was described as “curvy”, and the other girls as slender but one was short, one was average height, and one was tall and somehow all four of them could magically fit into the same pair of jeans? I can totally understand if anyone doesn’t want to read a book that says the same pair of pants can fit four people with totally different body types, though. There is a scene where she is supposed to go get fitted for a bridesmaid dress, and it’s too small, and she runs off. (to her credit she is not only dealing with feeling like a fattie in that moment, but she’s been dealing with the fact her dad is getting remarried and going to have a new family for the several days before that…) The first book deals with some mature topics but is written in a way that younger kids wouldn’t be hit over the head with it. The 4th book is a little more mature and explicit, so I think it’s wierd that it’s for a totaly different age group, all though I think 1)in that book, the girls are in the summer after their first year of college so it’s realistic for the age the characters are and 2)I had no problem with the last Harry Potter books being more mature than the first ones, so maybe it’s OK?

    In the last book Carmen gets a lead in a play over her drama club friend whom Carmen has made herself the invisible shadow to. Carmen’s almost lost herself a little bit, and when she got the role her supposed friend is like “WTF, why did it go to her?” and makes Carmen feel all inadequate. Realizing that her friend wasn’t a real friend at all, she takes the role, works on getting herself back again and realizing how much she kicks ass. They even talk about Carmen dressing in brighter colors and sleveless tops again like she always used to and getting her real personality back and it hints that, again, amongst many other things of course, her feelings about her size played a part in why she acted the way she did. And I think the author shows her as acting smart when she quits letting size insecurities get in the way of her enoying life and using her talents.

    She’s the only one, though, who never gets a love interest :( There is a guy in book 3 I think it is? who really likes her, but all the other girls’ relationsips with guys are much more explored. Specifically, the author mentions all of the other three girls having sex, and not Carmen. Then again, they really focus on Carmen’s development as a person and her inner strength. I related to her a bit even though I’m not fat or my parents aren’t divorced, so I think that’s cool. They explore her becoming the person she wants to be outside of a relationship and since a relationship is such a big theme with the other three girls, it’s nice that one isn’t. But it does seem wierd to explore the theme of sex with the thin girls and leave the fat one out of it.

    I also, btw, like the fat young woman in the book “The Mozart Season.” She’s not the main character, alas, but I like her. I thinkher name was Karen?

  41. In the Harry Potter books, Rowling tells us that Harry’s mean and stupid cousin Dudley is fat because he’s spoiled and lazy. Maybe Rowling realized along the way this was problematic so in the later books she has him take up boxing so at least he could be a more athletic bully.

    And it’s not just the bad guys… “plump” (that’s how Rowling refers to him) Neville Longbottom is presented as clumsy and shy. In the early films, the actor playing him wears a fat suit; in the later films Neville gets slim and also develops more confidence.

  42. Has anyone mentioned “Fat Chance” yet? It’s got some positive messages, if I recall correctly, but one of the things that annoyed the hell out of me was how it handled eating disorders; the main character is bulimic, but when a fellow bulimic girl gets into a dangerous situation, she’s able to just stop; the implication being that EDs are just a matter of controlling your behavior to stop being disordered.

    It’s been ages since I read that book, though.

  43. Eve- The character’s name is Gert, and there are seven volumes to my knowledge. Gert is freakin’ awesome, and she does make peace with her weight. –SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! BWOOP! BWOOP! BWOOP!– An older, skinnier Gert from the future shows up while on death’s door to deliver a dire warning. After her death, the present-day Gert wants nothing to do with the future Gert, and the weight thing doesn’t come up again. –END SPOILER– It’s good stuff from Marvel, considering how superheroes are typically portrayed as uber-athletes and runway models in capes and stilettos. I recommend it!

  44. On the other hand, Molly Weasley is described as fat, with no indication that she loses weight, and she kicks ass. I do dislike the Dursley sections of the books, though; always felt very Roald Dahl in a bad way to me.

  45. I read all of Judy Blume’s books when I was a youngster, oh so many moons ago. Blubber was my least favorite though I can’t remember why. I do remember reading “Are you there God its me Margaret?” and getting pissed off because the book was about the girls who were not developed and I was not only a fat girl but hit puberty at the age of 9 (almost 10) and so I felt outside their longing to develop. . .now I think I related to Deanie more but I can’t remember why. . .or if weight was involved

    I read the cat my gym suit and there’s bat in bunk five–several times. . .I really liked it back then. I think in there’s a bat in bunk five there were good bits about the difference between what she looked like in her mind and what she actually looked like and I think I related to that disconnect.

    It’s nice to hear there are contemporary YA books dealing with weight and body image out there–contemporary and hopefully more progressive. . . .

  46. The Bald Soprano: actually, Agnes stays fat. Granny says she looks thinner, but really Granny is needling Agnes into accepting her role as third witch. The next book, “Carpe Jugulum,” has Agnes again, still fat, still focused on that (she hates Lacrimosa, another girl in the book, who is described again and again as malicious and too thin), which I find annoying… but she always kicking butt and taking names. Also, though only person who makes any mention of Agnes being fat is Lacrimosa, who hates Agnes as much as Agnes hates her. Agnes gets less and less focused on her weight with every appearance, which is why I’m crossing my fingers for a new witch’s book.

  47. LilahMorgan — Molly Weasley always seemed very one-dimensional to me up until we get to see her kick ass in book 7. Before that, all she was about was being a mother. She cooked; she cleaned; she knitted. And, granted, her ass-kicking in book 7 is very much a “how dare you threaten my child” moment, but it really made me wonder who Molly Weasley really is, other than a mom. (Not suggesting that being a mom is a less-than-real part of anyone’s self, only that it’s not the entirety.) What does she like, what does she hate, what was she like in school? What does she want to do with her life now that the war is over? (I think she’d make an awesome bodyguard — have the “muscle” out front to scare people, but have Molly Weasley on the inside!)

  48. I’ve heard good things about Fruit: A Novel about a Boy and his Nipples, but I haven’t read it… still, it might bear checking out.

  49. Seconding LilahMorgan on the Diana Wynne Jones books. Deep Secret especially. I love how Maree ends up just as fat and cantankerous and outrageous as she started, and gets her happily ever after.
    Also in Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small series, Keladry got teased for being thick-waisted and has to overcome body issues and bullying, though I never read her as being fat.
    I’m pretty sure Yolanda’s Genius is YA. It’s been a long time since I’ve read it, but it’s definitely on the list of books I would unhesitatingly hand to my younger self.
    Warriors of Alavna started off with a fat female character, but then she lost weight, and there was a gender-changing illusion involved and it got complicated. I seem to remember something about the weight being a defense against bullies or something, and she did lose a lot of her fat while training for battle, but she never lost her physical bulk. She was always much taller and heavier than the male protagonist.
    Ven Detta, Anne McCaffrey’s physical descriptions started getting on my nerves after a while. As far as I can tell, there’s exactly one tanned blonde woman on the entire planet and she’s eeeeeevil. I kind of tuned out her physical descriptions after like ten female characters in a row were short, slim, pale, dark haired and grey eyed. But I do like Menolly a lot.

  50. Hmm, I guess I disagree – she was a member of the Order of the Phoenix in her own right, and I thought it was clear she was significantly involved in the fight against Voldemort. I really haven’t read the later books since they’re release though, so it’s possible I’m forgetting statements to the contrary.

  51. When I was in 5th grade, I got picked to go to a young writers conference at USF. They had several published authors there, supposedly to give the kiddies some inspiration. And I met Paula Danziger and received a copy of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit. This was over 20 years ago, but I remember her as being short, fat, and fiftyish with short ash blonde hair and glasses. She talked about characterization, if I remember correctly. I got home and read the book and I liked it. The main character, Marcy, is an eighth grade girl who is fat because she overeats out of stress – her parents fight a lot. Her English teacher is a radical feminist who inspires the class to think in different ways. She meets a boy who likes her as she is. Marcy deals with self-hate and a verbally abusive father, which was shocking for me as a kid – I dealt with that in real life, but I never read about it happening to a kid near my age.

    The sad thing is, in the sequel There’s A Bat in Bunk Five which takes place the next summer, Marcy has said no to ice cream, has lost 30 pounds, and now looks “normal.” This I know now is part of the author’s Fantasy of Being Thin. I still love her early books which deal with teenage girls and depression, divorce, sex, and other family issues.

  52. @Ven Detta – Funny, I recall McCaffrey’s Pern novels as very fatphobic – the evil Weyrwoman in the first novel is very fat and it stands for how lazy and greedy she is. I believe there was some handwaving about how her dragon is fat, too. I feel like fat=bad, thin=good is generally the case in McCaffrey’s books. (Although I loved them anyway as a kid. Telepathic dragons can cause me to forgive a lot.)

  53. I’ll never forget reading “The Sara Summer” by Mary Downing Hahn when I was a kid and being flabbergasted when a hugely fat female character was described as being “almost 100 pounds!” The character was 12.

  54. Maddie, the book is called The Fat Girl and is by Marilyn Sachs. I had forgotten this one until you mentioned its disturbing plot.

    I spied it in my box o’ YA fiction and read a couple of passages. It’s more terrible than I remember. I realize there are folks who appreciate Sachs’s work, but she 0 and 2 with me. I read Almost Fifteen and was underwhelmed by the plot, characters and the writing.

  55. I read a book when I was in middle school called ‘Staying Fat for Sarah Burns’ and I remember liking it. The plot is basically that the protagonist is this fat kid who hangs out with this other social outcast, Sarah Burns, who is horribly scarred from a childhood accident. The protagonist hits puberty or gets into football or something and starts losing weight and as he does, he starts to be accepted by the jocks and cheerleaders and popular types at school. So as I remember, it’s mostly about him trying to stay true to Sarah who is still an outcast and who has been his friend all along, and at the same time trying to grapple with the feelings he has about suddenly being accepted by all the people who used to mock him because he was fat.

    I certainly wasn’t reading it with FA in mind at the time, but looking back, I only remember that it really stressed how shallow and fickle high school popularity can be, and that this kid was the same good person both when he was fat and thin, but only his other ‘physically different’ friend saw it.

    On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I remember that at the end of the book Sarah was going to get reconstructive surgery to fix her face and that was going to make her fit in better. So the two characters ended up thin and pretty at the end? Hmmm…

  56. I really highly recommend John Bellairs’ stories about Lewis Barnavelt (The House with a Clock in Its Walls; The Figure in the Shadows; The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring). These are older books but I think they’ve had a fairly recent reprinting so they’re not too hard to find, especially in used book stores.

  57. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I remember that at the end of the book Sarah was going to get reconstructive surgery to fix her face and that was going to make her fit in better. So the two characters ended up thin and pretty at the end? Hmmm…

    I actually re-read this a few years ago and I’m fairly sure it ended up with Sarah saying she was leaving the possibility of reconstructive surgery open but wasn’t deciding yet, which seemed fairly reasonable.

    I did think the book had a bit too much of the “fat is a choice” ethos embedded in it, though not as vitrolically as a lot of media which made me a bit wary. But I generally liked it.

  58. :(

    I didn’t know about the arbitrary and excessive skinny-fying of the Wakefield twins. I pretty much worshipped them in my youth… I’d like to think that I came away wanting to be Elizabeth instead of Jessica because depth, intellect, and kindness are important regardless of size and Barbie-ness.

    I hadn’t even thought about how reading all those books might have affected my own self-image, which was “I guess I look okay, but why are my thighs so fat, and why can’t my hair be straight?”

    Anyone else think YA lit written by our moderators would round the canon out nicely? (pun thoroughly intended)

  59. “A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune” is a decent portrayal of a fat (male) protagonist. Otherwise I’m kind of racking my brains – I’ll second the Anne books on account of Diana’s desirable dimples, and the main characters of Sherwood Smith’s Wren books is described as short and round, but that’s about it.

    It’s actually one of the things I love about Victorian literature – rounded bodies are always the desirable ones. They’ve got a heap of other issues, but it’s always nice to hear the praises of a full-figured girl sung.

  60. Rejoyce, I definitely agree with you. That point probably wasn’t very clear in my post, since I do love the Pern novels dearly, and as you put it, telepathic dragons cause you to forgive a lot. :-) I liked how McCaffrey addressed shortness and how a (human) character can be awesome even though they’re short, but I also wish she would have made her books less fatphobic. I posted it meaning for it to be an example of a “lack thereof” portrayal of fatness. Apologies for the confusion!

  61. Someone lent me “Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!” a couple of years ago, after raving about how good it was. And I was torn, because the writing was actually far better than I expect from teen-issues novels, but it was also the most fat-hating thing I have ever read. There are lingering descriptions of how fat and disgusting the female lead is, and the viewpoint character goes on about how she can barely walk, and then her weight is revealed to be 165! (If I am remembering right.) If I could have reached through time and space to punch the author, I swear would have! She gets fatter throughout the book and it is a desperate cry for attention from her mother! Did you know bad moms are why kids are fat? Ugh.
    Usually books I hate are badly written as well as infuriating, but I made an exception for this novel. I recommend avoiding it.

  62. One I haven’t seen mentioned yet is “Dinah and the Green Fat Kingdom.” I remember really enjoying it when I was younger, though my memory is fuzzy on the plot; this Amazon review has a good summary -it sounds pretty fat-positive in the review, actually, but I’d have to re-read to confirm that.

  63. Or, even better, I wish McCaffrey could have made her books NOT fatphobic, but then I wish that of a lot of authors…

  64. As far as YA fantasy/sci fi goes, I recommend wholeheartedly and unreservedly “The Sterkarm Handshake” by Susan Price. It’s a fantastic book not only for its portrayal of the protagonist Andrea, who is fat. It’s about a modern woman in her twenties (Andrea) who finds herself living amongst a 16th century clan on the borders of England and Scotland.

    She’s fat, and a few characters are negative about it, and she herself has some self-relection on it, but it’s not presented as all she is. Of course she finds that the 16th century border people have a very different idea of whether a fat woman is attractive, but what really struck me is that Andrea is always, unfailingly presented as being physically able, mentally capable and emotionally rounded. And there’s even a nod to HAES! (One of the arsehole characters thinks to himself that you’d think all that walking around the hills would have made her lose weight. This is presented as being the kind of thing an ignorant ass would think.)

    Honest to god, I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s a fantastic story.

  65. Aside from the many many YA horror books I read, I mostly skipped YA fiction and went right into adult fiction. All of the YA horror books had thin pretty people in them, all of those thin pretty people had major issues, and most of them were out to kill each other. Not the best fare to make you feel good about being a not-pretty person, but on the other hand, a fairly good lesson in beauty not equaling happiness or success. At least most of those books didn’t sell stalking, manipulation, and control as an expression of love.

    Maybe I’ve got the wrong age group, though. I’m thinking of R. L. Stine’s harder murder stories (not Goosebumps) and Christopher Pike and all their imitators. I kind of went straight from Little House on the Prairie into Clan of the Cave Bear. (As an aside, I question the wisdom of letting 6th graders read Jean M. Auel. To say the books were educational is an understatement.)

  66. Oh! But avoid the sequel, “A Sterkarm Kiss”. Avoid avoid avoid! I don’t know what went wrong with it, but it’s nothing compared to Handshake. Gritty and realistic became unpleasant and excessively gory, FA-friendly became thin-bashing and there’s at least one scene I would be inclined to assign a trigger warning.

  67. I don’t recall that Menolly is described as thin. What she’s described as is tall and easily mistaken for a boy.

    Laura Ingalls Wilder describes herself as stout as a little french pony.

  68. Liz, I think you’re right! What threw me is the cover art. She’s not necessarily a wraith, but she’s definitely thin in the cover art for the first two books (and definitely can’t be confused as a boy!). Bad cover art! Bad! *shakes index finger menacingly*

  69. @Ven Detta – I guess we agree that the Pern novels lack positive portrayals of fatness. I just wanted to make it clear that they contain negative portrayals of fatness, rather that just not having fat characters. Which makes me sad!

    I’m trying to think of YA novels with fat heroic characters, but am having no luck. I do second the rec for Diana Wynne Jones novels. House of Many Ways, in particular, struck me as very body positive. The heroine is naturally very thin, even though she eats a lot, and there are lots of descriptions of her eating pastries and none of her agonizing about it. Of course before reading it, you should read the linked Howl’s Moving Castle (which the best book ever, in my opinion) and Castle in the Air (in which there are two fat, silly girls who are minor characters but I feel like their fatness is seperate from their silliness and they end up being fancied by a djinn for their bounteous beauty.)

  70. LilahMorgan and lasersloth, Sarah Burnes did not get the reconstructive surgery. In Angry Management, she and Angus Bethune meet in an anger management group, and roadtrip together. Romance (with a great FA message) ensues.

  71. “Slightly better, but still problematic, was Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade and the sequel, by Barthe DeClements. One of the main characters is fat and is mocked by her classmates. On the one hand, she is treated as a real person. On the other hand, she’s only fat because she eats too much (to deal with her feelings over her parents’ divorce) and once she stops, she becomes thin super quick and then, in a future book, is described as “looking like a thin Dolly Parton.” I can’t believe I remember that turn of phrase.”

    I was trying to think of this book, one I remembered reading in elementary school. I distinctly remember a comment at the end of the book that she would probably never be thin, though she did end up losing weight to the point that her clothes didn’t fit well anymore. I haven’t read the sequels, though, so maybe it changed. I like that she became very sympathetic by the end of the book.

  72. Someone lent me “Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!” a couple of years ago, after raving about how good it was. And I was torn, because the writing was actually far better than I expect from teen-issues novels, but it was also the most fat-hating thing I have ever read. There are lingering descriptions of how fat and disgusting the female lead is, and the viewpoint character goes on about how she can barely walk, and then her weight is revealed to be 165! (If I am remembering right.) If I could have reached through time and space to punch the author, I swear would have! She gets fatter throughout the book and it is a desperate cry for attention from her mother! Did you know bad moms are why kids are fat? Ugh.

    The writing is quite wonderful – as is usually the case for M.E. Kerr – but, yes the characterization of Dinky Hocker is pretty problematic. I generally list it as an example of greatness of the author and a classic in that sense, but definitely does not hold up as an example of inclusive YA lit.

    An aside – there is a LOT of quality YA fiction. Most of the mass fiction targeted at ANY demographic is going to be schlock; YA doesn’t hold the patent on pedestrian writing! Much of it cannot be found in bookstores, but in the woefully underfunded stacks of public libraries!

  73. but on the subject of Runaways (and there be SERIOUS SPOILER HINTS here so please skip this comment if you’ve only read the beginning and don’t want to know) what happened to Gert in the end made me burst into tears and swear off comics for a pretty long time. I was reminded far too much of the ‘Freedom Ring’ debacle, where Marvel suits stood up and said “See? We have gay characters!” then *killed them off* the next month, never to return. Gert was great, but she was not the start of a trend, and she’s gone, and in the rest of the comics being a fat girl is still good for nothing but a laugh… Sorry, it still upsets me. She wasn’t even my favorite character, but she felt like a tiny beacon of hope of being considered human within the comic book universe, and then… sigh. I overreact, probably. But sigh.

  74. I am currently rather enamoured by the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. Dystopian sci-fi in which adolescents are surgically altered on their 16th birthday to become thin and pretty…

  75. I am currently rather enamoured by the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. Dystopian sci-fi in which adolescents are surgically altered on their 16th birthday to become thin and pretty…

    Sounds like my high school days in the San Fernando Valley.

  76. @Rejoyce, I had indeed forgotten about the portrayal of Jora and Nemorth (until I went back and reread that passage this afternoon). I also found the rite of the “mating flight” to be problematic as well, but that’s another issue for another thread! As a teen, I had read the characters of Jora and Nemorth as something of a parable of Sloth in general and not a portrayal of fat=bad, but I now see the fatphobic rhetoric in those characters. :-( Oh, stereotypes, why must you persist?

  77. I don’t recall reading a lot of YA at an impressionable age because I learned to read very, very early. My environment was lacking in children’s and YA lit — base libraries, my grandparents’ rural farmhouse and little town libraries. Both parents were in grad school while I was 3-6 (dad on half-pay while he finished his MBA) meant there wasn’t a lot of money for books especially for me so I read whatever was around. I know I read the Encyclopedia Americana, Mark Twain, Jane Austen, the Brontes, To Kill a Mockingbird, some John Jakes, a lot of Danielle Steele and V.C. Andrews by the time I was six or seven because that’s what was in the house… and yes, I do think it warped me a little. (And yes, I did manage to understand the more R-rated content… I was just horrified by it…)

    I was fascinated by the Little House on the Prairie books at about 7 or 8, and thinking about them, there’s a lot of subtle FA acceptance in the later stories. Ma thinks Laura should wear her corset to sleep, but Laura refuses, even though her waist should be improbably tiny in Ma’s opinion. She also describes herself as stout as a little French horse, and doesn’t seem ashamed of it, more proud of her strength. Laura may be jealous of Mary’s “perfect” figure, but it’s okay. (I also like that Mary, while blind and pitied in context with the time, is not denied opportunities and sheltered as so many others of her time were. Really, despite Rose Wilder Lane’s later libertarian intrusions, the Ingalls were amazingly progressive for their time.)

    Since everyone around me was “stout as a little french horse” (I inherited my mother’s family’s body morphology) the fact that Laura was okay with herself made it okay for me to be okay with myself. Laura was also proud of the fact that she was clever, and her family was proud of her cleverness, which made it okay for me to be intelligent, too.

    I liked biography and history more than fiction as a child, especially bios and histories of women, so reading about Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Elizabeth Blackwell, Queen Elizabeth, Deborah Sampson and the Susan B. Anthony (and the other early feminists) meant I never really got the message that women’s bodies were their primary quality.

    (Most of the negative messages I got as a child had less to do with my body than my mind. I don’t think my father really knew what to do with a girl child who read at three and was in other ways rather frighteningly intelligent. There was a lot of “get your nose out of that book” and “help your mother” and “what do you need to know X for?” as a means of forming me; he was stunned and a little confused when I went to college at 16, in part because I don’t think he ever realized I’d need to go to college.)

    Later, when we lived off-base in a town with a good library, I was initially forced into the YA section as a tween and was bored to tears with the YA selections. After that, I got my mom to put a notice on my library card that I was allowed to check out whatever I wanted. I did try to read the crap my friends were reading, but in 5th grade, I discovered SF&F, and after that, there was no going back.

    Reading YA as an adult profoundly disappoints me because I know young adults are capable of dealing with complexity and in fact thrive upon it. I found Dolores Umbrage terribly disappointing as a villain (equating evil with ugly, and fat with ugly was lazy; equating spoiled bully with fat was lazy WRT Dudley). It’s not just the FA, but the fact that YA stories tend to be so terribly two dimensional.

  78. Later, when we lived off-base in a town with a good library, I was initially forced into the YA section as a tween and was bored to tears with the YA selections. After that, I got my mom to put a notice on my library card that I was allowed to check out whatever I wanted. I did try to read the crap my friends were reading, but in 5th grade, I discovered SF&F, and after that, there was no going back.

    This was interesting because I had the exact opposite experience with base libraries. With them having some of the best YA fiction and most comprehensive children/youth lit sections of any libraries I visited as a kid. Maybe it depends on the branch of the military. I don’t know.

  79. YA stories tend to be so terribly two dimensional.

    While you are certainly entitled to express your opinion, I feel it’s probably not the best idea to make such sweeping generalizations, particularly when – based of your comment – it appears you have limited exposure to the field.

    Also, the same argument has been used to dismiss SF&F writing.

  80. YA stories tend to be so terribly two dimensional.

    I’ll chime in here that it depends on the author. Good YA fiction doesn’t aim “down” it just deals with subject matter that’s of interest to the age group. One thing I like about good YA fiction is how it avoids using gratuitous sex and (less often) violence to compensate for a thin plot.

  81. I remember books for children called something like “Me Too”. My family bought me two from the series. Me, too, I’m fat”, and I don’t remember the second one. The protagonist was a girl who loved food; according to her family, too much. She asks for a gift which is simply a darts game, but it turns out to be magical. If she aims the darts at low-cal food, the next day she’s shockingly skinny. If she aims at rich food, the next day she’s really fat. After being bullied for a couple days, she realises that she can use this to her advantage. For example, losing weight for a running competition or getting extremely fat to take up more space and be visible on a group photograph.

    Eventually, the use of the game makes her lose all food-related anxiety and she eats for pleasure, with no guilt. I loved this book as a child.

  82. Thanks for this thread, snarkysmachine!

    I love YA fiction and was JUST looking at my local bookstore for something new to read and couldn’t decide. I will purchase some of the ones mentioned here.

  83. BTW, I hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way because some WONDERFUL YA novels were coming out in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but I think there’s been a sea change in YA starting in this decade, and a person who bases their judgements of YA on the books available during their own adolescence is likely to be somewhat off the mark.

  84. I remember a book called “Heads You Win, Tails I Lose,” (Isabelle Holland, 1973) about a high-school girl who loses a bunch of weight by stealing her mother’s diet pills — but IIRC, the weight loss doesn’t fix anything really. And she’s not very amused by the people who like her so much more when she’s thin.

    The message I remember was that external “fixes” wouldn’t help internal problems. Whether or not it was the “correct” message I can’t say — does anybody else remember this one?

  85. I haven’t read any of the above, and I can’t help but be grateful.

    My all-time favorite fat chick in literature is Gert Yorks from Runaways. While the other characters say some seriously cruel stuff about her, and she seems a bit down on herself, she gets a guy who respects her and never tries to lose weight. Plus, psychic dinosaur at her command. Who doesn’t want a psychic dinosaur?

  86. BTW, I hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way because some WONDERFUL YA novels were coming out in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but I think there’s been a sea change in YA starting in this decade, and a person who bases their judgements of YA on the books available during their own adolescence is likely to be somewhat off the mark.

    I agree with you completely. There was great stuff in what I termed “The Golden Age of YA Lit” and in some ways that has made me miss some of the great books published circa now. It can’t all be sheepskin coats and crushes on 70s era Redford – a staple of many 70s YA lit.

  87. I read a book about a fat girl going away to boarding school, and I only remember she was fat because her room/dormmates made fun of her large sized underwear. In limericks, I think.
    Actually, I don’t remember the book well, but I don’t think her weight was much of an issue, apart from that one incident and the character having low self confidence. And actually, that one scene would have been less jarring if the other girls had mocked her for her weight to her face.

    @shine
    Uglies is FABULOUS.
    They aren’t just thin and pretty, they’re perfect, based on some kind of futuristic evo-psych psuedo science.

    There are all kinds of YA. In fact, in several above posts, where people say “I skipped the YA section, and read X instead,” I would consider X to be YA. YA fiction includes books appropriate for anyone from tweens to late teens, which covers quite a bit of ground.

  88. I’ll be damned if I can remember the name, but I remember reading a YA book about two girls spending the summer at the Jersey shore. The narrator is stick-thin and jealous of her best friend, who is curvy but of course thinks she’s heavy. The BF is portrayed as fun and beautiful, and it’s never made clear if she *is* overweight or not.

    Which got me thinking: A part of fat acceptance is having all bodies respected and treated as human, not accepted-despite-fatness. So I’m wondering if there are books in which characters’ bodies aren’t described enough for the reader to tell if they’re overweight–and what readers, overweight and not, might read into that. I remember always thinking that Harriet from “Harriet the Spy” was chubby, though I don’t think the books say anything about it either way–I just liked her and so sort of superimposed myself onto her, as as chubby kid.

  89. Daniel Pinkwater has written a lot of YA books and often has at least one fat character, often a main character. (He himself self-identifies as “fat.”) One of my favorites was mentioned above by Liz: Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars. The Snarkout Boys books (The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, The Snarkout Boys and the Baconburg Horror) also come to mind.

    His books are written with excellent good humor. Sometimes his fat characters eat a lot of junk food, like the main character’s uncle in Yobgorgle, but I don’t remember any judging. And a sub-subthread in that book is the same uncle finding a fat men’s clothing store and getting safari clothes and dragon bathrobes in his size. :-)

  90. Daniel Pinkwater has written a lot of YA books and often has at least one fat character, often a main character.

    Doesn’t he call into “Car Talk” sometimes? I think he’s the one who would regularly call in about his search for the perfect car for fat people and was always pretty funny.

  91. LilahMorgan, I’ve never heard Pinkwater on there but I wouldn’t be surprised–he also does commentaries on NPR. I wish I’d caught one of those calls!

    I just found a short piece of his online that I was wishing I could share with you guys. It’s on this page, the piece is “Add Cold Water And Read.” (Sorry I can’t link straight to that section.)

  92. Annepersand – that Jacqueline Wilson novel is Girls under Pressure, and I agree with what you say about it. I loved how Ellie was presented with positive images of fatness through art; that was awesome. I remember liking that the author never mentioned any numbers regarding Ellie’s weight.

  93. Thanks, Frankincensy! I remember also loving that it wasn’t a big deal to her family or friends, either, and that people were worried by her weight loss, not pleased by it. Overall I felt like the books were extremely true to life, and Jacqueline Wilson’s a great author, to boot.

  94. I’ve read Big Fat Manifesto. I write more about it here. Actually that post also deals with Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere and Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie, which is about a fat woman, but it’s not YA, but those parts are probably less interesting or at least a bit off-topic.

    In all, the MC of Big Fat Manifesto is not exactly likeable, but I did like the differences painted between her and her (also fat) boyfriend. He had no problem eating in front of people and could down a lot of sweets in one sitting, while Jamie (the MC) never eats in front of other people. And then he goes on to having gastric bypass surgery because his family has the money and hers doesn’t. And it actually deals with the whole “if I had the money, would I do it?” angle as well, and the answer is not clear cut.

    In all it’s not the strongest book I’ve read in the last year, and the MC is sometimes unlikeable, but there are a lot of basic FA in it, seeing as there are school paper articles featured, in which Jamie goes through the basics of exactly that.

    What I did not care for was the stereotypes served up for me in the shape of her bone thin friend who was also a vegan. It talks about how restrictive she has to be and how thin she is and when she comes over to Jamie’s house her mum offers her RAISINS. Just raisins. And since we’re talking about a book where we’re supposed to ditch the stereotypes of fat people it really irked me that the portrayal of her friend isn’t more multi-faceted.

    But in all, it’s a fat positive book, I have to say.

  95. BTW, I hope this doesn’t come off the wrong way because some WONDERFUL YA novels were coming out in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but I think there’s been a sea change in YA starting in this decade, and a person who bases their judgements of YA on the books available during their own adolescence is likely to be somewhat off the mark.

    Also: Blubber, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, and Sweet Valley Twins and even Sweet Valley High are aimed at 9-12 year old kids or intermediate readers (IR). I read all of these books in third and fourth grade. Let’s just say they had a limited impact on my adolescence.

  96. I didn’t like Uglies, as I thought it strayed over that line — especially with the sequels — of identifying a problem in the society and glorifying it at exactly the same time. Sort of like my problem with “Dollhouse.”

    I loved The Cat Ate my Gymsuit, at the time. Haven’t read non-fantasy YA in years . . .

    And yes, Princess Ben is lovely, although when I read it I wasn’t looking for FA stuff.

  97. Runaways is definitely something I really, really wish I’d read when I was younger. Much though I hate that Gert kicked it, I still feel like she’s a character my fat, dinosaur-loving, comic-book-reading teenage self was crying out for, and I deeply regret that I didn’t get to meet her when I needed her, if that makes any sense …

    On the plus side it looks like they might be bringing her back to life (oh, comics), so here’s hopin’?

  98. I second (third?) the recommendations for Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series (the books, not the movies). I think the idea that all four girls could wear the same jeans was sufficiently discussed as a moment of magic — they acknowledge that it’s completely impossible, and that’s why they thought the pants were something special. Carmen’s probably an in-betweenie, at most, but it’s still nice to see her contrasted with her thinner friends, and still be considered beautiful and sexy. I also think that, if you look at the series as a whole, they do a decent job depicting teen female sexuality (some of the books individually don’t do so well out of context) and friendship.

    Part of the conflict in the first book for Carmen is being curvy and Puerto Rican versus her new stepmom and stepsister, who are skinny and blonde and white, and her being boxed in by the assumption that she, too, would be skinny and white. Which she violently rejects.

    I also love the Uglies series for really forcing the reader to consider how cultural beauty standards shape perception — it seemed to me that the Pretties were not what we would consider “pretty” now (it’s set about 300 years in the future), and that Tally might have been what we now consider “pretty”, but was completely unable to consider that possibility until she was outside the Ugly/Pretty society. It made it crystal clear that standards of beauty are culturally prescribed, without actually having to say that. And whatever Tally ends up looking like (I’m not telling!), the ultimate point is that she wants to keep control and autonomy over her mind. Great series.

  99. I just remembered Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s A Fistful of Sky. The main character is a fat teenage girl (despite the cover image) who, if I remember correctly, doesn’t mind her weight but her mom has huge issues with it. It’s been quite a while since I read it, but I seem to remember a strong FA thread in the book.

  100. despite Rose Wilder Lane’s later libertarian intrusions
    Always glad to see someone who realizes/acknowledges that the books were published as moral tales (calling them political propaganda might not even be unreasonable), and altered from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s original manuscripts. Which is probably why they’re in fiction instead of non. I wonder if the original writing focused more on the undoubted suffering and privation the family went through following Pa obediently from place to place.

    On the Ingalls being progressive: One of my favorite moments is where Laura is talking to Almanzo about getting married. She says she can’t agree to include “obey” in her vows and he asks her if she’s one of those women like his sister who thinks ladies should have the vote. She hastens to assure him that she’s not THAT crazy XD

    Oh, yeah, hi, how are you, Topic? Um, the only book I remember reading as a kid or teen that “handled” fat (hellooooo, thin kid privilege) was called Panky and William. One to avoid, probably; Panky’s size is portrayed as a symptom of her self-loathing and issues with her mom and dad in that irritating “Inside there is an emotionally healthy thin person waiting to come out, stop crippling yourself” way.

    Although Panky does learn to go out and do things and not be afraid while she’s fat; she makes friends and learns to ride horses, including one that’s believed to be dangerous. It’s just that at the end when things get better she also gets thin, of course [eyesprain]

  101. @Puffalo – is it “The Big Pink”? I think I read that many moons ago, and remember it standing out as not having a big “and then she got thin” moment at the end. I think her parents were abroad as missionaries, or something similar, which was why she was at the school run by her aunt – she’d been told by her parents to always ask herself “is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” before saying something – which was hard when dealing with some of the people she met at the school!

    (It’s by Ann Pilling – though Amazon doesn’t seem to know what I’m talking about, Google didn’t fail me. )

  102. Also: Blubber, The Cat Ate My Gymsuit, There’s a Bat in Bunk Five, and Sweet Valley Twins and even Sweet Valley High are aimed at 9-12 year old kids or intermediate readers (IR). I read all of these books in third and fourth grade. Let’s just say they had a limited impact on my adolescence.

    I guess I was a bit too subtle with my gentle reminder not to tread into Precocious Olympics. Absolutely, there are some folks who read many of these books much earlier than the suggested age group, however, there also folks who read these same books at later age, for various reasons. I’m not too keen on this turning into a yet another inaccessible post where folks pat themselves for being smarter or having such sophisticated tastes as mere babes.

    I don’t mean to single you out, Jessica – because I’m talking to anyone framing their comments in this manner – but, honestly, I think I’ve had about enough of this sort of sentiment when people discuss literature. I find it silences other folks and is just so damn tedious to read.

    We can certainly discuss how the books we read as kids/tweens/whathaveyou shaped our identities, but let’s find non-snobby ways to express our thoughts.

    Mkay?

  103. Did anybody else here read the Edge Chronicles? I read them throughout my teenage years and I know I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I also remember that descriptions of fat characters tended towards the disturbingly grotesque, helped along by Chris Riddell’s illustrations … :( I was especially kind of troubled on a number of levels by the part in the first book where the protagonist is taken prisoner by a pretty little girl with flowing red hair who treats him as her pet, only to decide she wants him dead after her people’s coming-of-age ceremony, in which the sap of the ‘Mother Bloodoak’ transforms them, physically into bald, hulking, blubbery women and mentally into brutes who don’t feel love. Yay! http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/theedgechronicles/images/e/e5/Mag.jpg

    Of course the only character of this species to be a protagonist is one who never undergoes the transformation and looks like a child forever …

    At the time I had no idea why this bothered me. :I

  104. Tamora Pierce’s “Magic Circle” series, while the initial books skewed younger than her Tortall series, made a definite effort to show body diversity. The three heroines include one smaller and slender girl, one fat girl, and one muscular/athletic girl. The male hero is initially underweight because of starvation. The various teachers, and heroes and villains, come from a wide range of body types – you can tell that it’s something she considered in writing the series. The newer Circle books are the same as far as body type diversity, but they skew toward a YA rather than intermediate audience.

  105. I would also like to recommend ALL of Noel Streatfeild’s books. Every. Single. One.

    One has a horrible aunt making her niece diet, which Nana puts a fast
    end to when the girl gets depressed.

  106. @SarahT,
    Yes, that was it, I think. And based on looking at a summary on Amazon, the other girls were much crueler to her than I remembered.

  107. I would also like to recommend ALL of Noel Streatfeild’s books. Every. Single. One.

    One has a horrible aunt making her niece diet, which Nana puts a fast
    end to when the girl gets depressed.

    I love Noel Streatfeild so much; her books are my comfort reading when I’m having a bad day, even now. Someone on my LiveJournal friendslist wrote a wonderful post about Ballet Shoes the other day, which I don’t want to link without permission, but it really made me think about how revolutionary it was – and still is – to write a book with a variety of women pursuing their own careers and dreams (as actors, dancers, academics, mechanics, etc.), without feeling as if they have to or even want to rely on men or hunt down boyfriends in the process. Beautiful.

  108. oh, The Fat in fiction. i quit trying to find them when i was 12 or so, but that didn’t stop me from buying into the fat==sad thing for years afterward.

    in case anyone’s interested, my dad (second author) wrote a group review of more than a dozen YA novels about overweight. (he’s a bullying researcher.)

    abstract is here; sadly, the article’s behind paywall as far as i know.

    http://tinyurl.com/yh42kbb

  109. Great topic! I did a lot of reading (still do) in the ‘golden age of YA’, which like others here, was probably always ‘slumming’ in terms of my total reading endeavors. Mainly, when you are the fat voracious early reader girl, you read plenty of ‘healthy’ real novels as well as junk food lit. And like both, just like in real life.

    I read all the Judy Blume and Paula Danziger books along with everyone else in my age group and appreciate the comments on puberty. Uh, yeah, I had these boobs by the time I was 9 and a menses at 11, so they seemed pretty silly. But note, I read em anyway. I particularly remember one lonely girl who ate chocolate pudding by eating the skin off the top and then waiting till another formed, on down through the layers till she was done. Don’t know why that appealed to me as romantic somehow, but it did.

    I will say upfront that I have worked around schools and libraries as a publisher’s rep for decades, and used to rep a lot of YA titles. That said, my current exposure is somewhat limited. I did have a lot of experience in the 90’s and have to give my props to good old Chris Crutcher and Paula Danziger. Neither is perfect, but both fought the good fight for the issues they cared about, and hung in there through lots of craziness to get their stuff out to kids. I haven’t read Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes for years, but really liked it when it came out.

    I haven’t read the Runaways novels, but do usually enjoy well crafted YA graphic novels. A fave MC of mine in the 80’s was Maggie from Love and Rockets, by the Hernandez brothers. Fat, bi, conflicted and really good at fixing things. Loved and totally identified with her (well maybe not on the fixing things part so much). Many many shout outs for my girl Magpie.

    Also loved, loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books growing up. She was always so confident of what her body could do, and not interested in playing games to catch men’s attention. I also realized as an adult that these were some of the few “children’s books” that had an adult protagonist who spoke to me as an equal. That was pretty powerful.

    I read “She’s Come Undone” when it came out and loved it. But do remember it being overwhelmingly bleak from a fat girls perspective. Maybe should re-read it critically again. Or maybe not?

    I collect and read teen books ( YA wasn’t really a genre yet) from the 50’s and 60’s. I vividly remember reading Beverly Cleary’s “Fifteen” surreptituously under the table in the lunchroom in grade school. The old paperbacks sometimes deal with girls who want to be attractive to boys, but just as often, they deal with young women who must convince dad they want to go to college rather than marry right out of high school. Or girls who refuse to date the country club boy in favor of the smart sweet one who values them as they are. Oh, and they can be so darned cute- 20 chapters and the big denouement is an invite to the dance or a ride in the grocery delivery truck-who-HOO! Kinda charming, really.

    I especially love Donna Parker, who while not fat, is very independent and smart, and not obsessed with being pretty. She was conceived as a competing character with the popular Barbie novels (which are disgustingly boy obsessed). While there are often shy or nerdy fat girls in these books, there is not the same kind of obsession or shameful food talk and dieting stuff in most of them. I think that came into full bloom in the late 60 and 70’s.

    Thanks also for the link to the earlier discussion. While on the road I picked up “Fat Hoochie Prom Queen”, which I lurvved. Not anything more than potato-chip lit, but the MC is adorable, fat, non white, smart and queer-positive. There is a great scene where she gets a little too wild at a gay bar that could totally have been me at her age. Not ideal, but not apologetic, either.
    Here’s the reviews on Amazon:

    Thanks for taking up a topic near and dear to my heart. Don’t think anyone in my book club would have fun with these, but I love ‘em. Will have to look into some of the ones recommended here.

  110. I vividly remember reading Beverly Cleary’s “Fifteen” surreptituously under the table in the lunchroom in grade school

    Doesn’t the first line of that moldy oldie go something like, “Today, I’m going to meet a boy…”

    I did have a lot of experience in the 90’s and have to give my props to good old Chris Crutcher and Paula Danziger. Neither is perfect, but both fought the good fight for the issues they cared about, and hung in there through lots of craziness to get their stuff out to kids. I haven’t read Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes for years, but really liked it when it came out.

    One of my favorite Danziger books is “Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice?” I really adored the MC. Also, I just learned the MC in Blume’s “Forever” was named after Danziger!

    What I remember about Danziger’s books was they made me feel less weird about aspects of myself. Like having asthma. The MC in “The Pistachio Prescription” had asthma but wasn’t portrayed as sickly or infantilized due to her affliction and this was huge for me since I was one of those severe asthmatics up until 11 years old, wasn’t allowed to go outside and play for fear of triggering an attack.

  111. In the kind of horrible category, I’d add Larger Than Life Lara, by Dandie Daley McCall. It has what is basically a Carrie scene towards the end. It’s aimed more at the late-elementary/early middle age group, and the purpose is to teach acceptance…. but I think it failed.

    @ millefolia Yes, the main character in A Fistful of Sky is great in terms of being very comfortable with herself. Her mother has problems with it (forcing her, via magic, to exercise until she passes out, all in the name of “helping” the girl). There’s also a great bit where her weight is magically increased and then the same thing happens to her brother. It really messes with his head, but I think in a good way, in the end.

    And to those who are disappointed in McCaffrey’s Pern series, you might try the Powers That Be series. It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I think it was better about that.

  112. there are some folks who read many of these books much earlier than the suggested age group, however, there also folks who read these same books at later age, for various reasons.

    Oh, absolutely! I’m in my 50’s and I read children’s and YA lit for pleasure.

    One of my co-workers was bragging about how much her nephew enjoyed reading the Harry Potter books (by himself) at the age of four. Aside from the fact that my coworker used to lie a lot, I wondered if a four year old would be able to enjoy Harry Potter the way say, someone in middle school would. Of course he could enjoy them all over again later.

  113. @kristinc I remember that book about the girl called Panky – I’d completely forgotten her name and the title of the book because I read it such a long time ago – my dad read it to me, and we probably picked it out because it had something to do with horses, and I was majorly equine-oriented. I was probably six or seven, and I remember the references to the girl’s weight, and I also remember not really understanding it at all – happy ignorance, I wasn’t fat and I’d never been teased about my body. Interestingly, though, I think I remember the weight-related parts of the book most clearly – I remember at the end she talks about looking at her old FAT riding jodhpurs, which her mother is giving away to charity, and I remember a very disturbing scene where the girl overhears her mother telling the girl’s father about how beautiful the girl was when she was a baby, and how she (the mother) feels like an “evil fairy” took her baby away and “left Panky in her place”. As I recall, the main character is sort of blase about this, but it really upset me – I remember wondering if my mother ever felt or would feel like that about me, and heaven knows my mother has always been incredibly demonstrative and affectionate. Anyway, I’ll have to ask my dad if he remembers reading it.

  114. I read Blubber, and I remember it well — and negatively. It made me feel shitty about myself. It pissed me off. And you’re right. The fat girl in that book is not really a character, as I remember it. She’s there as a walking plot point/chalkboard for the lesson of the week, you know?

    I also read The Cat Ate My Gym Suit and its sequel, and I don’t remember those very well at all, probably because even at that age most non-spec-fic YA stuff (which hardly existed then, not compared to now) bored me. It usually took a negative impression to make me remember something; I was typically incapable of having a really positive reaction to ordinary-world books. An issue I have to this day. (Not insulting those sorts of books or the folks who enjoy them, just saying that I personally find them really unappealing.)

    Going further back, to the Serendipity books by Stephen Cosgrove and Robin James, for little children, there was Catundra, which had lovely illustrations and was super-adorable, and was about a fat orange cat with green eyes who couldn’t catch mice, so she befriended a mouse who took pity on her and taught her to eat right and exercise (fine), and then the cat got all thin and beautiful (not fine). Yeah. THAT had NO effect on a profoundly cat-loving (to the point of denying being human most of the time) fat kid at ALL. NOPE. I am so pissed in retrospect thinking about that book and how many dozens and dozens and dozens of times I read it, wishing I was as pretty as the cat — even when she was fat, but especially when she was all sleek and lovely. If only it had been about accepting your fat-kitty-ness for what it is, instead of being about how if you’re fat you must be horribly out of shape and if you exercise and eat right you will become thin and stay that way. And if only she had eaten that fucking mouse.

    Nina Kiriki Hoffman’s A Fistful of Sky has been recommended here. I will also recommend it. Very good book. Much love.

    Also, I just thought I would say that I am loving your posting so far, Snarky’s Machine.

  115. I read Blubber, and I remember it well — and negatively. It made me feel shitty about myself. It pissed me off. And you’re right. The fat girl in that book is not really a character, as I remember it. She’s there as a walking plot point/chalkboard for the lesson of the week, you know?

    The one thing I remember from Blubber is the school weighing scene, done in public, which was a nightmare for me ever after, even though I never went to a school that weighed students at all, much less in public. Thank God.

    Anyway, I remember in that scene that she weighed something like 90 or 95 lbs in fifth grade. Even at the time that didn’t seem “that fat” to me but the school nurse was appalled.

  116. Hmm. I’m trying really, really hard but I’m not coming up with a lot of good examples of fat positive YA books. In general, here’s what comes to mind when I think of good YA:

    What Happened to Lani Garver, I also liked the Uglies books, the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane (I think the protagonists are like, 11-12 when the series starts, but Kit, while a boy, is described as being chubby and then nothing more is made of it, and Nita is a strong, intelligent female character). There’s one book I’m thinking of that’s called like…Kissing Kate, maybe? and if I remember right, the protagonist is described as a curvier girl. Plus it deals with sexuality issues in a non-trite way (as far as I remember, anyways). And of course, I have to recommend His Dark materials because I lovelovelove them. I don’t think there are any fat characters (I want to say Ma Costa is described as being curvy or round, though…), but there aren’t any lazy fat villains either. I liked Feed, too, although I found it pretty disturbing, I still think of it sometimes when I’m pondering technology in our society.

    I may have read one of the books talked about upthread, where the fat girl steals food and then in the second book is described as a “thin Dolly Parton” – I only read the first book, but the fat girl was blonde and lost weight over the course of the book, then at the end she was ubersuperhappy because she could see her feet. I was vaguely digusted at the time, despite my own body issues. (I was 11 or 12.)

  117. I remember a book called “Life in the Fat Lane”, and it started with a stereotypically thin, blonde, cheerleader type who through the course of the book gains over a hundred pounds. It deals with the reactions of her friends and family, her changing perceptions of herself, how she gets treated etc.. Don’t get me wrong, it had some problematic moments, but I remember having a light bulb moment when I read it as a kid.

  118. Wow- Snarkysmachine. I too am loving your posts, but am a bit in awe of your memory!
    Doesn’t the first line of that moldy oldie go something like, “Today, I’m going to meet a boy…”
    Holy Cats! That is way in the way back machine. Guess your great libraries were as well worshipped as my not so great ones.

    And yes, Paula Danziger consistently advocates for the ‘weird’ point of view regardless of how her own ‘stuff’ may have gotten in the way. That seems to be pretty much how she is remembered.

    And I will echo how much of this stuff is always sort of floating around in the mental soup, regardless of how long ago I may have read it. Huh.

  119. Speaking of Garth Nix, has anyone read the Keys to the Kingdom books? I’ve read all but the last one, and I’m now trying to remember how the characters are described. I imagine Suzie (one of the female protagonists) as sort of short and muscular, but I have no idea if that’s accurate. It definitely gets points for having non-stereotypically-feminine female characters, even the ones who aren’t magically-immortal pre-adolescent street urchins.

  120. Squeak, I totally read the Edge Chronicles! I loved them for their imagination at the time (and I remember reading them as older than the target audience the first time, then coming back and re-reading them even into my late teens.) I never noticed the characterization you pointed out, although now that you mention it I *can* see it, and I’m almost amazed I didn’t notice it before. I guess this shows something about the insidiousness of fat hate..

  121. Tris, in Tamora Pierce’s ‘Circle of Magic’ and ‘The Circle Opens’ books is a pretty awesome one, I think.

  122. I love Noel Streatfeild so much

    I still sing “California, Here I Come” to the tune of “Good King Wenceslaus”.

  123. I don’t remember the title, but in 5th grade I remember reading a story told from the PoV of a kind-hearted, quiet, skinny protagonist who befriends the fat girl in class. It’s supposed to make Skinny Protagonist look like a better person, however, for being so unshallow as to actually hang out with a Fatty McFatterson. Also, as the story unravels it becomes more and more clear that the fat girl is only fat because she has an emotionally abusive mother and she’s using food to fill the loveless void in her life. So… yeeeah. It’s not bad enough that it makes the fat girl anything worse than just a regular, insecure girl, but it’s sure as hell not very empowering. Fat still equals, “something’s wrong there.”

  124. Massive by Julie Bell is another YA with fat themes. The main character is a tween, but her mother is depicted as anorexic and attempting to force her daughter to be anorexic as well. It isn’t a happy read, but there are a lot of very very obvious attempts to convince a child brainwashed by her own mother that fat isn’t bad. There are characters who are fat because they eat too much/don’t exercise/are elderly, but it isn’t a value judgement (unless the mother is speaking).

    I love Tamora Pierce’s Circle series too – a wide range of body types without demonising or idolising one over the other.

    The Minx series of graphic novels, while they existed, were pretty good. PLAIN Janes had a huge range of body types without value judgement and the writer/artist for Water Baby has another series (Wet Moon) where a lot of the characters are larger.

  125. Eucritta: Nobody’s Family was the one that stuck out for me, too. I really liked the main character (“Well, rape is a serious crime,” she told her dad – omgz how brilliant was she?!) and thought that the depiction of someone fat living in a world where fat is supposedly bad was sympathetic.

    Godless Heathen: I was glad to read Valley of the Horses way too young, because the idea of sex as enjoyable and loving and respectful and semi-sacred was very important at that point in my life. Compared to Virginia Andrews, really…

  126. @Ven Detta

    It might be a little much to expect a protagonist to be short AND stocky that ISN’T a dwarf (nothing against Gimli or Bruenor Battlehammer or any of the other great literary dwarves, and they usually are some of my favorite characters, but I just want to read about a short stocky woman who doesn’t have a beard!)

    They’re getting a little harder to find in print nowadays, at least in my part of the world, but Tamora Pierce’s first series of books about Alanna might be something like what you’re after! It’s a story about a girl who disguises herself as a boy and changes places with her twin brother in order to become a knight. She starts off as an undersized, runty ten-year-old, and finishes the book as a short, stocky, muscular young woman — and when I read the books for the first time, in around Grade 5, she was the first main female character I think I’d ever come across who was both a) not a pretty girl and b) did not magically grow up to become beautiful after an ugly-duckling stage.

    I second the person who recommended Circle of Magic above — Tamora Pierce is quite good for body diversity in genera.

    I also do so totally hear you on wanting more cool short characters in both YA and specfic. Despite the fact that all of the main female characters on Buffy are much, much thinner than me, it always made me secretly happy to know that Sarah Michelle Gellar, the actor who plays Buffy, is 5’2″, the same height as me!

  127. Another Diana Wynne Jones which has a fat character is the Power of Three, although not as clear-cut. One of the main human characters is fat and spends a lot of time worrying about it, and is told near the end not to worry so much, that she will probably grow up to look similar to her parents (good) who are lean (problematic). This is earlier than the other books of hers mentioned above, which are much more positive (and incidentally, the very fat Witch of the Waste in the movie of Howl’s Moving Castle is not fat at all in the book).

  128. ETA on “Keys to the Kingdom”…drat; I forgot all about Drowned Wednesday. I should think before I post. Yeah, don’t read the third book if you want body-positivity.

  129. Oh – and Meg Cabot‘s Teen Idol, which I’m not sure is entirely successful. One of the secondary characters is fat and trying desperately to look like and fit in with the thin, popular girls. The main character ends up giving her a forcible makeover (problematic) but I don’t think there’s a word about losing weight – she tries to get her to just dress in things that fit and look good on her. That character gets a happy (non-weight-loss) ending, but is still something of comic relief.

  130. I pretty much agree with Kaia on Big Fat Manifesto! Not a perfect book but it does some interesting and I think important things about presenting an outspoken fat teen heroine. The storyline in which her equally fat boyfriend gets stomach stapling surgery, and her horrified documentation of the process (and her awareness of the very real dangers) is handled quite sensitively and I also thought it was very believable how Jamie was super confident and belligerently unapologetic for her fat 80% of the time, but was still sensitive to it and could be hurt by people’s reactions to it. Also that her romantic choice was between a once-beloved former-fat boyfriend who was beginning to be ashamed of her weight and being far too ‘helpful’ about ways she could get thin, and a perfectly ordinary bloke who she enjoyed spending time with and who happened to fancy her just the way she was.

    I loved Princess Ben. She is always fat but she gets extra fat through depressive over-eating and then loses the extra weight through intense heroic exercise (trekking through a MOUNTAIN for a month, living on gruel, fighting a dragon) and also through dealing with her emotional issues and learning to stop eating when full – but at the end she is healthy fat and happy with it. This isn’t a main part of the storyline but despite the weight loss I think it can definitely be read as a story in which the heroine finds her natural comfortable weight.

    Also I second recommendations for A Fistful of sky, the Tamora Pierce and Diana Wynne Jones books, and Jacqueline Wilson. Those Ellie books are so short, but I found the second book in which she dealt with an eating disorder so very confronting and intense, and the sequels show that despite the end of book 2, that experience will continue to affect her – she has times when she feels herself backsliding and has to be strong to resist old habits. The message overall is a healthy one and particularly points out how teen girls will compare themselves to each other and how easily they can feel fatter than a friend even if the physical difference between them is slight.

    I’d like to mention an old but classic Australian title by Maureen McCarthy: Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude. The book is divided into 3 POV stories of girls who leave the same small town and share a house in the city, despite not knowing each other very well. The first part of the story is told by Carmel, who is fat and feels miserable about it, and eventually comes to fat acceptance through her friends, romance, learning to wear clothes that make her feel good, and generally finding her groove. While her POV is only there for the first section of the novel, she continues on her journey and is a sympathetic character in the other sections of the book too. her assumptions that her thin housemates (one blonde and trampy, one dark and serious) are super happy and have no problems because of their size are proved wrong in the storyline!

    This was written in the 90’s I think and there was a mini-series based on it.

  131. I remember a very disturbing scene where the girl overhears her mother telling the girl’s father about how beautiful the girl was when she was a baby, and how she (the mother) feels like an “evil fairy” took her baby away and “left Panky in her place”.

    Oh my god, you’re right! I remember that too now. How effed up is that?

    They also make her diet by giving her tiny amounts of unsatisfying food and they eat the regular family fare and then hide it from her while she’s always hungry (she’s a growing kid ffs!). Given that, I’m not surprised that she “rebels” by refusing to get on board with the plan for her to get thin and be “beautiful” again, and I wish it had been written along the angle of “This is how really screwed up parents can hurt their children by not listening to them” because it was a prime example, really.

  132. Oh, and I remember being really confused and upset when I read Terry Pratchett’s Maskerade, aged about 16:

    [SPOILERS]

    I had a *lot* of trouble getting over the fact that Agnes doesn’t get to be an opera singer in the end. I knew that going home to Lancre and becoming one of the witches was meant to be a big reward for her, but my stage-obsessed spotlight-seeking teenage self just couldn’t understand how anyone could possibly consider that as good an outcome as being an opera star!

    [/SPOILERS]

    Also, if anyone has any FA-related thoughts on Unseen Academicals, Pratchett’s latest book, which has a fat female lead, I’d love to hear them.

  133. @snarkysmachine: I am glad you are keeping an eye on tone, because it CAN sometimes be intimidating to try and tread into a thread full of pun-making phds and try to keep your head above water. That is one of the reasons, as a 26-year old college dropout who works in food service, I have not posted much here, in the past.

    That said, I have been marinating on this idea of “be smart, but not TOO smart”, and I have to say that one of the reasons I am a little bit uncomfortable with it is that I think a lot of smart women (trans and cis, straight and queer-, and most especially in the upper echelons of academia [I do not have any experience with being a trans man, but I imagine that trans men are left out of the straight-acting cis man club as well]) are often not allowed to show off their knowledge, or are told their ideas and thesises, while nice, lack the merit and real-world application of the ideas coming from the mouths and pens of their cisgendered male counterparts. I suppose that I find it a little bit odd to see this “don’t show off” kind of statement on what has been, in the past, a staunchly feminist blog.

    I’m curious to know what the mods think, since I know, as all policies on this blog, this one was discussed at great length.

  134. It seemed that everyone was reading Blubber when I was in middle school (mid-’70s), and it was great fodder for the class bullies, given that 1) you have to search hard for any redeeming factor to the book, Blume works very hard for it not to have a moralistic message, and 2) I shared the same name as the character nicknamed “Blubber”. I remember having a sick feeling reading the book, and wondering if my experience had colored my reading of it, I did a reread as an adult. I was appalled. It’s a mean little book.

  135. More on-topic, I just realized with not a little chagrin that I couldn’t recall ONE novel I read growing up that was fat-positive. Not one. I can list a handful of feminist-positive ones, but not one where the heroine didn’t 1)lose weight, 2)realize she didn’t have to eat cake and so would, in the future, lose weight, or 3)already fit into small jeans so weight=non-issue.

    I loved a Fistful of Sky, but read it as an adult.

  136. I loved Enid Blyton’s trashy tuck-shop-hockey-sticks boarding school novels when I was young, but even then I remember feeling put out by the constant descriptions of an unlikeable character’s fat, and annoyed at the picture of the ‘fat’ girl’s not-fat-at-all body.
    Jacqueline Wilson’s ‘Girls Under Pressure’ was a really good book about body insecurity and acceptance – I remember a passage where Ellie thinks about when body-consciousness starts, and how it seems unthinkable to pay as little attention to her body as she did when she was a kid now that she’s so aware of it. That really stuck with me.

  137. Anyone else feel like there was something a little creepily gratuitous about the torture of Linda in “Blubber”? It would have been an interesting choice to have the narrator be a sort of marginally popular girl who maybe knows she’s doing something wrong but is outwardly completely complicit with the torment, but the sort of stuff the narrator engages in outright sadistic, and while she eventually blows the whistle – and suffers for it at the hands of the same bullies – I don’t think she’s ever shown to be particularly remorseful. How are you supposed to stay sympathetic to a character who stands by while her friends force another girl to eat a chocolate-covered ant, or who, with her clique, corners said girl in a bathroom and forces her to strip to her underwear (that last was a total WTF scene)? I remember the whole book as an extremely unpleasant read. It’s absolutely right that there is really no attempt made to humanize the victim.

  138. I remember reading a book called “Life in the Fat Lane”, about a prom queen named Lara who gets a mysterious metabolic disorder and gains a lot of weight quickly. She tops out at 210, a weight that to her seems ridiculously obese (but that even at that age struck me as thoroughly normal, since it wasn’t much bigger than my mom and aunt.) She goes through all this angst about her body, gets mocked when she transfers to a new school, and pushes away her awesome boyfriend because she thinks he cares that she’s fat.

    Lara’s story ends with a two-pound drop in her weight, suggesting a thinner future (which annoyed me even then), but other than that, the book is really fat-positive for a young adult novel. The main character matures a lot as a person and expands her ideas about what’s beautiful, what’s healthy, and what constitutes a good relationship. The book ain’t mean to thin girls or medium girls either, which is nice. There is one incredibly depressed fat girl, but she’s more than countered by the vivacious teacher/role model the narrator meets later.

  139. Argh, Blubber. I know I read that one; I can’t remember if that’s the same one that had the fat girl character who ‘couldn’t see her shoes’ and the POV character was appalled that her thighs rubbed together, or if that was a different ‘fat people are icky!’ book. Blargh.

    I remember being happily surprised at Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story effectively deconstructing the FoBT for its young boy protagonist, Bastian. Unlike the movie that was based on the book, Bastian is a fat kid, which is one of the reasons he’s tormented mercilessly by other children. It’s after he’s initially saved Fantasia that he gets to visit it, and the first thing he does is wishes himself thin and strong… and it doesn’t do a thing to prevent him making terrible mistakes or heal from the pain of his mother dying and his father becoming distant. He runs further into the fantasy until he accepts that only by accepting that he can be brave and strong regardless of his fat that he’s able to come out of the book and reach out to his father.

    I wish I could remember if more books I read had body positive messages, but I can’t think of a single one (I managed to miss all of the recommendations above. Go scattershot reading habits!). I’m not sure if that’s more an artifact of my extremely foggy memory or a sad commentary on the state of middle grade/YA lit in the late 80s/early 90s.

  140. Diana Wynne Jones’ Witch Week! Doesn’t deal with fatness per se, but all the protagonists have terribly low self-esteem – I seem to recall a despairing reference to pale wobbly thighs in gym class – that certainly resonated very strongly with me, when an average-sized self-conscious self-hating teenager. These characters had bodies and they didn’t like them much, and you were aware of that, and it didn’t matter, they were still interesting and still became confident and awesome, so there’s a subtle undercover body-positive message, I think.

  141. Oh gods, Dinky Hocker. I read that when I was about 11 or 12, and it probably screwed up my attitude about weight worse than anything. Dinky’s boyfriend not only loses weight, but becomes a nice guy in the process! Shudder.

    As for Blubber, I don’t think that book was necessarily anti-fat. It’s shown in the book that a number of the kids who bully Linda (aka Blubber) are fatter than she is, and that Jill, the narrator — who’s thin and “regular” and seemingly has nothing anyone could ever make her a bully target for — eventually does get bullied herself, with Linda joining in. I got the message that you don’t need a “reason,” like being fat, for the bullies to target you; if they’re in the mood for bullying, they can just make something up. And it certainly doesn’t claim that Linda should lose weight in order to be better liked!

    It’s Blume’s Just As Long As We’re Together that gets my FA dander up. Stephanie, the narrator, comfort eats, gains weight, gets razzed for it, and her mother’s response is to put her on a “sensible” diet! Oh please.

    As far as The Earth, My Butt…, I generally liked it. There’s a suggestion that Virginia is getting more physically fit by the end because she’s doing martial arts, but she doesn’t really care what she weighs or what other people think of it. Sounds more like HAES to me.

  142. Oh my, I remember ‘Catundra’. Disturbing.

    I have a 4-yo daughter and this is all so depressing. WTF can I give her to read?

    I feel like I was more negatively affected by the reams of YA books I read than any violent movies or the stuff people tend to think really affects kids’ minds. The themes and underlying assumptions of all of these 70’s and 80’s YA books really colonized my subconscious and fucked with my self-perception.

    I also developed all kinds of hypochondria from my extensive reading in the YA genre of Dying Teenager books…closely related to My Friend/Relative Died In a Terrible Accident For Which I Blame Myself books…

    There’s a fine line between YA books which present “an honest portrayal of difficult circumstances” and “difficult circumstances porn”. Same goes for books about bullying in the ‘Blubber’ vein…they teach kids who may not have encountered bullying that it’s something normal that has no good answers if you’re the victim.

  143. I also want to add that I think we fetishize ‘reading ability’ in this country to such an extent that people love to brag that they or their kids read a book intended for a far older child, at a young age. My parents gave me all kinds of grown-up books when I was little b/c they were tickled pink that I was an early reader, and honestly they loved to brag about it. But I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter if a 4-yo CAN read Harry Potter, there is no way they can enjoy it in the same way an older child can, and this goes doubly for a truly adult book – the appreciation of which is predicated on an understanding of cultural references that is impossible, simply impossible to have at a young age.

    IMO children should be guided to read literature that is suitable for their age, instead of encouraged to read ‘the hardest book possible’. Additionally, kids shouldn’t be allowed to choose their reading material indiscriminately any more than they should be allowed to choose their internet surfing, movie watching, or video game material indiscriminately.

    It seems that most people think “reading = good” no matter what the child is reading. I strongly disagree. I used to read Woman’s Day magazine when I was a little kid and had so many nightmares about divorces and ovarian cancer and fiery crashes that left the sole survivor permanently disfigured (but grateful to God)…honestly, little kids shouldn’t be reading grown-up stuff. If this makes me a helicopter mom/stick-in-the-mud, so be it.

  144. Xenu01 – I believe it’s possible for folks to demonstrate intellectual prowess without descending into elitism, snobbery and classism. When people blather on about reading at two months or moving from Dr. Seuss straight to Foucault it is often devoid of any critical examination of systems of privileges which have worked and will continue to work in their favor. It is the unexamined assumptions of the inherent value of those experiences and not the experiences themselves I find problematic.

    Access often denotes the presence of privilege – not merit. Sometimes folks get twisted, myself included. This isn’t to suggest I (or anyone else who benefits from certain privileges) aren’t intelligent, thoughtful people, but it does suggest we’ve benefited from systems that oppress others. Knowing this we should be working to check privilege whenever we’re temped to universalize our experiences while devaluing experiences which do not support our world view.

    This is Snarky talking and not The Voice of Shapely Prose.

  145. Third vote for Nobody’s Family is Going to Change. I thought I was like the only person in the entire world who’d ever read it, because no one ever remembers it when I mention it. Talk about deep impact.

  146. @snarky: Thank you for answering my question in such a kind and thoughtful manner. Also, what you bring up in regards to privilege and opportunity-vs-merit definitely is food for thought.

  147. It’s interesting to hear people talk about a lack of short women in fiction. It’s something I had never thought about, and if you’d asked me, I would have been like, “Nuh-uh, women in books are always small and dainty, never tall and gawky like me.” But when I think about it, “tall and gawky” is a pretty standard designator for a teenage heroine who’s about to come into her own: Anne McCaffrey’s Menolly, Patricia Wrede’s Cimorene, most of Robin McKinley’s protagonists…

    Noel Streatfeild has been brought up a lot, as well she should be. In Dancing Shoes, which may be my favorite book of all time even though I am 28 years old and have two English degrees, soulless Aunt Cora doesn’t want the girls eating porridge because it puts on weight, and all the nice characters are like, “That’s the point!” And when the Wonders are talking about reasons they get rejected, fat is just part of the list, along with tall, “spotty,” and not looking cute enough in the audition frock. The implication is that the whole process is stupid, and theater managers should only be interested in how well the girls dance.

  148. Thanks for that, snarkysmachine. When I was a teen I thought it was a point of pride that I read really early, and it took about two weeks of teaching (and, say, two parent/teacher conferences) for me to think, “Ohhhhh, right. And mom could stay home and read to me.” Not to mention take me to the library, buy books, read herself, etc. . .

  149. I didn’t think going home to be a witch was meant as a reward for Agnes. A growing-up, perhaps. She decided she’d rather sing as herself in a witch’s cottage than sing as someone else on the grand stage. And, well, good for her for choosing herself, but I was peeved that she accepted those as her only two options – there are other stages on the disc, and there wouldn’t have been a Christine on *all* of them.

    Most of the fat characters in the Discworld books are wizards, though. They are lazy, gluttonous, immensely powerful, live to ripe old ages, and are generally envied.

  150. Snarky, The Voice of Shapely Prose makes me think of the Metatron (played deliciously by Alan Rickman in Dogma), which then made me think about how the mods of SP would fall out if mapped onto orders of angels. Which then made me reflect seriously on the fact that I do not always use my time wisely, and that maybe I should be grading papers instead of googling hierarchies of angels.

    But, METATRON! Ha.

  151. Re: Blubber — The thing I remember making the biggest impression on me in this book was also the public weighing scene, and the fact that the skinny girl hated it too! I hadn’t gotten to the point of hating my own body yet, so my childhood FoBT was more along the lines of “if I were thin, people would stop telling me I should lose weight.” But, shit, adults hassle the thin kids too? Screw it.

    Re: Unseen Academicals — Yep, one of the major characters is fat, and it’s totally beside the point. It just isn’t an issue. I liked that. She still has adventures and a love interest and a career, even though she’s not model-gorgeous like her friend. I give it high FA marks for just treating “fat” like any other adjective.

  152. I don’t know if I agree that reading early is always classist. I know I was reading adult books as a kid because in my working class rural household almost the only books I had access to were on my dad’s bookshelf, mostly spy novels/thrillers/celtic fantasy stuff/boy’s classics (like Ivanhoe.) I used to get in trouble for reading them, which I later realized was because many of them were full of graphic sex and violence that totally flew over my head. Reading does not necessarily mean understanding. I would have loved to have had all the great YA books I’ve read as an adult, but money and location didn’t allow it.

    But I did have a childhood game based on “The Guns of Navarone.”

  153. I don’t know if I agree that reading early is always classist.

    When people blather on about reading at two months or moving from Dr. Seuss straight to Foucault it is often devoid of any critical examination of systems of privileges which have worked and will continue to work in their favor. It is the unexamined assumptions of the inherent value of those experiences and not the experiences themselves I find problematic.

  154. A bit OT, since it’s not from Pratchett’s YA fiction, but it’s not just the wizards; I believe Nanny Ogg is described as quite a large woman who is definitely well-respected and well-loved as well as being immensely powerful.

  155. Twistedfancy, privilege could mean a lot of things other than class, though, right? So no one was saying it was just class. I’m from a rural poor family, myself, but I benefited from other forms of privilege that clearly contributed to my literacy skills. (Two parent family, mom staying home and having had some early-childhood-lit courses, parents who could read and valued reading, no developmental delays or vision issues. . .none of those had much to do with my own merit, but they had something to do with my learning to decode scribbles on the page.)

  156. “It is the unexamined assumptions of the inherent value of those experiences and not the experiences themselves I find problematic.”

    I completely agree. Disregard what I said earlier.

  157. I don’t know if I agree that reading early is always classist.

    It isn’t.

    The extreme examples snarkysmachine gave (reading before a year old, going right from Seuss to Foucault) are now recognized as a neurological symptom (hyperlexia) and are very strongly associated with autism, so much so that there was some debate about declaring it a spectrum disorder in itself.

    I read very early and grew up poor. I did have the advantage of a mother who read to me, but I don’t remember ever being unable to read. I remember reading as an obstacle to being toilet trained.

    I’m sure hyperlexia isn’t so great. I become senselessly angry and anxious when people ask me what I’m reading, even now, and it’s probably because what I was reading when I was a little child was so age inappropriate that adults were just compelled to ruthlessly grill me about it to see if I was just pretending to read that, and once they’d determined that I was reading it, they’d go batshit with the “Oooh, how impressive!” or “OH MY FUCKING GOD WHERE ARE YOUR PARENTS?!” Tiresome and scary.

    I grossly missed the point of many of the adult things I read as a kid. I had this Hemingway obsession when I was eight or nine. I could give you a plot synopsis, but really, I didn’t know what the story meant. It was quite surreal to read it later and find that the significance of it was totally unfamiliar, but the rhythm of the words was very vivid in my memory. The same with James Joyce, though I didn’t mistakenly think I understood that.

    I can’t imagine that it’d be good for a kid who doesn’t read as a sort of weird compulsion to be slogging through ‘the hardest book he can manage.’ Give them stuff that’ll mean something to them.

  158. Apologies for the tone of my earlier comment. I think I (inadvertently) universalized my own experience.

    I want to point out that some of the older books cited are not necessarily marketed as YA. That is, if you walk into a Borders or B & N, these books are in the intermediate reader section. There’s great stuff in that section, yet some (but not all) teens resist anything that’s deliberately marketed towards a younger audience.

    There are several comments along the lines of “I skipped to the fantasy/horror/adult books.” In the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s, these are genres that shaped many adolescents. Today, many older teenagers are reading YA because it speaks to their experiences.

    Hence, it’s quite important to ask about fat visibility in YA fiction. And any other books that teens are reading.

    In other news, Tangled by Carolyn Mackler features a fat protagonist who embraces confidence and discovers her own self-worth as the story unfolds. She ends up being the foil to a thin, wealthy, and depressed young woman. Although not explicitly FA, I enjoyed the development of this character.

  159. The extreme examples snarkysmachine gave (reading before a year old, going right from Seuss to Foucault) are now recognized as a neurological symptom (hyperlexia) and are very strongly associated with autism, so much so that there was some debate about declaring it a spectrum disorder in itself.

    Actually, I wasn’t addressing this condition in particular at all. Just making use of – albeit poorly – hyperbole to discuss how folk frame their experiences in this regard without seeming to add anything productive to the conversation.

    We’re getting way off topic here.

  160. Oh man, Catundra. We had a lot of the Serendipity books growing up, most of which I liked. Catundra was one of the exceptions. I (vaguely) remember feeling puzzled and a bit betrayed. Puzzled, because why was the cat eating vegetables? Cats eat meat! Betrayed, because I expected a Serendipity book to have a nice warm fuzzy ending, and this one… didn’t. Catundra didn’t look like herself at the end of the book. Plus the author had made a book about a cat- I was cat crazy from an early age- and it left me with an icky feeling. Boo.

    I’ve read Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, but not the Circle of Magic books. Thanks for the recs, folks, I shall go book-hunting tomorrow!

  161. I’ve read Life in the Fat Lane. I remember her weight being highest at like 227 and she was described as unable to find clothes besides stretch pants. Oh sigh. There was a post somewhere that talked about the disconnect between what people really look like at certain weights and how (thin?) people believe they look like. Also, anyone read Push by Sapphire, the novel behind the movie Precious? She herself said she weighed “over 200 pounds” at 5’10 but the character who portrayed her in the movie was clearly heavier. Just interesting.

  162. meowser: It’s Blume’s Just As Long As We’re Together that gets my FA dander up. Stephanie, the narrator, comfort eats, gains weight, gets razzed for it, and her mother’s response is to put her on a “sensible” diet! Oh please.

    As bad as that part was there were a few positive things that stood out to me. I re-read it a few summers ago, for fun. I run studies with school-age children and give them books as a reward–this one was on the shelf, and I just couldn’t help reading it again.

    There’s one kid in school that keeps calling her “El Chunko”. Unlike Linda in Blubber, who just sits there and takes it, Stephanie actually stands up for herself–of course she did get in trouble for calling the kid an a-hole in front of the entire class during roll. That’s sort of cool.

    And yeah, she does go on a diet and loses weight (but it doesn’t seem like a lot–they never mention numbers, which is definitely better than Blubber), because her friend Rachel makes a remark–that may be the only mention of it. I definitely think her going on a diet had more to do with her mother’s perception of her own and her daughter’s than with Steph’s own evaluation. But one cool thing is that there’s a boy who’s interested in her, and he was interested in her from the very beginning. They didn’t seem to treat weight loss like some magic bullet. Of course, there’s still a lot of room for improvement in Blume’s treatment of weight here.

    There’s a lot to not like about that book in its treatment of weight, but I always though it was cool that Steph stood up for herself.

  163. I’m rather shocked to realize that, while I’m sure I’ve read more than a few of these books, I can’t remember a single one. I suspect that the anti-fat message was less likely to sink in when I was younger because I was a pretty thin kid, so it didn’t feel personal. I also wasn’t really into the SVH type books, and rather read a ton of Lurleen McDaniel (books about kids with cancer – I was a morbid child), so the focus probably wasn’t on weight.

  164. I remember reading the Sunset Island series.
    Of the three main girls, Carrie was always described as being the “curvy”, size 10 girl with the “great hooters”. The character always lamented the fact that she was a size 10.
    And I always use to think of a size 10 as being the beginning of being “too big”. Until I was a size 10. And honestly, I still wonder, what all the fuss was about size wise. Seeing it in person put it in perspective.
    And it didn’t help that I was also an avid reader of Sweet ‘The Right Size is a Perfect Size Six Now Four’ Valley High books.

  165. Another vote for Nobody’s Family is Going to Change. That was a very empowering book, in that it honestly addressed the problem for so many kids – you cannot make your parents accept who you are, if they don’t want to. You have to live for who you are, be who you want to be.

    But I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned The House With a Clock in its Walls! You know, overweight ten-year-old protagonist (Lewis Barnavelt), magic, fatness present but not the overriding point of the novel, evil dead people brought back to life by mistake (again, magic, not fatness involved in bringing the evil dead person back), a plot to bring about the end of the world through bad magic.

    It’s been fun, reading this thread, because there are so few YA books that even talk about being fat. It’s like instant recognition of the books that so many of us read on our journey, parsing each phrase and description to find a mirror of ourselves.

  166. Actually, I wasn’t addressing this condition in particular at all. Just making use of – albeit poorly – hyperbole to discuss how folk frame their experiences in this regard without seeming to add anything productive to the conversation.

    Erm. Sorry. I knew it was hyperbole, but I don’t pick up on how the earlier comment about reading teen lit at eight or nine had content other than mere fact. I’m like that.

    If the statistics are correct, a lot of people who tell you they were early readers are going to have that condition, and by labeling it as a class-advantage you are perhaps not so much asking them to check their privilege but instead devaluing their strengths. Which has already been done, since it’s a ‘savant skill’ though many of them may not know it yet. I am not having an emotion about this in particular, but analysis says I probably ought to — it seems to be saying that I ought not express pleasure that I read young. Yet, alas, I am still living in a world where I am embarrassed to speak of other childhood milestones (tie ones shoes, ride a bike, translate a clock-face to words — very typical late-coming skills for folks with brains like mine) because I came to those years late.

    Anyway. Sorry for the threadjack. I’ll hush now. I’m probably just missing some emotional subtext or something.

  167. Oi, so much good stuff here! I know that I love YA novels, and I’ve jotted down a bunch of these for future checking out (I know I need to look into more Diana Wynne Jones, because I loved Howl’s Moving Castle). I remember as a young girl that I wished there were more female heroines like me, who were large and tall, instead of stocky and short OR tall and stick thin. x.x It seemed like they were all thin, or sometimes stocky or curvy, but never truly large or fat.

    I also read The Fat Girl by Marilyn Sachs, and was profoundly creeped out by it. I was probably 15 or 16 at the time (it was in high school, because I distinctly remember reading it in the library at my high school), and I remember feeling really, really creeped out by the narrator’s behavior toward that girl. It just solidified my own resolve to never let someone treat me like that, which was basically hardened into rock in early college when I was informed that I would be in an abusive relationship, because all fat girls are (the implication being that we’re all so self-hating that we let ourselves be treated that way). If I remember correctly, the girl does dump the creep at the end, and most of the school kinda looks at him askance after that.

    Regarding Agnes in Terry Pratchett’s Maskerade, I remember envying her SO MUCH because she could harmonize with herself. XD I haven’t read enough of his books to comment further on her, though.

  168. @ Scarlett

    Oh, my gracious, thank you for Alanna!
    That may literally have been the last YA book I ever read at the very end of my target audience-ship! I would have read any and all sequels RIGHT AWAY, but as I read it when it came out, the time-lag undid me and I was distracted by teenager-ness.
    But I LOVED that book (I was a fairly late-blooming, athletic tomboy, with a sensitive introverted brother who cared nothing for sports, and my father willfully ignored both those truths to the torment of all). And am going to the library tomorrow for the rest of the series.
    Thank you so much!

    And I really have to second Maggie in Love and Rockets: smart, cool, bi, Latina, and just awesome! Great female characters everywhere in that comic. Though, of course, I wanted to be Hopey.

  169. For a fat boy role model, the 3 investigator series had Jupiter Jones. I remember being positively affected by that. He is smart, funny, and able to do all the physical things that other boys do and he is the leader of the group.

    For FoBT, I loved The Shy Ones as a kid but was upset by it as an adult. Typical shy chubby girl who loses weight, gets nicer glasses and new haircut and learns to love life (gets boyfriend, etc.). So much literature of my teenage years was like this.

  170. Angus Bethune! Hurrah! XD Highfive to AliciaMaud74 and lotesse

    The second I saw this thread, “Angus” popped to mind. I’m most familiar with the character of Angus Bethune, who describes himself as “a fat kid who’s good at science and fair at football” from the 1995 movie, starring, alongside the child actors- Kathy Bates and George C. Scott. One of my favorite movies of all time ever. (lamentably, hasn’t made it to DVD)
    Movie caught my interest after I saw the Chris Crutcher story in some teen anthology, loved Angus and his two moms and his humor.
    I lost the anthology, and had only ever seen the story in the movie, and once in some eviscerated form in a Cicada magazine.

    Yay- thank you- this made my day, on a day that really really needed it.

  171. I vaguely remember Kit in “So You Want To Be A Wizard” by Diane Duane being described as small and chubby. I don’t think Nita is supposed to be particularly thin, though I think her sister is. But OMG I loved those books. And in “Deep Wizardry” they turn into whales! Because whales can be wizards!

    I also remember reading the first book in a series called “Bad News Ballet” which had a fat character named Gwen. Gwen’s mom pushes her to join ballet because she thinks it’ll help her lose weight. But Gwen doesn’t, and finds some cool misfit ballerina friends in the process. And she’s not the worst dancer in the group either! However, evidently book 5 in the series is called “Blubberina” and involves the misfit ballet group helping Gwen lose weight. I don’t know how it’s approached, but I’m curious. Probably nothing good, though.

  172. There’s a book called “Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes.” I think it holds up pretty well in terms of fat acceptance, but I read it several years ago, so I’m not sure. The narrator and main character is a fat boy. He’s definitely a three dimensional character, and his size is a part of who he is but not the whole of it.

  173. An aside, about “Blubber”: I remember in that scene that she weighed something like 90 or 95 lbs in fifth grade. Even at the time that didn’t seem “that fat” to me but the school nurse was appalled.

    I think I hit 5’3” in the fifth grade, so I think 90/95lbs would have been in fact technically underweight for me at that point. I’m not terribly tall — around 5’6” — so, well, that number doesn’t seem to correlate to “really fat kid” at all, for me.

    I think there was an earlier post about this on the blog somewhere, about how fictional weights are often lowballed — so you get characters who are said to weigh 200lbs, when in fact their physical descriptions are those of people *much* heavier. I mean, I realize that different people have different experiences at the same weight (different levels of mobility, different proportions) — but there’s something about this number deflation in YA literature that seems especially problematic. I’d be able to recognize a disparity like that NOW, but I’m sure that realizing that I was probably 40 pounds heavier than ‘Blubber’ in the fifth grade would have made me feel *awful*.

    I loved “The Cat Ate My Gymsuit”, but totally internalized the messages of the sequel. Sigh.

    A couple of examples came to mind for me: first, those Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry (which I *adored*). Anastasia is described as being skinny and wanting to fill out, rather than necessarily as some kind of thin ideal (in the “Sweet Valley” style). She’s also got a plump friend, who worries about her weight, but whose weight is not totally central to her experience. IIRC, there’s a sense in those books of a range of bodies, and though people aren’t necessarily HAPPY with those bodies, that has less to do with some perception of value than with (universal?) teenage insecurity.

    Another is “Breakdown”, by Budge Wilson (a Canadian author). This one has a secondary character with a “weight problem”, who slims down with the help of the main character. She loses some weight, though not as much as she sets out to, finds a boyfriend who likes a ‘curvy’ girl, and decides that she’s happy.

    That trajectory is problematic, for sure. But I’ll say that IIRC the specific realization of that trajectory is not so bad. The heavy character is an emotional eater, and seems to be heavy because of that — and I remember her in fact confronting those underlying issues at some point. We probably don’t need another character whose personal growth is directly reflected by, well, personal shrinkage — but disordered emotional eating is a real thing, and it might not be so bad to say, okay, address the disordered part of your eating, see where you end up, and be happy with your body (though, yes, it would be better if the boyfriend’s opinion didn’t have to come into it). Not quite HAES, but closer than you see in a lot of YA lit.

    The other thing — this character “falls of the wagon” at some point, eating I believe a box of butter tarts, and though SHE is panicked and talks about being a failure, I remember the protagonist giving her some perspective. (The protagonist’s advice in general is pretty sane. And there definitely is some wisdom about ‘set points’ there — the protagonist acknowledges that she’s slimmer because that’s her body type.)

    Partially problematic, yes. But… not unsalvageable, especially in a book that addresses similar themes (about adversity, social pressures/expectations in various forms) for a number of characters.

    The thing with both of these books, though, is that what I remember finding most engaging as a kid was not the body-image stuff, but the smart and strong teenage girl protagonists. I totally see the trouble with making fat characters secondary, and do wish that I’d read more where these characters were smart and strong — and fat, and okay with that. But the smart and strong teenage girl protagonists, well, I identified with them, and they helped me value different parts of myself, which helped in general.

  174. “An aside, about “Blubber”: I remember in that scene that she weighed something like 90 or 95 lbs in fifth grade. Even at the time that didn’t seem “that fat” to me but the school nurse was appalled.

    I actually very distinctly remember weighing myself in 5th grade and seeing 112 lbs. I was probably 5’1 or 2″ at the time, and wore a size 5 dress to my cousin’s bar mitzvah that year. Not even remotely fat.

    I’ve written in my own blog about how my issues with weight are more about the number than how I actually look or what size I wear, and I suspect that pop culture references like this, that seriously lowball weight, are part of the reason my thinking is so skewed.

  175. I remember one YA book that had a fat MC with a good attitude. It was called If this is Love, I’ll take Spaghetti. In this book the MC didn’t have a problem with her weight, but her mother did and sent her to a slimming club over summer. Luckily there was a belly dancing class down the hall, so the MC went to that instead.

    It’s interesting to note how many of these fat acceptance books blame the mother as the one with a problem about her daughter’s weight.

    The other stereotype of a fat girl in in YA fiction is one with a spectacular talent – usually music – which leads to her gaining confidence and accepting herself and finding a boyfriend.

    I think it’s great that people saw Diana in Anne with Green Gables as a role model, but I saw her as second best. She wasn’t the heroine, she didn’t get to study with Miss Stacey and worst of all, she didn’t get Gilbert Blythe.

  176. @Ven Detta: I also loved Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books (well, the first ones, if I get started on some of the later I’ll start frothing at the mouth). And while I got that Lessa was short, even though McCaffrey describes her as tiny and there’s a People Of Pern book where an artist painted all the characters with McCaffrey’s input, I STILL mentally picture Lessa as stocky and solid, but also very graceful and quick of movement. Every time I think of her in my head she’s this strong, solidly built short woman, and no matter what else I read or what other outside pictures I see, that’s always the person I see in my head when I read the books.

    This is why I love books. I get to draw my own mental pictures.

  177. @Kim … The Shy Ones! Is that the novel by Lynn Hall, about the girl who rescues a golden retriever? If so … I perceived it very differently, as being mainly about how Robin becomes so absorbed in the dog, in dog shows, in her first job, and the people she meets through all of this, that she lets go of the fears and fantasies that had paralyzed her and gains the confidence to do what she wants. So far so good; what gave me pause when I reread it as an adult, was that she didn’t seem to want very much. To take Katy the dog to her championship, and that was about it. And it is absolutely true that by the end of the book she’s become conventionally attractive and even a bit fashionable. I hadn’t noticed much of that when I was a kid, possibly because it was, as you note, so ubiquitous in novels for girls … I think I just tuned it out.

  178. On Pratchett and Agnes:
    In Maskerade as I remember it, there’s an overriding theme of Agnes not wanting to be pigeonholed and characterised exclusively in terms of her size, not wanting to turn into the stereotype of a nice, reliable girl on the sidelines who writes on pink notepaper and says, “Poot” instead of swearing, made into a sexless, helpful caregiver sort of character. Maskerade also really resonated with me in terms of the ‘fat girl’ tropes trotted out by a number of the other characters – particularly the resentment attached to the fact that she’s so frequently described as having “a lovely personality… and nice hair”.
    [SPOILER WARNING]
    At the end of the novel, when it’s made clear that she’s not about to be lauded and promoted for her enormous vocal talent because she isn’t as ‘charismatic’ as and doesn’t have the ‘star quality’ of the slim, vapid Christine, her reaction is, I think, wonderful. She belts out this single extraordinary note, lets out all the suppressed rage and frustration that she’s been holding in while being the reliable, sensible one. (The implication is that the denouement is over because the fat lady has sung.) Then she does end up returning to Lancre to become a witch, a fate she’s dreaded because it’s expected of her and because she feels trapped by the inevitability of it – but by this stage she’s become so disillusioned by the world of opera, which is written as an entertainment industry glorifying grand, often absurd, illusions, that this seems her only viable alternative, and a preferable one. It isn’t a happy ending from a FA perspective, but it’s a realistic portrayal of a character and the choices she’s faced with in a world that is not at all receptive to the idea of a fat opera star.
    Later, when Agnes appears in Carpe Jugulum, a vampire becomes fascinated and somewhat infatuated with her because she isn’t easy to control. There’s a conflict between her almost split personality alter ego, the somewhat crueller and more confident, less grounded and sensible and in some ways less moral/ more practical Perdita, and the Agnes aspects of her – on the one hand she’s flattered by the attention of the vampire and tempted to get involved with him (and there’s a little muttering about how slimming an all-blood diet would be), but on the other hand she sees him as morally repugnant, treating people as things and her as an entertaining plaything, and this side of her wins out in the end.
    [END SPOILERS]
    I found Pratchett’s treatment of his characters’ physicality in most of the Discworld books really encouraging to read, partially because he’s an equal-opportunity humorist – there’s no real moral stance or value placed on any particular look, lifestyle choice or way of being as long as it isn’t harming others (or, as in the case of Sam Vimes’ alcoholism, haring himself), and many of his most sympathetic leads are of a nonconventional appearance. He does tend to rely occasionally on the obvious – in Mort, Ysabell is described as looking the way that a willowy young heroine would look if she spent about ten years pining and moping in a castle with not much exercise or outside light, but plenty of chocolate bonbons.
    Despite this, there’s a sense that he is generally on his characters’ side, and that size or appearance is a part of their characterisation, not something to be vilified but something to be treated as one of the idiosyncrasies that makes them into them. And I love that Nanny Ogg, a witch portrayed as both older and larger (and, yes, very fond of food and drink), gets to be a mother of a small clan’s worth of children, an intimidating witch, a very sexual and lascivious and easygoing woman, and an intensely likeable character. Her suitor, Casanunda (a dwarf and the ‘world’s second-greatest lover’ – he tries harder!) is delighted and intrigued by her novel approach to food. He expects her to pick daintily at the meal of aphrodisiacs he’s had prepared for her, but she just digs in with gusto, and he *loves* this zest and enthusiasm on her part.
    One thing that really bothered me about the treatment of fat and size was the way he portrayed Sybil Ramkin, a tall, large and generally space-taking-up middle-aged woman of the aristocracy who breeds dragons, and her relationship with Vimes.
    [MORE SPOILERS]
    In Guards! Guards!, there’s a strong implication that Vimes is ‘settling’ for the only woman in a long time to show interest in him. He enters her bedroom at one point and is struck by the sadness of it, the feeling that she’s prepared for, and in fact resigned to, being alone for the foreseeable future. All through the Vimes/City Watch sequence of books, this relationship had been bothering me, and then I reached The Fifth Elephant and felt like Sybil as a character had finally been fully fleshed out – the relationship’s presented as strong and loving, although Vimes has difficulty with expressing emotions. Sybil is presented as brave and capable, with political nouse, superior negotiation skills (she arranges a trade agreement centred around the highly valuable fat trade from the famous Shmaltzberg mines, having studied the notes of Vimes’ predecessor) and an ability to listen in a way that makes others feel heard (useful in the couple’s diplomatic capacity), possibly borne of her years of trying to deflect attention away from herself as a girl who, being ‘large and kind’ in an all-girls boarding school, was often believed to be stupid.
    Again, these are not ideal in terms of the way they deal with FA issues, but they are empathetic characterisations, realistic resolutions, and there is never any vilification of characters for their size condoned by the book; the ignorant and repugnant characters are the ones who see size as worthy of mockery.
    [ACTUALLY ENDING SPOILERS THIS TIME]

    Oh, and seconding Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones – as I remember it, Nan Pilgrim is portrayed as a fat, or at least somewhat soft and unfit girl, who also has trouble with the gym class, but finds that her self-esteem is raised by the realisation that she is a gifted storyteller/speaker and witch.
    And Tamora Pierce’s Circle series – YES. I also remember her handling GLBT characterisations and sexual relationships in a really progressive, open-minded way in most of her books.

    I also remember a book, part of a quartet, called Low Fat, which was about the ways in which Briony (the lead character)’s feeling that she was too fat was holding her back from realising that she might have a chance with her crush (who does turn out to reciprocate her feelings, and is astounded that she could think he might not want her because of her weight) and preventing her from feeling confident enough to perform the songs she writes onstage. She’s shown as being really vivacious, clever and with a brilliantly offbeat fashion sense. She embarks on a weight loss programme in hopes of attracting the lad’s attention, but doesn’t lose any weight despite her intense focus on this. Later, when she’s becoming happier and more focused on achieving her songwriting goals, having to dash around to everywhere she needs to go on her bike, she ends up losing two or three kilos (there’s no suggestion she’ll be losing more), enough to fit into the boring beige skirt she’s bought as ‘thinspiration’, but by this point she finds that she’d rather wear her crazy lime and orange windcheater and use her clothing to express her personality. The book deals wonderfully with the delicate balance between advocating size acceptance and claiming that ‘real women have curves’ – her best friend, who’s very slim and is helping Briony with her efforts to win over her crush (also the best friend’s brother), takes exception to the brand name “bigger and better”. It also features the typical bitchy skinny blonde villain, who tries to undercut and undermine Briony at every turn, but who, by the end of the book, has stopped dyeing her hair and rigorously monitoring her appearance, inspired by Briony’s outwardly confident attitude, which she had in the past found confusing and threatening. The ending of the book has her singing a song about fat acceptance at a festival, having already sung a piece she wrote about social justice and racism (she notes that she finds it much easier to be an advocate for other people than for herself.)
    A++ for that book; wish I could remember the author’s name.

  179. It’s funny, but the thing I took away from Blubber as a kid was that Linda actually wasn’t all that fat; and that fat wasn’t the problem. There’s a boy in her class who’s much fatter, and he jumps along to the jumprope song they make up about her, and no one says anything. Later, when she tries to go on a diet, the class bully makes her repeat that she’s Blubber and then says “And don’t you forget it, because even if you only weigh fifty pounds you’ll still be a smelly whale.”

    (damn, I can’t believe I remember that).

    Yeah, it’s true that Linda/the fat kid doesn’t really get much of a life or character, but for whatever reason-and God knows I had as much internalized fat stuff as anyone, still do-I never really saw that as pounding in the lesson that it was because she was fat; rather that the bullying was just mostly arbitrary (viz: how quickly and easily they shifted over to the protagonist), and had to do with nasty kid herd instincts more than anything else.

    fwiw.

    but yeah, the numbers thing always brought up anxiety. still I remember coming away with the impression that the nurse was the jerk, even at the time.

    The books where there was a makeover were probably ultimately more insidious, I expect, because those really did reinforce “happy endings=you lose weight.”

    I do remember some book where the protagonist has this awful abusive mother who insists that she diet, and when she finally gives in and does lose weight, the mother starts picking apart the rest of her appearance. I forget how it ends, but I know it has more to do with the daughter separating from the mother (emotionally, at least, if not actually moving out permanently). And there is a Boy, but her relationship with him isn’t dependent on her losing weight, as I recall. I think. I wish I could remember what it was called.

    God, the SVH books are noxious. What, did they all watch “Devil Wears Prada” or something? “0 is the new 2, 2 is the new 4. And 6 is the new 14!”

    they were so horrifying in so very many ways, though.

  180. That said, I have been marinating on this idea of “be smart, but not TOO smart”, and I have to say that one of the reasons I am a little bit uncomfortable with it is that I think a lot of smart women (trans and cis, straight and queer-, and most especially in the upper echelons of academia [I do not have any experience with being a trans man, but I imagine that trans men are left out of the straight-acting cis man club as well]) are often not allowed to show off their knowledge, or are told their ideas and thesises, while nice, lack the merit and real-world application of the ideas coming from the mouths and pens of their cisgendered male counterparts. I suppose that I find it a little bit odd to see this “don’t show off” kind of statement on what has been, in the past, a staunchly feminist blog.

    Thank you for this.

    And you know-the idea that being well-read is classist is in itself, I think, based on some rather more deeply fucked up shit in our culture: “the cultural elite” and all that jazz. Sure, it’s more likely that having a good education means you’re from means, but hello, we’re a culture in which higher education is absolutely *not* free and is becoming less and less accessible; this isn’t true everywhere, as well it shouldn’t be.

  181. and yeah, absolutely, “be smart, but just don’t be a show-off about it” was at least as much a source of my own angst as a kid as being (at that point, only moderately) overweight. And yeah, it’s gender related, although it took me a lot longer to tweak that bit; but too-smart boys didn’t have all that great a time either, if they were too y’know uppity about it.

  182. …sorry, was reading down too fast and hadn’t realized the above was responding to something in-thread, which, I wasn’t commenting on, just the general sentiment expressed in the response.

  183. Oh, I got a lot of crap for it even if I didn’t say a word. I remember a number of teachers who would list the top three or top five scores in the class after every test/project/whatever. The result, for me, being that other kids would say, “I’m smart, but he’s just a brain,” (Be Smart But Not Too Smart, I’m doin’ it!) and then proceed to note all the ways in which I am stupid.

    (This did not really go away with adulthood, either — people tend to devalue unusual strengths while severely castigating unusual weaknesses, a custom that really screws over anybody with a spiky skills profile.)

  184. I always adored Sybil Ramkin – she always struck me as this intensely pragmatic and yet aggressively optimistic sort of person. Not terribly flashy but certainly someone you want on your side. In the new Pratchett, Glenda Sugarbean is quite similar, if not as networked or rich. Both are inadvertently physically imposing (dragonkeeper and chef), both have found their niche and won’t be budged (again, dragonkeeper and chef) yet both have vulnerabilities (romantic sides for both I think). Their physical nature as fat and female isn’t overlooked, and is responsible for certain traits thanks to the way life has treated them, but it isn’t just about the fat, or the female, or anything else. They are allowed more than ‘learning to love oneself’ as a storyline.

  185. I, for one, kind of enjoyed having a conversation about young adult books that didn’t devolve into discussion about how I’m stupid for having read them (much less still reading them), as most such discussions seem to.

  186. LilahMorgan, lf, Meems –

    Anyway, I remember in that scene that she weighed something like 90 or 95 lbs in fifth grade. Even at the time that didn’t seem “that fat” to me but the school nurse was appalled.

    Yeah, and it was juxtaposed with the protagonist’s weight of 79 pounds or something like that (which the nurse thought was too thin). I know many girls are hitting puberty earlier now than in the 1970s and that average weights and heights have increased, but that still isn’t all that big (not that it would have made the fat-shaming okay if she had been).

    tanaudel – you reminded me of the awesome portrayal of Mia’s best friend in the Princess Diaries books. She’s depicted as fat, confident, beautiful and capable. I loved those books for how they had high-achieving teens who were real and human, not just nerd/geek caricatures (although there are a couple of those). Also, Mia herself is awkward in her body despite being tall and thin, going to show that even the girls who fit the ideal often feel like they don’t.

    J.von – I just remembered the way the only fat character in Mallory Towers (Jo?) was treated and how uncomfortable it was to read. Lonely, unpopular, not very good at sports and takes comfort in food… that’s original. And the illustrations, in my copies at least, depict all the girls as very thin except the token fat one (who’s slightly chubby, if that). That may just be a function of the art style but it did stand out.

  187. How about The Best Christmas Pagent Ever? Among other things, Imogene finds out how much the fat kids weigh and blackmails them. I love that book, but that part always hurt a little. One kid escapes it by getting sick and losing a frightening amount of weight, and the other caves and pays Imogene off with her fancy-pants charm bracelet. I still plan to read it to my daughter, but I’m sure as hell going to use that as a teachable moment: When someone makes you feel bad about yourself, they’re probably just after your charm bracelet.

  188. you reminded me of the awesome portrayal of Mia’s best friend in the Princess Diaries books

    Lilly Moscowitz, that was her name.

  189. I have fond memories of “Fat: A Love Story”. The key things for me were that it was clear that her mum’s pressure on her to diet was unfair and that she takes up bellydancing because she loves moving, not to lose weight, which is a very HAES idea. I can’t remember if it all leads to the FoBT though, possibly in the sequels.

  190. Re: Diana Wynne Jones. I’ve been reading her “Chrestomanci” series and am currently reading “Witch Week.” The first volume, “Charmed Life” gets points for having two children (secondary characters) who are fat but avoid being stereotypes. I think their mother was also plump. It isn’t all good though, as children might not realize that the reason they gorge on marmalade when it is available is that they have been put on a diet and not been allowed to have it, and a more important, sympathetic character (Janet) taunts them by commenting on how “fattening” the food is at their house. I am only part way through “Witch Week.” One of the two main characters is a fat girl, and while she is a sympathetic character, she is also the *only* girl who doesn’t do well in P.E., and the description of her failing at P.E. focuses a lot on her being fat. Later, the other main character sees an older boy making out with an older fat girl who is described as much fatter than the girl protagonist, Nan, and he is very disgusted. (So being as fat as Nan is okay but any fatter is disgusting and horrifying? This was jarring to read.) I haven’t finished “Witch Week” yet so events or revelations later in the book might cast these in a new light. The book before “Witch Week,” the one set in Italy, featured some fat relatives as minor characters (their being fat was neutral except possibly when the fattest aunt was described as “mountainous” or “quite a sight” at a couple points), and the duke was also fat, described in an unappealing way (shiny with sweat and what-not), a good-natured but somewhat dim-witted character. The book before that, “The Lives of Christopher Chant,” featured an extremely fat man who taught the titular character magic. He used magic to float around in a chair instead of walking. Not exactly a departure from stereotypes there. So I am pretty conflicted over Diana Wynne Jones’s portrayal of fat people. The two kids in the first book were great, but there were still a few small parts I didn’t like from an FA perspective. Nan in “Witch Week” is promising but I have a bad feeling about those couple scenes. A couple other noteworthy fat characters in the series are in danger of falling under the “lazy” and “stupid” stereotypes.

  191. I wish I’d read anything that was fat positive when I was a tween – all the books I got given by “well-meaning” adults were books with the “lose weight and you’ll be happy” message. Alas, even Noel Streatfield was spoiled for me (though I read her books and pretended I was a dancer) because I grew up in the 1980s dance/Fame/Cats era, and every little girl (and I have no doubt, many little boys who didn’t dare actually get one) wanted multiple leotards and a dancing career, and people that danced were always slim.

    I have always been a graceful dancer, but when you’re fat, people actively refuse to see it. I am deeply, wholly into FA now, but I still struggle with that message, and it took me a long time to let go of TFoBT.

    I think that’s why I moved on to horror books as a teenager – at least in those, bad stuff happened to everyone, not just the fat characters.

  192. There’s Fat Boy Swim by Catherine Forde, which isn’t entirely *not* problematic, but does focus directly on *fitness* more than *fatness* and the lead character is specifically described as still fairly overweight when he (tada!) unexpectedly wins the swimming gala.

    His growing self-esteem is less about loosing weight as much about taking action and having positive attention focussed on him and being recognised for being good at something – both the ‘manly’ swimming and the ‘girly’ cookery he used to hide

    (gender gloss my own – the ‘must hide cooking skills’ thing is explicitly framed in the book as a ‘am fat, must not be seen enjoying food’ thing.)

  193. It has been many years since I thought about fat YA literature- but I recall a series about Doris Fein that I LOVED. Doris was a large-ish Jewish gal who ended up becoming a detective/spy type person. One title in the series was “Doris Fein and the Quartz Boyar, ” if I am recalling correctly.

    I don’t recall any double or mixed messages in the series, but its been a LONG time.

  194. I suspect that the anti-fat message was less likely to sink in when I was younger because I was a pretty thin kid, so it didn’t feel personal.

    I was a pretty thin kid, too. I grew up in the fifties and sixties — things might not have been quite as fatphobic then. But antifat and antiwoman images from the books I read really did sink in. “Antiwoman” felt (and even sometimes still feels) so normal to me that I never even noticed it. In fact, I thought that my braininess (and very small bust) made me (forgive me, I’m not proud of what I’m going to say next) superior to (really, this is not my current thought) “ordinary” women!

    And the antifat messages — oh, they were like a bit of unexploded ordinance that had landed in my psyche. But they did explode years later — right when I got fat!

    Antifat messages hurt everybody.

    (About Maskerade — I made my living in music for many many years and Terry Pratchett gets the music biz exactly right. Older me (i.e. me today) was rooting for Agnes not to get caught up in it. Younger me would have felt very differently.)

  195. I actually very distinctly remember weighing myself in 5th grade and seeing 112 lbs. I was probably 5′1 or 2″ at the time, and wore a size 5 dress to my cousin’s bar mitzvah that year. Not even remotely fat.

    I reached my adult height at age 12 (5’1.50) and I remember getting weighed with other girls during gym class and being 110lbs. Nobody gasped. (except me) The only thing that dashed my hopes about that event is when my gym teacher said, “I’m thinking maybe 5’2, but otherwise pull up a comfy chair and enjoy 5’1.50.”

    I mentioned that to her on facebook and she said, “I don’t recall saying that, but it certainly sounds like me.”

    RE: Blubber –

    What upset me about this book then and still does is the way in which targeting a fat kid is minimized and dismissed as part of the spectrum of “bullying that makes kids tougher” when THAT IS NOT THE CASE. Yes, kids teases other kids, but when we’re talking about teasing kids who don’t fit the default settings of the society we’ve got some big problems. Teasing the brown kid or the fat kid or the boy who likes dolls or the the girl who comes from a working class home and needs government assistance or the kid who uses a wheelchair – NOT okay. Any book targeted toward that reading group needs to be mindful of the way in which these ideas are presented because while there are some kids who understand the actions of the MC were wrong, there are others (as on this thread and many other conversations about this book) who have questioned why Blubber didn’t stand up for herself, without serious consideration as to why she might find it unsafe to do so.

  196. That’s what I hated about Shattering Glass. . . it turns out that Simon, the kid that is being brutally bullied is actually manipulating everyone else all along! So, whee, the MCs are let off the hook for the baseball bat beating/murder/sexual manipulation because the bullied kid was a bad kid, too. (Technically they’re not off the hook. . .but they are still *alive*. . .) Simon is a pudgy kid, too, and of course when the cool kids give him a makeover (which it turns out he *tricked* them into doing) the first thing they do is put him on a “successful” diet. (SPOILER ALERT)He doesn’t live long enough for the inevitable weight gain.

  197. One of the two main characters is a fat girl, and while she is a sympathetic character, she is also the *only* girl who doesn’t do well in P.E., and the description of her failing at P.E. focuses a lot on her being fat. Later, the other main character sees an older boy making out with an older fat girl who is described as much fatter than the girl protagonist, Nan, and he is very disgusted.

    I saw the gym class scene as being filtered strongly through Nan’s own perception of her weight being the problem. None of the main characters are utter jerks or anything, but they’re very opinionated and their perceptions of events are often pretty seriously colored by their incomplete views of the world. Then again, this may be due to my own perception of the world when I read it as a skinny girl who couldn’t do that horrible rope-climbing exercise either.

  198. @Scarlett, Sounds like a fantastic book! :-) It’s officially on my reading list.

    @TropicalChrome, Agreed! I’ve both anticipated and dreaded the thought of the McCaffrey books being turned into movies, because I know if they ever did a movie of the Dragonriders of Pern, there’s no way the special effects and scenery could even come close to what I’ve imagined in my mind. And then there’s the issue of casting and the consequential Hollywoodization of the characters, which would probably make me cry a little inside. Nope, I’ll stick to the books (and my imagination!) any day of the week!

  199. @ Katia

    And the antifat messages — oh, they were like a bit of unexploded ordinance that had landed in my psyche. But they did explode years later — right when I got fat!

    Antifat messages hurt everybody.

    Sorry, I think I wasn’t clear – what I meant is that they didn’t strike me then as wrong or hurtful or unfair when I read them, because I was probably used to hearing them, and because, at the time I was reading YA fiction, 165 lbs. really was much bigger than I was. I’m not saying this is right. The message that being fat isn’t ok certainly was there or I wouldn’t have spent my entire high school (and college) years trying to lose weight, even though my highest by those points was only 165 lbs, but I don’t remember noticing it at the time I was reading these books. I totally agree that antifat messages are dangerous and damaging regardless of the reader’s weight or size.

    @Snarkysmachine

    I, improbably, actually reached 5’4″. I hit puberty very young (any younger and it would have been considered precocious puberty), and given the timeline I was on should have stopped around 5’2″, but continued to grow in very small increments until I was in my early 20s.

    As I’m thinking more about this, I’m remembering things I’d forgotten: the summer after 5th grade I went to a sleepaway camp where they weighed us at the beginning and end of the summer. At the beginning I weighed 127 lbs. and at the end I was 132 lbs. I remember being devastated that I weighed “so much” and one of my friends picking me up and assuring me that I neither looked no felt as though I weighed “that much.” I guess I was far more concerned about weight by that point than I’d like to think.

  200. Oh! I just remembered two YA books that I loved when I was younger: “Wise Child” and “Juniper” by Monica Furlong. I don’t remember anything negative in either one about fat or even appearance in general. I had a little bit of an obsession with the Middle Ages and the British Isles when I was younger. “The Star and the Sword” by Pamela Melnikoff, about two orphaned Jewish children who travel with Robin Hood, was another book I really loved as a kid.

  201. ‘Staying fat for Sarah Byrnes’ / Chris Crutcher is about a male swimmer who used to be fat until he started swimming at competition levels. Then he started eating enormously so he could be as heavy as his female friend (not girlfriend, if i recall correctly). She was fat as protection from abusive (step?)dad who wouldn’t molest her while she was fat-and-ugly.

    It was a very disturbing book on many levels. If ‘fat acceptance’ insists weight is a choice, is fat as protective armour also a choice? Its truly hideous that a teenager – or anyone – would need that.

  202. to bald.soprano – The main character in Maskerade, Agnes, didn’t get thin by walking home. In the next book, she is fat, helpful, and calm in a crisis. (Instead of dramatically needing help. She hates that about herself even more than being fat.) Only her ‘inner bitch’ is skinny, and hassles her about all the chocolate she eats.

  203. I loved Wise Child and Juniper too! I wish I were Cornish so badly.

    I also realize I kind of hate Judy Blume, in a huge way, and am really irritated that she exists.

    Threadjack or no, the questions posed about the classist implications of reading early are extremely interesting.

  204. I wanted to just pop in with another plug for Streatfeild. Aside from the Shoes books:
    Skating
    Dancing
    Ballet
    Party
    Movie (or Film)
    Theater (or Theatre) (a sequel to Ballet Shoes, focusing on a different family)
    Tennis
    Circus
    and Family (aka Apple Bough), she also has written:

    Thursday’s Child (about intrepid orphan Margaret Thursday) and it’s sequel, Far to Go

    When the Siren Wailed (about a family of children evacuated to the country during WWII)

    A Vicarage Family (just what it sounds like, family pulls a moribund town out of the doldrums)

    Ballet Shoes for Anna

    and the Gemma books.

    All are available at amazon.co.uk.

    I wouldn’t recommend Saplings, btw. It’s written for grown-ups and a real downer.

  205. I wouldn’t recommend Saplings, btw. It’s written for grown-ups and a real downer.

    I loved it, but I agree in terms of a YA discussion – a perfect example of a book that’s written in such a way that younger children could read it, but not necessarily get what’s intended out of it.

  206. Sarah: Yes, the passage is in third-person narration but still from Nan’s point of view, so it’s likely that she’s noticing how fat her hands are while trying to climb the rope because she herself associates fatness with lack of athletic ability. The other passage bothered me a lot more, where boy-protagonist couldn’t fathom how anyone could not be disgusted by the fat girl. Also, I think that in the description of the boys’ P.E. class it was implied that all the fat boys were in the group of slow, struggling runners (as I recall, everyone was described in terms of legs, and all the thick legs were in the slow group). So basically all fat kids have no physical endurance or ability. Although neither do some thin boys.

    It’ll still have to get a bit worse to turn me off Diana Wynne Jones, but I am not sure I would give her a blanket recommendation as a fat-positive-to-neutral author.

  207. @Lucy, maybe it was growing up in Boston, but I desperately wanted to be Irish and have all those cool Celtic legends as part of my heritage. I still have a weird “Russian Jewish is so boring!” mentality.

  208. Thanks to all the people who recommended noel s. and the ‘shoes’ books! I loved these books and now plan to re-read them. (Although the teens in my house are boys, and aren’t much interested in dance…)
    I must say i’m glad i missed some books on this thread!

    As to reading at a young age… reading things too far ahead of one’s age range often means missing layers of meaning. I read one ‘fat kid’ book when I was a bit young for it, and again a few years later. It made a lot more sense the second time (when I was past the ‘boys are icky’ stage)
    I sadly CANNOT remember the title, but the cover page had a fat kid leaning on a lawn mower. If anyone reads this and knows the book, please let me know ;)

    Everyone made fun of the boy in school for being fat. His cousin the lifeguard, fabulously fit, encouraged him to spend part of hte summer walking laps while the cousin ran laps. At first he could barely make one lap, then he worked up to several. Also he got a summer job mowing a huge lawn. His first day he was so exhausted he couldn’t eat lunch!
    At the end of summer, the doc weighs him again. He thinks he still needs to lose weight, but the doc says, Kid, that’s muscle. Keep that weight!

    It always shocked me, that muscle WEIGHS something! If you’re strong, you’re going to tip the scales!

  209. Dude, I read YA books at 37. A lot of the new YA lit is better than much adult lit coming out these days.

    Right now, I’m riveted to The Hunger Games series, by Suzanne Collins. Setting is America, renamed Panem, many years in the future. The country is divided into twelve districts, each handling one industry, plus the Capital, which runs things. Seventy-four years before, the districts rebelled against the Capital. The Capital won out, and instituted a series of annual “games” in which two children from each district are sent to the Capital, where they all fight to the death. Twenty-four enter, one leaves.

    Our hero is from District Twelve (Appalachia), and she is the anti-Bella Swan. Strong, clever, capable, self-contained, Katniss has been supporting her family since her father died. She is one of the Tributes sent to the Capital.

    Food and fat are treated very differently in these books. No one from the districts is fat per se, because no one gets enough food. When Katniss goes to the Capital, she eats as much as she can, as often as she can, in order to pack on weight to strengthen herself. She’s surprised when someone from the Capital is negative about fat, because in her world, fat is a sign of wealth. Other Tributes from other districts are larger than her, because they’ve grown up with more food, but their heaviness is strength, not indulgence.

    I can’t recommend these books highly enough. The first two are out; the third comes out next summer.

  210. @DivaJean — As much as I loved the Doris Fein books, they’re really problematic. First, she separates the part of herself who loves to eat off into “Petunia,” who ‘forces’ her to eat cookies and cake and stuff. Second, there’s a whole book (Doris Fein: Deadly Aphrodite) where Doris goes to a weight-loss clinic, becomes clinically underweight, and I think pretty much stays there for the rest of the series. (Well, I think she gains back the 10 lbs that would put her at ‘normal.’) (Also she investigates some murders and whatnot.)

    On the other hand, that’s where I learned the word ‘euphonious.’ (Actually, I think that was a different title, but still.)

    The author is T. Ernesto Bethancourt, who I think is also known as Tom Paisley.

  211. Seconding hunger games. It’s just phenomenal.

    I thought of Peeta as being sort of doughy, but that might have been from free association on account of his being a baker.

  212. Don’t Call Me Fatso.

    Must I say more? Well, I will.

    When I was in kindergarten, my teacher, who, I must note, was very loving and empowering and really only wanted me to be happy, lent me a book called Don’t Call Me Fatso. This book is so engrained in my memory that the illustrations are still vividly colored in my mind.

    Anyway, the book centers around a young girl, Rita, who is fat. She’s teased by her classmates who are thin. She always brings sweets in her lunch and kids laugh and harass her. They all have fruits and juice and are all thin while she, the only fat child is shown with a sugary treat- now that’s realistic, right? Thin kids never bring sweets in their lunch. *eyeroll*

    So the children have a weigh-in with the nurse. A check-up type thing. And the girl is told that she is (dun dun dunnnn) fat.

    Anyhoo… In the end she eats “healthier” which of course makes her skinny. In the next weigh-in she gets the all clear from the school nurse, the kids no longer associate her with fat-cooties and she’s happy and has friends. Then they go out and all start making fun of the kid in the wheelchair because he couldn’t get weighed at all. (Okay, I made that last part up but it seemed like it would have probably fit with the ridiculous propaganda of the story.)

    This book had so much influence on my life that I didn’t want to give it back to the teacher. The girl in the story looked just like me: brown hair, bangs, brown eyes, and pudgy. And I wanted so badly to be her. To lose weight and have friends and such.

    But as I got older, I realized something. This book sucked! The kids who were obviously in the wrong for teasing Rita didn’t get in trouble, they weren’t even told to stop. What the heck?! It’s okay to tease people because their fat? It motivates them? HA! And poor Rita was pressured into losing weight.

    Way to teach kids that you can only be happy if you’re perfect. Way. To. Go. I thought school was about teaching tolerance. I guess I was wrong.

    ((Worse thing is, if you look on Amazon.com you’ll find a picture of the book cover and Rita looks like a “normal sized” child! With a normal lunch of peanutbutter and jelly, some kind of bun and milk! God! Why didn’t I realize the propaganda sooner?!))

  213. Just ordered Hunger Games (thank you Kindle, for your enablement of impulse purchases). Thanks for the rec!

  214. On the topic of Gert Yorkes and weight deflation, I was actually looking at the Wikipedia article on her earlier ’cause I was looking for a good picture of her. (She was pretty much my favorite character in Runaways – I mean, she was smart and independent and nerdy and got great one-liners and had purple hair and didn’t look like a model! Awesome!) And in the first paragraph of the article it gives her height and weight: 5’1″, 125 lbs.

    WTF. Now, I am 5’4″, and I weigh about 135 pounds. Whack off 3 inches and ten pounds, and I probably wouldn’t look all that different. When I gained ten or fifteen pounds a couple years ago, my grandmother said it was good because I didn’t “look so anorexic anymore.” (*facepalm*) So it seems really, really unlikely to me that Gert is stocky and chubby and…125 lbs. GAH.

    (Granted, this is Wikipedia, so their numbers might be wrong. But it still pisses me off, because it means that someone somewhere out there thinks this is reasonable. GAH.)

    Sarah: I have also read all of the Keys to the Kingdom and really liked them. As far as female characters go – I like that one source of continuing hilarity is Dame Primus’ utterly failed attempts to make Suzy into a “proper” lady, and how upset Arthur is that Dame Primus has wrecked the awesome Suzy that he knew when he thinks she’s succeeded. And Arthur’s mom is a world-famous researcher on contagious diseases! Which is even cooler because disease is the big boogeyman of the world in those books, so that’s even more important than it would be in our world. I do remember being pretty disturbed by Drowned Wednesday, though. I mean, on the one hand, I thought the whole perpetual ravenousness and growth thing was because of some sort of curse (which I wish they’d explained better, but maybe that will happen in the final book?), so I wasn’t too bothered by it on an FA basis. I just thought, wow, it would be really terrible to be cursed to be hungry all the time, especially if it was to the point where you were truly afraid you would devour people you cared about. I might just be dismissing/not noticing negative messages there, though. But even giving the book the benefit of the doubt on the whole cursed & ravenous thing, why, oh why, did she have to become a Great White Whale? >_<

    Also by Garth Nix, if not exactly about fat, did you (or anyone else) read Lirael? The main character has serious issues because all she wants in the world is to be a real Clayr, and aside from the fact that she doesn't have the Sight, all the Clayr are brown-skinned and blond and blue-eyed, and she's pale and dark-haired and brown-eyed. She sees the fact that she looks different as this damning physical evidence that she's a failure at the one thing in the world that matters, and she assumes everyone judges her for it. I thought it was good because it shows how harmful it can be when the ideal looks or the ideal life are limited to such narrow possibilities. Like I said, not exactly about fat, but potentially related to FA? If I'm too off-topic, though, tell me to stop.

    Also, I remember really liking the few Circle of Magic books I read when I was younger, and being happy that there was a fat character whose fat didn't matter. I should re-read those.

  215. @ Shine – I can’t share your enthusiasm for Westerfeld. At several points in Pretties, the second volume, Westerfeld tacitly or explicitly advocates teenagers practicing unhealthy behaviors to free themselves from adult control. The heroine and her boyfriend consciously develop anorexia, while her frenemy starts deliberately cutting her arms as means of breaking through “pretty thinking” to sharper, more intense perceptions of reality. God knows I’m fine with adolescent rebellion, but there are better ways for teenagers to challenge authority.

  216. Catching Fire, the sequel to Hunger Games, is every bit as good! I’m anxiously awaiting book three, not out till August!

  217. @ Stringmonkey: I’m not sure I agree with you. They’re not focusing on weight or the evils of food or calories; it’s that their actual brains have been tampered with to make them less functional, and for some not-well-articulated reason pain and near-starvation conditions help break through the haze of deliberately induced endorphin overproduction (if I’m remembering correctly) and allow normal thought processes to occur. Yes, there are dangerous messages there, but I think the provocation is sufficient.

  218. Noel Streatfeild and boys: Be sneaky. Circus Shoes, A Vicarage Family, When the Siren Wailed, and Apple Bough all have strong boy co-main characters and Noel’s first name is androgynous.

    Just don’t tell them that they’re marketed as being for girls.

  219. Ballet Shoes for Anna is actually about Anna’s brothers and their struggle to get enough money to pay for her ballet lessons.

  220. I loved those Diane Duane books and really wish I hadn’t given away my copies! I don’t remember much specific physical description, but I always pictured Nita as–not fat, necessarily, but definitely not thin. And she got to do magic and save the world and make out with a hot Irish wizard boy! Also, yes, it was SUPER AWESOME when they turned into whales.

    In middle and high school I was obsessed with the Callahan’s Place books by Spider Robinson–fairly easy reading, although decidedly not targeted towards YA audiences. Anyway, they feature a character named Mary Callahan who is badass incarnate. Supposedly she weighs 200 pounds, but from her descriptions she’s clearly much closer to Death Fat. She’s smart and tough as hell. And she’s an unabashed, no-two-ways-about-it hottie. The narrator, who has a bit of a hard-on for fat women in general, falls madly in love with her, and is devastated when she marries someone else. I feel like it’s not often that you see a really fat woman portrayed as The One That Got Away.

    Also, in the original Peter Pan although not in any of its various film incarnations, Tinker Bell is chubby.

  221. I had really mixed feelings about the sections in Pretties where they’re starving. On the one hand, I see Other Becky’s point – they had a specific, legitimate reason and were happy to start eating again when that was removed. On the other hand, the book spent a tad too much time describing the clear-headed feeling they were getting from starvation. Yes, that is because of the brain control they were pushing past, but it also mimics the euphoria that can come with starvation in real life in a way I found disturbing. I still like the series but that gave me pause.

  222. (And when I say “describing” I mean in a way that kind of made it sound a bit glamorous and exciting.)

  223. One commenter above mentioned that she kind of hates Judy Blume now, and that made me realize that I’ve been hating Judy Blume since I was ten, and that Judy Blume deserves to be hated in the thanks-for-making-fat-people-seem-like-subhuman-freaks category. (Page 22 0f my rage diary, columns 12-77)

    I was a compulsive reader as a kid – I re-read most of my books, burying myself in the stories to escape from the (hyperbole warning) Dickensian bleakness of my childhood. I only read Blubber once, because once was enough for that book – I weighed five pounds more than the hideously fat girl, that passive lump – I was five pounds more hateable than Blubber ever was. That book made me hate myself so much, made me feel like I did deserve all the teasing, that I was lucky to not get teased and marginalized more than I already was. and then Wifey came along in the late 70’s – Judy Blume’s paean to creepy suburban sex. There were fat twins in the books- girls- unattractive and stupid, the butt of some cosmic joke on their slim, attractive parents. The twins were presented as being so unappealing, so hard to look at, so unpleasant to be around… until the end of the book, when they were presented as newly-thin, lovely and witty, as if their former fatness actually presented itself as a mental disability as well as a physical eyesore. I was so angry – because even though I didn’t have the words for it, I knew that I was being presented with The Horror Of Being Fat – the idea that fatness doesn’t just mean that your body is bigger, but that your hygiene is suspect, your I.Q. is diminished, you very spirit is dulled by the extra pounds that you carry.

    I think that’s what people think of when they say, “If I were that fat, I’d kill myself.” – the pernicious belief that fat people are like Blubber, are like the unlovely twins – ugly and dull, both outside and in. How many people came to believe that because of Judy Blume? It’s not that I blame her for all the fat-hating attitude in the world, but her best-selling books fed into that hateful worldview.

  224. @ Other Becky – I see where you’re coming from, and might agree with you if Westerfeld didn’t belabor the point so heavily. He specifically describes eating as an act that makes people stupid, and reinforces the idea that the anorexic heroine and her boyfriend are not only prettier, but cooler and smarter than everyone else around them.

  225. Ahhh no one mentioned one of my favorite books about the shapely set “All About Vee” whose main character Veronica May is one of the coolest characters I’ve read in any story about someone with a bit of meat on their bones.

    She is one of those characters you would hope to emulate when the world around you is less than kind. This is really one of those “gem” stories that I’m so very glad I found. If you have not read this book, you should.

  226. The best thing about having a kid is hanging out in the kids section of the library again. Tamora Pierce has written so many books since i got out of middle school!

    There’s another Daniel Pinkerton book that’s maybe aimed a little younger, called Fat Camp Commandos where the fat kids break out and find Free Fat Adults (they are called something slightly different than that – but the kids get grownup allies.)

    Also, In Looking for Bobowicz, the kids spend most of their afternoons hanging out in the basement drinking soda and reading, which I adore – that’s the part of summer I liked, too. A lot of these tweener books seem to be about model kids who are scheduled every minute. Plus the parents in LfB are pretty much paradies of, well, me. “It’s so great that you are having these exciting urban experiences!”

  227. Graphite, now I want to read the “Low Fat” book you described. Would you mind if I post your description to the whatwasthatbook community on LiveJournal and see if anyone there can identify it?

  228. I recall a YA romance retelling of Cyrano where the Cyrano character is fat and a fabulous cook trying to get into chef school, and the Roxane character falls in love with his food – hm, “Flavor of the Week”, it would seem. I should hunt it up again and see if the recipes were any good.

  229. ‘Staying fat for Sarah Byrnes’ / Chris Crutcher is about a male swimmer who used to be fat until he started swimming at competition levels. Then he started eating enormously so he could be as heavy as his female friend (not girlfriend, if i recall correctly). She was fat as protection from abusive (step?)dad who wouldn’t molest her while she was fat-and-ugly.

    She wasn’t fat. She had extensive facial scarring. He wanted to “stay fat” so he wouldn’t become more popular than she was and make her feel worse than she already did. (You’re right that the relationship was always just-friends, though, in both directions.) I don’t think he exactly became thin by the end of the book, though, even with all the swimming, he was just less fat than he was before.

  230. And damn, I forgot about those twins in Wifey. That was pretty bad, although IIRC, their mother, who was thin, was portrayed as somewhat of a shallow jerk and they were as grumpy as they were partially in reaction to that.

  231. I adore the YA genre.

    One book that immediately came to mind is Alt Ed by Catherine Atkins. On the one hand, the protagonist does exhibit “fat cliches”, such as being friendless, being teased for being fat, losing weight at the end, being passive, mostly defined by her size (in both how others think of her and how she thinks of herself). On the other hand, while she loses weight its accepted that she will never be skinny or thin, she gains a friend, she becomes active about fighting back against fat hate, and she starts to like herself and her body by the end of the book. Its a good YA book in the sense that while some characters are a little flatter than others, none are one dimensional.

    Chris Crutcher: Agnus (from the anthology Athletic Shorts) is given one of the best speeches by his stepdad about the bravery it takes for people outside the “norm” to step outside the front door; he continues to be big at the end of Angry Management. Moby/Eric (from Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes) is someone who both has the big genes and ate when he was unhappy; when he’s mentioned in Angry Management I believe he is still big, though not as big. As for Sarah, she does not get reconstructive surgery, and at the end of her Angry Management story she is starting to accept her scars.

    You know that they’ve retconned them to “perfect size four” in the reissues?

    Cue the sound of my horrified laughter.

    Also, for those who want romance books with FA characters click here.

  232. millefolia: Go ahead; I’ll have a search around the house for it.

    geek anachronism: Exactly. Very much looking forward to reading Unseen Academicals.

    meerkat: I don’t know how I managed to forget that moment in Witch Week with the fat girl kissing her boyfriend. Thinking back on it now though, yeah, it was problematic, but maybe it didn’t bother me as much as it otherwise might have, because she did actually *have* a boyfriend who wanted to kiss her and grab her and etc. Maybe I felt like the boy’s disgust came off as childish, as though he didn’t really understand sexual desire and its variance and personalness yet?
    Now that you’ve given all those other examples though… I don’t know how I managed to forget the magic teacher in the chair for example, although, wasn’t he presented ultimately as a figure to be respected and venerated, and a good teacher?

    Ooh, another recommendation is Fat by Richard Grant. There’s a bit in the way of mature themes, so it might be suited for older young adults. It’s set in a society a few years in the future where the government is initiating ‘health’ initiatives and introducing state-sponsored institutes for fat people to lose weight.
    [WOO MORE SPOILERS COMING UP]
    The story’s (I *think*, it’s been a while) split into three narratorial perspectives: that of a PR guy in charge of putting a positive spin on the camps; a famous celebrity chef who’s very fat and was recently fired (I think due to his weight and the television station’s concern about their image) and decided, on the advice of his agent, to go to the fat camp and be a sort of celebrity advocate for the process; and an anorexic teenage girl obsessed with a handsome celebrity.
    While the portrayal of the anorexic girl as shallow and a little suggestible was problematic, it sort of rang true reading it – it seemed as though she was absorbing the attitudes of her environment, and part of her recovery was meeting the celebrity and realising how dull and perpetually high he was. The PR guy’s storyline involved meeting a woman (possibly who worked for the government, don’t entirely remember) who introduced him to some concepts about dieting, epidemiology etc that, looking back, were very centred around diets-don’t-work and proper nutrition. She points out that at the fat camp, no salt is included in any of the food, and she smuggles in some of her own. The PR guy is horrified and says something about sodium being bad for you, ‘everyone knows it leads to heart attacks'; she tells him that sodium is necessary for the proper functioning of the body and without it people can eventually die. The chef’s storyline was great in that it reinforced the diets-don’t-work point. It talks about how he first gained a little weight as a result of going into middle age and his body changing, and how he dieted it away, more came back, the cycle continued, to the point that he was now uncomfortably fat (in that it was an inconvenience in daily life, getting dressed, etc). There’s a lot of self-loathing and a little ‘comfort eating’ in his storyline though. He also, early on, joins a gym, and is very aware of the fact that to get down to their ‘ideal’ weight projected for him, whilst still losing weight at the ‘sensible’ rate they suggest, he’d have to live to be 300 years old. When he’s at the camp, he’s outraged by the indignities institutionalised there – intentionally uncomfortable chairs to discourage sitting, too-small bathrobes, creepily encouraging ‘liaisons’ between residents because sex is exercise – and he stands up for his fellow ‘inmates’, eventually breaking out in one of his characteristic fits of anger. In the epilogue, he’s been given a new show as ‘the Angry Chef’, sort of a fatter Gordon Ramsay figure. He’s immensely likeable.
    [END SPOILERS]
    I don’t know whether this counts as YA – I found it in the sci fi section, probably because it’s vaguely speculative, and set slightly-in-the-future, but that didn’t really seem an appropriate categorisation. I did really enjoy it as a teen though, and lent it to a friend of a similar age (about 17) who also liked it.

  233. Blubber was one of those books that illistrated to me how much my mom didn’t understand my experience. We read it aloud before bed and she said it was unbelieveable that kids were so mean to another girl because of her weight. I on the other hand found it so realistic I would cry while reading it. I wanted to hear more from the fat character because I hated that it was another novel from a popular kids prespective.

    Fat Chance was a book I read in 6th grade and while it does have kind of a decent ending if I recall correctly the things I learned from that book were less than positive. A lot of my thoughts when I had my eating disorder really mirrored the character in a book because she was Jewish, about my age, and bullied. And yet I still can’t throw it away.

  234. How could everyone have missed the mature, sensitive and acidly funny books by Isabelle Holland? “Cecily” and “Heads You Win, Tails I Lose” were two of my favourites, along with “The Man Without a Face”.

  235. it’s probably because what I was reading when I was a little child was so age inappropriate that adults were just compelled to ruthlessly grill me about it to see if I was just pretending to read that

    Grafton – when my parents moved us across country and I started at a new school, the teachers wouldn’t believe I could read James and the Giant Peach and insisted that I must have memorized it! I love the idea that I couldn’t possibly read the book because that was way too advanced, but memorizing the whole damn book was perfectly reasonable and appropriate to skills children would have at my age.

    Nothing new to add on fat kids in YA books. I don’t think I really noticed it particularly – if anything, I liked the FoBT books where the fat girl loses weight and gets popular as they made it seem like all my problems would be solved if I could just lose weight.

  236. I guess they’re closer to childrens’ books than YA, but I found Brian Jaques’ Redwall books really good on fat issues. They’re the only books I can think of where ‘fat’ is a neutral adjective – some good guys are fat, some bad guys are fat, and a character being fat is not a predictor of how smart or how athletic they are(n’t). There are also really joyful, happy scenes about cooking and eating. But I guess it’s pretty telling that in order to get all that, your characters have to be anthropomorphised animals…. :(

    (Anyone thinking of picking up the books – they’re fun and generally pretty good, but have some really appalling issues surrounding race and class. Proceed with caution.)

    Also, THANK YOU so much to whoever mentioned Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series had a book where they turned into whales. I absolutely adored that book when I was 12 or so and have been looking for it for years, but couldn’t remember what it was called or who wrote it. I hadn’t connected it at all with the Young Wizards series. Now I must read them all!

  237. [This whole thing could be full of Diana Wynne Jones spoilers...]

    Adding to the conversation about that moment in “Witch Week” with the fat girl and her boyfriend, I think it’s also worth pointing out that the disgusted character is (I think) Charles, who in some ways is quite a messed-up and unpleasant person. I think DWJ wrote the disgust to express the nature of Charles, more than the nature of fat.

    That still means she wasn’t writing with an active FA mindset, because any one of us would shy away from putting in something that at best is ambiguous and easily misread. But – and I’m speaking as a death fatty – I’m personally comfortable with reading it as neutral. The whole book places quite an emphasis on physical appearance as seen from the POV of the various characters, and I found that pretty realistic when compared to my own adolescence.

    DWJ has written some awesome fat characters, like Milly, Roger and Julia in some of the Chrestomanci books, or Maree Mallory and Zinka Fearon in “Deep Secret” – though that last one is definitely aimed at adults. Polly Whittaker in “Fire and Hemlock” grows up to be plump and pretty, and as a child she desperately wants to look like her fat friend Nina. On the other hand, Lydda the griffin (“The Dark Lord of Derkholm”) gets quite a lot of fat-shaming from her family, and finds in the end that – ta-da! – it’s not fat, it’s muscle and she’s a lot physically stronger than she thought. Yay, the redemption of Lydda! That was icky to me.

    In general, I find that Diana Wynne Jones sends out both positive and negative messages – but I always feel that the views expressed are those of the characters, rather than the author. Maybe that’s what makes the difference for me. Realistically, few of us grow up and go through life without any doubts about our bodies, and so nor do her characters. Her books certainly aren’t 100% fat positive, but I have never felt judged by her in the way I have by other writers.

  238. Having written out that great ramble, I’d like to condense my thoughts into two final points. First, Diana Wynne Jones doesn’t write worlds where fat is generally viewed as a positive thing, and her characters do express fat-negative views. But – and this is really key for me – her fat characters are always real people. She takes as much care writing them as she would with any character. They’re not dehumanised, nor are they flat caricatures like poor old Blubber. She doesn’t use fat as a shorthand for stupid, lazy, evil, smelly or anything else. She writes fat characters as bad guys, good guys and everything in between.

    That, to me, is immensely valuable. I don’t ever want to read another book about Stupid Smelly Gross Fatty, but I don’t always want to read about Good Fatty Tee Em, either (though I would certainly love to see far more positive role models in YA fiction). Mostly, I want to read about Real Fatty.

  239. Thanks, Gigembre; that was really insightful and maybe clarifies to me why I do find Diana Wynne Jones’ portrayal to be as good as I do (even though problematic at points).

  240. On the topic of Gert Yorkes and weight deflation, I was actually looking at the Wikipedia article on her earlier ’cause I was looking for a good picture of her. (She was pretty much my favorite character in Runaways – I mean, she was smart and independent and nerdy and got great one-liners and had purple hair and didn’t look like a model! Awesome!) And in the first paragraph of the article it gives her height and weight: 5′1″, 125 lbs.

    Oh, that’s because she’s “comic book fat”, which is the same as “model fat” or “Hollywood fat”. For comparison, her teammate Nico is 5’4″ and weighs 102 lbs. Height and weight are given stats on most character profiles if you go to the Marvel website.

  241. I don’t read YA books (even when I was 13, I was deep into the oeuvre of Sidney Sheldon – stolen from mom’s bookshelf) but there is a crime fiction series that I read that in every book the author (a woman) describes the main character (a NYC prosecuter) as 5’9″ and 115 pounds. Drives. Me. Crazy. Every. Time.

  242. I write YA fiction, and my 14 year old protagonist is overweight – only a UK size 14 but at that age, and being bigger than your peers, it’s a Very Big Deal. I agree with the original post that fat is often seen as a shorthand for negative characters; Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter books is the first one to come to mind. I did and do make a point of avoiding that in my books – my character is called ‘fat’ by her peers to make a point about body-shaming and peer pressure. She’s quite a depressed little thing :(.

    Not too sure about Blubber though – the fat girl in it (Linda?) is horribly bullied, but I took the point of the book as being anti-bullying rather than anti-fat, as one of the bullies, Jill, ends up being bullied herself. When I read the book as a kid I’m sure like most kids I would have called someone fat just to be a horrible little sod; I don’t recall ever doing it after reading Blubber. Though I grew into quite a plump teenager so that might have something to do with it :).

    Really interesting post, Snarky’s Machine.

  243. Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade came out when I was in – fifth grade. As a fat kid who looked remarkably like the illustration of the fat character, Elsie (eyeroll), I remember feeling hurt by the characterization of Elsie as being lazy and stealing food. Nearly 30 years later I haven’t forgotten what Elsie said to her friends after she lost the weight: “Let’s face it. I wasn’t just fat. I was gross.” Ick.

  244. While I understand some of the larger points of some of the posters bemoaning the lack of any agency on the part of Linda in Blubber, I believe many readers are rushing to judgment when it comes to this aspect of the book.

    Is Linda a proactive/stand-up character? No. But to paint her as the “magic fatty” who provides the main protagonist with a life lesson is unfair. I think it’s simply a realistic, and quite compelling, tale of pre-teen bullying. Life is hard, and very rarely do kids fight back heroically. Blume was simply telling a story, and to expect her to somehow deify the heavy girl in this story is perhaps a bit much.

    Ultimately, I would venture that most readers of female young adult fiction are not fat, and that Blume is simply writing to her audience. Perhaps things have changed today since I was in elementary school and junior high (back in the late 1970’s); I don’t have children, but I have heard that there are more heavier children now. So maybe there is an even greater need for young adult fare for fatties. Though one has to wonder whether such fiction will do too much to make children at those ages more complacent about their health. In an era of fast food in the schools, drastic cuts in physical education, and immobile Internet-based lifestyles, they could do more harm than good.

    I grew up rather heavy from about 3rd grade on, until hormonal changes in my later teens led to a slimmer me–thankfully, since kids are brutal. And I didn’t even have it as bad as Linda, by a long shot!

    Mod Note – Connie Sterlz is taking a breather to reread our comment policy.

  245. I’ve been kind of skimming this thread. I don’t have a lot of recollection of the portrayal of fat characters in the YA I read as an actual “young adult”, partially because I was always extremely thin so I didn’t really pay attention to it, and partially because I didn’t actually read a lot of YA. What I did read I don’t remember as having had a whole lot of physical description–for instance, in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, we know Nita is white and flat-chested, and we know Kit is short and Latino. And as far as I can remember, that’s all we know.

    But something I’ve been thinking about while reading the thread is the YA fantasy novel I started for NaNoWriMo last year, which I intend to finish at some point, and which I was writing with FA in mind. The protagonist, Kaylee Tanner, is sixteen years old, brown, slightly above average height, and fat, and I was trying to portray her fatness as simply the way her body is, and her, her family, and her friends being happy with it. Kaylee is fat, she loves to swim, she loves seafood and donuts and wearing bright colors, hates cheesecake (it’s the texture) and dreams of being a professional singer one day.

    It turns out the singing, swimming and seafood are Plot Points. It turns out there is Magic involved and Kaylee’s intense desire to see the ocean is more significant than she thought. Her being fat (and brown) is just part of who she is, and is kind of irrelevant to the main plot; I wanted to write about a fat, brown protagonist the way that thin, white protagonists are often written about, where usually if a character’s race and size are not important to the plot they will just be thin and white. I wanted to make the character fat and brown because she just is, and not because I’m writing A Fat Brown Girl Story.

    But I don’t have any experience of being fat (or brown) as a teenage girl. Does it sound like I’m Doing It Wrong? Is there any advice y’all have for me on How Not to Fuck It Up?

  246. @thegirlfrommarz,
    When my sister was really little, maybe 2, but definitely before starting school, she memorized the books my parents would read to her and “read” them to herself from memory. It was adorable. These were short picture books, which would be easier to memorize (and to read over and over again out loud) than a chapter book.

  247. Though one has to wonder whether such fiction will do too much to make children at those ages more complacent about their health. In an era of fast food in the schools, drastic cuts in physical education, and immobile Internet-based lifestyles, they could do more harm than good.

    Uh, ConnieSterlz, do you know what blog you’re on?

  248. @JM Ok, I know this was way up thread, but reading Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles was kind of a revelation for me. I loved that she described Cimorene as being able to look men in the eye, rather than looking up at them through her lashes. When I read these books, I didn’t just look the boys in my class in the eye, I looked down on them from several inches up. Being 5’7 in grade six is probably not everything that you would hope for… Anyway, I too thought that all women in fiction were short and dainty, and Cimorene really resonated with me.

    Also, I would totally recommend those books. Not only are they very funny, but they have very intelligent female characters and characters become who they want to be, not who other people think they ought to be.

  249. And oh! I can’t believe I spaced on this for so long. Has anyone else read Also Known As… Sadzia! The Belly Dancer! by Merill Joan Gerber? It’s about a girl who is most likely an inbetweenie with a fat mother. The mother projects all her issues on her daughter and forces her to diet and is always making comments about how she’ll never go to prom if she doesn’t lose some weight. When her mother forces her to go to a fitness class with her at the community center, she stumbles into a belly dancing class where all the dancers are fat, as belly dancers are supposed to be. She loves her body, doesn’t lose any weight (though she does appreciate getting stronger and more skilled), falls in love with the drummer from the class, and gets to go to her prom – but as the entertainment!

    I guess it’s slightly problematic in that a lot of her early confidence comes from the drummer thinking she’s hot just the way she is, but by the end of the book, the confidence is totally hers. It was the very first FA I was exposed to.

  250. @LilahMorgan

    My point was simply that while having larger child protagonists is surely admirable on paper, it runs the risk of encouraging a lifestyle that, as much as we’d like to feel good about overselves, can sometimes be quite toxic. Adults have the luxury of choice when it comes to their bodies, and their purchasing and diet choices, while children seldom really do. I just don’t think we can continue going on the feel-good-about-oneself/self-esteem route without realizing that it brings consequences.

  251. @LilahMorgan….This is a FAT ACCEPTANCE site. if you want to shake a finger at people for being as they are and you encourage bullying thinking that it “makes people thin”–please take your superior attitude and go to a site other than a SIZE ACCEPTANCE one.

  252. Okay, assuming you are serious and leaving aside the toxicity of self-hatred as a means of self-improvement because it’s too late in the day to deal with it, you are actually saying both that children don’t have control over their diet (and so, presumably, in your world, their weight) AND that they should be taught to feel bad about it. Illogical and contradictory much?

  253. @Connie Sterlz: Right, because fat children are so overwhelmed with messages telling them that their bodies are acceptable, that they shouldn’t be ashamed of them, and that their weight doesn’t mean they’re bad people. I also am not following the “children don’t have control over what food is purchased so they should be told that their food and their bodies are unhealthy” logic. What “lifestyle” exactly are you worried about encouraging? If you don’t like the idea of books showing fat kids who are fat because they eat junk food all the time and never exercise, guess what? Neither do I. Neither, I suspect, does anyone else on this blog.

    But if you don’t like the idea of books showing fat kids who are interesting or smart or funny or talented or something other than highly disordered or overwhelmed with shame at their own fatness, you’re on the wrong damn blog.

    I smell a concern troll.

  254. Connie Sterlz, after that comment I would second LilahMorgan’s question, and add a “WTF?”

    Surely you can’t be arguing on the comments at *Shapely Prose* that it’s dangerous to have fat protagonists because unless kids maintain shame for their bodies, they’ll make bad “choices”, i.e. become big fat adult fatties?

    Don’t worry, fat kids get a barrage of messages every minute of the day about how “unhealthy” they are (regardless of whether that is actually true at all), without that message being enforced by a full 100% of the characters in the literature they read.

  255. Ooh, a troll roast.

    I love (i.e., hate) it when someone comes in to a Fat Acceptance blog and asks if we should really be, you know, accepting fat.

  256. Atmosphere, I love that book! Thanks for mentioning it – I wanted to and couldn’t remember title or author. I still own a copy, but it’s back in Australia and I’m not.

    I didn’t actually mind the character getting an initial ego boost from the hot drummer – for one thing, you’re right that she’s independently awesome at the end, and in any case, fat girl gets hot guy? As a teenager it made me awfully happy to read that.

    (I also really liked the fact that the main characters are Jewish – I otherwise read a lot of British and Australian YA fiction growing up, and that book was one of the few where the people were anything like me.)

  257. Well, Sniper, if fatties don’t hear how repulsive we are from every possible source, all the time, we might actually decide not to hate ourselves. And that would be wrong. Because, you never know, having an interesting fat character in a YA book might just possibly end up outweighing (no pun intended) the messages that kids hear from every other media source and most interpersonal interactions, and make an otherwise naturally thin kid decide to grow up to be OMG DEATHFAT!!!11

  258. @Laura Canning I don’t know how tall your 14 year old protagonist is, but at that age I was a US size 10 (equivalent to a UK 14) and was not overweight. Were my peers smaller than I was? Some were, but I can look back at pictures from that period and I didn’t look much different from anyone else.

    @Connie Sterlz

    My point was simply that while having larger child protagonists is surely admirable on paper, it runs the risk of encouraging a lifestyle that, as much as we’d like to feel good about overselves, can sometimes be quite toxic. Adults have the luxury of choice when it comes to their bodies, and their purchasing and diet choices, while children seldom really do. I just don’t think we can continue going on the feel-good-about-oneself/self-esteem route without realizing that it brings consequences.

    If you were really a fat child, then you would understand that being fat is not a lifestyle. Neither adults nor children have all that much “choice” when it comes to our bodies, which you also should know, since you attribute your weight loss to hormones, rather than dieting. Children are children, and deserve to feel good about themselves regardless of weight. Why on earth would anyone want to take care of him or herself if s/he doesn’t believe s/he is worth taking care of?

  259. @Loz Not only does fat girl get the hot guy, she gets the hot COLLEGE guy! So, double score! Upon rereading it, I also liked that her mother recognized her own body issues and how they affected her relationship with her husband. Also, every time I read this book, I practice my hip lifts when I think no one is looking.

  260. To second or third the bwwhha? at children making lifestyle choices.

    I was plump as a teen and slimmed down when the whole sex-hormone deal evened out. No choice on either body-size event. My wife was a fat kid and a fat teen who had a lack of lifestyle choice and slimmed down when she moved out of her parent’s place and got to chose what she ate and ride a bike around without somebody freaking that she’d be kidnapped and raped or something. That was her lifestyle choice.

    My oldest friend is a fat woman who was a fat child and a fat baby, but was raised on the same diet as her pencil-thin brother. Her lifestyle choice when she became an adult was to continue to eat food like everybody else. And cry extra hard when her dad died because her relationship with the man was eternally fucked up by him pressuring her to diet her entire life.

  261. yeah connie. what with all the positive encouragement kids get to be fat, it’s not like they get continually told by pretty much fucking EVERYONE how disgusting and nasty they are.
    It’s not like everyone from your family and friends to utter strangers in the street feel entitled to make comments about your weight and make negative judgements based entirely on what they believe “healthy” looks like ( it’s always thin, in connie world it is impossible to be thin & unhealthy, or fat & healthy)
    They hardly need anymore positive role models, there’s so many right? right?. All those fat hollywood stars celebrating their size, rejecting diets for FA. So much encouragement to be fat! I don’t know why more thin people don’t fatten up and give it a try, all the cool kids are doing it!. (not)
    heaven forbid a child who doesnt fit the current impossibly thin and perfect cultural ideal should read about someone like them in a book who is clever and funny and popular. I hate all that mealy mouthed “think of the children” shit. all the pretend “we only care about your health” shit. If you really cared about kids health you would realise that most of the stuff that is widely believed about teh evil fat!! is in fact a load of crap someone pulled out of their arse and the best thing you can do for kids , all kids, is accept them the way they are, fat or thin and love and encourage them, not make them feel like shit for things they have no control over.
    How come haters like connie are happy to accept that people can be naturally thin, but not that they can also be naturally fat? We don’t try and make thin people into fat ones, even though several large studies have shown that the overweight actually live longer, healthier lives than the thin/underweight. Why not ?
    I wish people like connie would just be honest and say they hate fat people and find us/them disgusting and wish we would just go away and stop expecting to be treated like actual human beings.
    feeling a bit ranty today….connie gave me the stabby pain…

  262. AW MAAAAAAAAN…. I’m sick and I miss the obesity-epipanic-kids troll!!

    *pouts*

    Say, y’all, how long do you think we have to try the “let’s publicly shame children into being acceptable!!” experiment before we can call it a failure?

  263. I just don’t think we can continue going on the feel-good-about-oneself/self-esteem route without realizing that it brings consequences.

    DEAR GOD NO. NOT THE CONSEQUENCES.

  264. I don’t have children, but I have heard that there are more heavier children now.

    You’d better be careful uncritically accepting everything you see on the teevee and hear from the mainstream media. That can have… consequences.

  265. I wish people like connie would just be honest and say they hate fat people and find us/them disgusting and wish we would just go away and stop expecting to be treated like actual human beings.

    I think Connie did, though couching it in concern trolling was a nice touch.

  266. You’d better be careful uncritically accepting everything you see on the teevee and hear from the mainstream media. That can have… consequences.

    OH NOES, MOAR CONSEQUENCES!

  267. I just sort of wanted to comment on a thing that came up a bit back in the discussion: I suppose that I find it a little bit odd to see this “don’t show off” kind of statement on what has been, in the past, a staunchly feminist blog.
    and
    And you know-the idea that being well-read is classist is in itself, I think, based on some rather more deeply fucked up shit in our culture: “the cultural elite” and all that jazz.

    I am quite well-read, and I did a lot of reading early in my childhood. However, I sometimes tend to devalue my strengths and emphasize my failures, and in conversations where people report having read Austen at six and Tolstoy at seven, all I can think of is, “I tried to read Pride & Prejudice at 12 and couldn’t, and didn’t manage it until I was 14,” and so I feel put off from responding to the actual main discussion (which is almost always about YA, funnily enough). Obviously this is my own problem, but from discussing it with other people, I can state that other people do share it.

    What I’m trying to say is that it’s not that precocity in reading is elitist and should be hidden, but that when it’s not the main point of conversation, it can actually stifle discussion. Why is it necessary to state that one read Dickens as a child when many people read YA novels through adulthood?

  268. Why is it necessary to state that one read Dickens as a child when many people read YA novels through adulthood?

    Disclaimer: I have a whole heap of issues with C.S. Lewis’ gender politics, his racism and (on at least one occasion in the Narnia books that I can think of) his fatphobia. On the other hand, I will always love this quotation, from a speech that he gave on the subject of writing for children:

    For I need not remind such an audience as this that the neat sorting-out of books into age-groups, so dear to publishers, has only a very sketchy relation with the habits of any real readers. Those of us who are blamed when old tor reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table.

    Speaking as someone whose nearest bookshelf currently holds *glances across* a whole stack of Lynda Barry comics, several obscure medieval chansons de geste, a tattered huddle of Terry Pratchett novels, a massive Latin dictionary, a copy of Coraline by Neil Gaiman and an atlas of medieval Europe, I don’t think I could agree any more strongly.

  269. Why is it necessary to state that one read Dickens as a child when many people read YA novels through adulthood?

    I am not sure how it came up in this thread in particular, BUT when you’re talking about YA fiction “What did you read and enjoy as a child?” is a natural line of conversation. Perhaps not the main point, but a prominent secondary point.

    So if you loved Ramona the Brave at eight it’s okay to say so, but if I loved The Three Musketeers I am not allowed to mention that because it might stifle discussion? Huh?

    Lots of people, including very precious readers, read YA fiction through adulthood.

    If you can manage to avoid it, do ditch the shame of reading Jane Austen at the age when most people who like it at all start to like it. I got more trouble than praise for precocious reading and it’s depressing to find that people who were spot-on target with their development in that area get to be hung up about it too.

  270. HP SPOILER ALERT:
    Someone threw Vernon Dursley out there, and just kinda left it. While Sorcerer’s Stone does have a lot of negative and exaggerated descriptions of how horrible and fat and horrible both Vernon and Dudley are, I think it’s important to note that J.K. Rowling grew dramatically as a writer from there. Dudley changed from fat to beefy and muscular and was still every bit as horrible, and later still he has redemption completely unrelated to his physique. Also that Molly Weasley and (I think) Professor Sprout are plump and definitely good, and the only time Mrs. W’s weight is mentioned in a negative context, it’s by Malfoy. There’s also Prof. Slughorn, who you could certainly argue is a negative portrayal of a fat character. But consider that while he is very flawed, he is, in the end not just one of the good guys, but the only redeemable Slytherin. I guess my point is that she seems after that first book to realize it wasn’t cool to villify characters through fat, and so she sprinkles fat characters all along the moral spectrum, which is excellent. I think there’s also something to be said for Hagrid and Mme Maxime, who aren’t exactly fat but certainly have size-related issues.

    I’m especially going to stand behind Molly Weasley. It’s pretty clear that Rowling is fond of her. She’s fierce, loving, and very much loved in return.

  271. I *did* read precociously as a child, although I can’t really remember which books I read at which ages because it seemed natural that I’d be reading them, if that makes sense.

    I agree with the Lewis quote, and I get that discussing what one actually read as a child (which would put one in a pre-YA category, actually) would come up as a secondary question – but at the same time, it’s not quite as natural a progression when the discussion is about reccing books that are in a certain genre, not for a certain age range. The fact that I read Oliver Twist at X age or Joyce at Y is irrelevant to what I think of Patricia C. Wrede or Tamora Pierce or Diana Wynne Jones, unless I have some specific comparison to make. Also, unless the classic lit read in childhood involved fat-neutral or -positive characters, it seems doubly unrelated.

    Rereading my post, I see that I do come off as pretty butthurt, and I have to say I didn’t mean to. (Obviously.) I intended my focus to be more on the relevancy aspect, and to say, in a polite way that I can’t seem to formulate, that I often see a competitive aspect to it in that people (because I admit that this is a bubbling-over-from-many-previous-discussions-in-many-places sort of thing – frankly, I’ve never felt able to speak up about it before because I’ve never seen a mod say No to it) give specific authors, titles, and ages when, “I was reading out of my age group at that time, but here’s what I’ve picked up since,” or, “I didn’t read them then, but I have now,” would do just as well.

  272. Personal anecdote about elitism/precociousness/adults reading YA: My fourth grade teacher asked me to please take To Kill A Mockingbird home and read it there because it wasn’t appropriate. (Kudos to her for not telling me not to read it.) We were on food stamps around that time, so we certainly weren’t “elite.” And I STILL, at 27, read Harry Potter, Ramona, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and even picture books. So for me the point is not that I was precocious so much as voracious. I’m incredibly proud of myself for it, but it also becomes a source of social isolation at times. I was the weird smart kid long before I was the fat, zitty teenager, and I think that made me more prepared for it. Being on the outside for my appearance hurt, but not nearly as much as being on the outside for being who I was INSIDE, for things I was PROUD of.
    The funny thing is I’m still all those things, except much less zitty, and I’m now cool with all of them (even the still-slightly-zittyness.)

    I suppose that’s not really relevent to what anyone before me said, but there it is.

  273. I forgot I had intended to throw in a Mitch Hedburg quote there.
    “Any book is a children’s book, if the child can READ.”

  274. @ BrooklynShoeBabe

    “…read a book when I was a tween about an overweight black girl with wide misshapen Afro, but was very confident about herself. It was based in Harlem*, and I remember my grandmother taking it away from me because it made me too angry. lol. ”

    That is Emma, from Nobody’s Family is Going to Change, who is, imo, a kickass heroine in a kickass book by Louise Fitzhugh, author also of Harriet the Spy, who also never struck me as exactly svelte. (And didn’t give an apparent damn.)

    Emma has other kickass people in her family, like her 7-year-old brother Willie who’s going to dance on Broadway, because he’s good, even though their father “thinks dancing is ‘sissy'” and also thinks Emma can’t grow up to be an attorney even though he’s one and she inherited his aptitude.

    The book deals head-on with a bunch of issues, and is absolutely clear-eyed in its portrayals, sometimes to the point of the slightly grotesque (which Fitzhugh also does with some of her other “Harriet” novels, all of which I have at the age of past-YA). I think (probably clear here) it’s an underrated classic.

    I like her heroes and heroines I think in part because body size is but one of many issues, and skinny is no panacea. Beth Ellen and Sport may be skinny, but they’re certainly not “normal”. Not in that GoodHousekeeping Approved Sweet Valley High way.

    But, belovedly, that’s what makes them more “normal”, I think, for kids that don’t “fit the norm”, and therefore normalizes those readers’ experiences to the point where they feel they don’t have to relinquish being themselves in order to not feel like freaks.

    Okay, babbling now. Even though with enthusiasm, time to stop.

    *Didn’t she live on the UES, though? Close to Harriet? On East End? I don’t remember exactly, but her dad struck me as very much the George Jefferson type.

  275. RE: The Precocious Debate –

    Look, I’m not trying take away anyone’s special snowflake status, but I’m questioning its relevance as it pertains to this particular discussion. Way upthread there was a bit of chow chow, which veered towards a bit of snobbery towards YA fiction. While it’s certainly fine to have varied opinions on the topic, I still don’t understand its usefulness for the discussion happening here.

    As for the chatter regarding work class experiences, it sounds an awful lot like white folks saying, “I grew up poor so what privileges did I have?” which is really problematic.

    Let me quote myself (again):

    When people blather on about reading at two months or moving from Dr. Seuss straight to Foucault it is often devoid of any critical examination of systems of privileges which have worked and will continue to work in their favor. It is the unexamined assumptions of the inherent value of those experiences and not the experiences themselves I find problematic.

    Hopefully, that clarifies things.

  276. On a Fraught Note:

    Re: reading precocity and elitism. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Literacy seems to have contradictory values attached to it; I have made a list of things people have said to me about reading.

    These statements boil down to: only the privileged want it/ only the privileged can have it. (Or, “we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure you can’t have access to literacy, and then mock you shamelessly when you finally do.” See: segregated libraries/ Barack Obama is a snooty intellectual as a recent very public example.)

    I get frustrated and defensive (very defensive, in fact) when reading and literacy are pinpointed as things to criticize because oh, boy, have I taken shit for being a reader over the years. But at the same time, I know perfectly well it’s a huge, huge, huge source of privilege to be able to take shit for reading and being literate in the first place.

    (Also, re: not wanting to comment because of the PhD wit-meisters: PhDs who don’t want to listen to what any person with a thoughtful opinion has to say, degree status aside, are exactly the kind of people who would benefit from S-ingTFU and listening. Most of the PhDs I know are teachers. The good ones like listening to students, for example, because they learn something new every day.)

    Speaking of formative books: it makes so much sense that women aren’t allowed to read in the dystopic future of Margaret Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale.”

    On a Not Fraught At All Note:

    I moved to my town in January last year. And to my shame I haven’t gotten a library card yet. But yea, verily, I will now, since this thread has given me a YA Festival of Reading to look forward to. I especially want to read the Belly-Dancing-Drummer-Prom one. And more Diana Wynne Jones. And probably I will revisit Blubber so I can be appalled and Madeline L’Engle because I love her. Thankfully winter holidays are coming and I’ll have some downtime and that means time for reading for pleasure.

  277. It is, I will agree, off-topic for a discussion of ‘Images of Fatness in YA Fiction.’ I’ve nothing to say about that, except maybe “Daniel Pinkwater” and that has been said.

    And I didn’t say anything except that I now keep responding to the responses to this original and perhaps inappropriate mention of precocious reading because the responses are repeatedly insulting me and trying to silence me. I’m sorry, but my cognitive strengths are part of my neurological status and that is who I am, and it is not a fucking privilege. I should be allowed to speak about my experiences if I happen to care to, and the fact that it makes somebody else uncomfortable is not a reason to say I had better shut up. And I am sick of living in this world where all of my talents are somehow magically an insult to those who don’t share them and best not displayed, while all of my deficits are a reason for shame and I am thus artificially made to be fucking worthless.

    I am trying to take away your special snowflake status. Attributes of my self are not about you and I do enough hiding and not-mentioning-it to keep myself employed.

    Check the “fuck off spaz,” box now.

  278. May I just say that when I say “I didn’t read a whole lot of YA”–it was because most YA when I was a kid was contemporary fiction, and I was into science fiction and fantasy, so I read that, regardless of its intended age group. Still do. There is a lot more YA fantasy these days. (Still not enough sci fi.)

  279. snarkysmachine:
    Very sorry if I came off as a snot. I’m used to lurking, and responding a lot in my head. What I’m not used to is organizing all those thoughts into something that anyone else cares to hear about. And I do catch myself forgetting that I have things easier than others in terms of things like race and geography. I think what I was trying to get at was that it was sort of a sanity anchor for me. I “knew” reading wasn’t bad and I was good at it, even if I was made fun of. So later, being teased for other things was wasn’t exactly less hard, but I had something to not hate myself for. And if that wasn’t directed at me, then I apologize for thinking it was.

  280. When people blather on about reading at two months or moving from Dr. Seuss straight to Foucault it is often devoid of any critical examination of systems of privileges which have worked and will continue to work in their favor. It is the unexamined assumptions of the inherent value of those experiences and not the experiences themselves I find problematic.

    When people “blather on” about how non-neurotypical people are just doing it for the attention and they’re all just privileged little snowflakes I find it “problematic” as well. But hey, I’m sure you were just examining a system of privilege and not, yanno, trying to silence a whole bunch of people who have to go through a lot of crap with the most obnoxious language possible. Thanks for the helping of “STFU weirdos” ’cause it’s always nice to hear. 9.9

  281. My comments on the subject of “precocious readers” stem from this quote:

    Reading YA as an adult profoundly disappoints me because I know young adults are capable of dealing with complexity and in fact thrive upon it. I found Dolores Umbrage terribly disappointing as a villain (equating evil with ugly, and fat with ugly was lazy; equating spoiled bully with fat was lazy WRT Dudley). It’s not just the FA, but the fact that YA stories tend to be so terribly two dimensional.

    Followed by Helena:

    I just sort of wanted to comment on a thing that came up a bit back in the discussion: I suppose that I find it a little bit odd to see this “don’t show off” kind of statement on what has been, in the past, a staunchly feminist blog.
    and
    And you know-the idea that being well-read is classist is in itself, I think, based on some rather more deeply fucked up shit in our culture: “the cultural elite” and all that jazz.

    I was responding to the ideas that Helena responded to as well as Helena herself. I realize that was not clear and that’s definitely a fail on my part.

    When people “blather on” about how non-neurotypical people are just doing it for the attention and they’re all just privileged little snowflakes I find it “problematic” as well. But hey, I’m sure you were just examining a system of privilege and not, yanno, trying to silence a whole bunch of people who have to go through a lot of crap with the most obnoxious language possible. Thanks for the helping of “STFU weirdos” ’cause it’s always nice to hear. 9.9

    Bagelsan, nowhere did I say or suggest anything related to “non-neurotypical people are just doing it for the attention and they’re all just privileged little snowflakes”. You certainly should call me out for ableist behavior, however, attributing statements to me I simply didn’t make is very unfair.

    My comments were specifically focused on the statements made by the commenter making sweeping generalizations regarding YA fiction and also to keep the thread on track.

    Grafton said:

    And I didn’t say anything except that I now keep responding to the responses to this original and perhaps inappropriate mention of precocious reading because the responses are repeatedly insulting me and trying to silence me.

    I am really sorry if my responses have made you feel that way. While intention hardly matters, I want you know I did not intend for you to feel hurt or silenced by the discussion. It’s also of little comfort that I was referring to a certain privileged behavior where people tend to universalize their own experiences and devalue the experiences of others, which is what happened in the case of the quoted text at the beginning of this comment. Again, it was definitely ableist on my part NOT to consider neurodiversity when forming my comment, and I certainly apologize for that.

    That said, I do think there is validity in call out folks – not you – who make statements which reek of privilege and as a mod, that’s what I’m supposed to do.

    It seems like you got caught in the crossfire and that was really fucked up.

    What the HELL? Grafton was perfectly clear that it’s not always about the name-dropping, it’s about telling neurotypical people about a non-neurotypical person’s lived experience. So cut it out.

    Bagelsan, agreed. Again, I’m trying to keep the thread on track. This is not a forum, it’s a blog. So at some point I’m going to need to ask folks to bring the conversation back on track. Please refer to the comment policy, okay. I’m doing the best I can. Right now, I’m pretty much steering the ship and I’m new, so the ride’s going to be a bit bumpy.

    These statements boil down to: only the privileged want it/ only the privileged can have it. (Or, “we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure you can’t have access to literacy, and then mock you shamelessly when you finally do.” See: segregated libraries/ Barack Obama is a snooty intellectual as a recent very public example.)

    I’m not exactly sure if you’re directly referencing my posts. If you are, I’m not sure how what you’ve written here relates to my points, maybe you could clarify. I guess I’m not seeing how Obama got thrown into the mix. I grew up being called an “oreo” so I think I get your point, however, I guess I’m trying to understand how it’s applicable to what I wrote.

    Thanks to all for your comments and for giving me a lot to process.

    Did I get everyone?

  282. snarkysmachine:

    I am now befuddled, as I don’t see the connection between the first quote’s sweeping generalization about YA fiction and precocious reading.

    Bagelsan, nowhere did I say or suggest anything related to “non-neurotypical people are just doing it for the attention and they’re all just privileged little snowflakes”. You certainly should call me out for ableist behavior, however, attributing statements to me I simply didn’t make is very unfair.

    Well, uh, you did make the special snowflake comment shortly following someone asking why anybody should mention precocious reading at all, me explaining that I should mention it because it’s my experience and the conversation is in part about childhood reading, and nina mentioning her reading and her status as a socially isolated weird smart kid. That happened over fifty posts (some of them yours) and the better part of a day after the last mention of precocious reading, and (I think) kinda far away from the “YA fiction is two-dimensional!” comment. Is it really peculiar of me, or Bagelsan, to interpret your statement as being directed at me? And, since I keep mentioning that I’m one of them and how this relates to my childhood reading stuff, the Neurologically Odd in general?

    Your apology good with me. Thank you. It’s okay.

    I think that AnthroK8’s comment about Obama means that saying that being proud of being a precocious reader/otherwise intellectual is classist is in itself a classist statement because it presupposes that economically underprivileged people cannot be intellectual.

  283. I think that AnthroK8’s comment about Obama means that saying that being proud of being a precocious reader/otherwise intellectual is classist is in itself a classist statement because it presupposes that economically underprivileged people cannot be intellectual.

    Well, given that’s NOT what I stated, I still don’t really understand the comment. But I will wait for AnthroK8 to clarify before I assume intention. I found the statement interesting, not controversial.

    Grafton said:

    I am now befuddled, as I don’t see the connection between the first quote’s sweeping generalization about YA fiction and precocious reading.

    It’s probably a matter of interpretation then and we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    Is it really peculiar of me, or Bagelsan, to interpret your statement as being directed at me? And, since I keep mentioning that I’m one of them and how this relates to my childhood reading stuff, the Neurologically Odd in general?

    It’s not peculiar, but it’s also not accurate. I was not speaking to you directly or about your experiences. And generally, it’s probably a good rule of thumb to not assume a comment is directed at you (by me) unless it’s directly addressed to you. That might help cut down on some of the confusion. :)

  284. I hope this isn’t unwelcome at this point in the discussion, but on the topic of reading ages: I think part of the problem is that the whole subject is used as a two-way bludgeon. People can be and are given shit for reading period, especially precociously, by people who don’t tend to do it much. Despite that, among readers, people can be and are given shit for not reading precociously enough. And I think a lot of it depends on what environment you’re in; I was given plenty of shit for reading as much as I did in elementary and middle school. In adulthood, it’s exactly reversed and when the subject comes up, the fact that I spent as much time reading YA and SF&F is laughable to people who spent their childhoods reading X and Y classic literature. And I imagine people who didn’t read much YA, aren’t aware of that dynamic because it doesn’t come up for them, but it exists and you can probably imagine how annoying it is to get that *sniff* and raised eyebrows when you mention a favorite childhood book to someone who then goes on about their childhood love for War and Peace (or whatever).

    So I guess what I’m saying is, yes, we all need to be aware of the dynamic that kids are treated like crap for reading precociously (or even just voluntarily), but it’s also worth being aware of the fact that a lot of intelligence-flaunting goes on amongst people who consider themselves readers too. I suspect that when you see this stuff at, say, a prestigious college, you can draw it pretty well on class lines – another way for those who “should” be there based on family status and money to kind of scoff at those without the same background, because those are the people who not just read adult books early because they wanted to but because they were taught it was *important* to do so – but I can’t prove that and it’s kind of early in the morning so that might not be coherent or anything.

  285. @ Laura Canning – As someone who was a UK size 14 at least from age 14 and probably from 13, I find your charaterisation of that as being ‘overweight’ a bit bizarre. Not only was I not overweight then, I was not *perceived* as being overweight by most of my peers. I went to an all-girls school, there was a lot of gender-policing and weight-policing going on, and as far as I remember I was never bullied for my weight (lucky me!) because I was just not that far outside the bell curve. I don’t think it’s very unlikely that somebody my size could have been bullied, but I wonder if you’re subscribing to the ‘comics fat’ mindset a little bit?

  286. I wrote a long comment in response to both Grafton and Snarky’s Machine, but the browser ate it!

    Grafton – I read back through the thread and can see why you read it as you did, even though I read it differently.

    LilahMorgan – basically, what you said. There’s a strong thread of anti-intellectualism in Anglo-Saxon cultures which makes people look down on reading, but I agree that among literary people there is an equally unpleasant snobbishness about reading the “right” books and a sense of showing off about having read them early enough. I occasionally feel bad for not reading the latest literary fiction even while I’m enjoying a crime novel (at first I wrote “trashy crime novel” and then thought, “isn’t that exactly what I’m talking about?”), because I “should” be reading the good stuff. It is interesting how Margarent Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas were feted amongst critics who would normally ignore sci-fi, even though both books could clearly be placed in the sci-fi genre. My personal genre of choice is crime, and you can see the dynamic happening there too, where a “literary” author writes a crime novel and suddenly it’s considered somehow above even the best authors who only write within the genre.

    It’s the literary equivalent of eating your greens – actually, now I think about it, the people most likely to look down on me for not reading the “right” books are the same sort of people most likely to look down on me for not eating the same all-organic, wheat-free diet (or whatever they consider to be healthiest) as they do. Sometimes I’m in the mood for complex, serious, challenging fiction and other times I’m in the mood for strong plots and gripping reading. Neither one is objectively “better”, to my mind, any more than broccoli is objectively “better” than cheese- it depends what you’re reading/eating it for.

    Having said all that, not every comment about precocious reading is snobbishness, just as not every person eating an organic, wheat-free diet thinks their diet is better than everyone else’s. I think what’s happened here is a confusion of the two things (snobbishness and precocious reading). No one likes being patronised by someone showing off, but equally that clearly wasn’t what Grafton and the others talking about their early reading habits were doing.

  287. but equally that clearly wasn’t what Grafton and the others talking about their early reading habits were doing.

    Nor was it stated or implied they were. That’s equally important to remember.

  288. Yes, absolutely, Snarky’s Machine (and I think I did say that specifically in the monster comment that I lost). When I read the thread, I took something different from it than Grafton and the others did, and I think I read it in the way you meant it to be read. But equally I can now see how it could have been read a different way, depending on the context you bring to it. So I’m glad you’ve clarified what you actually meant.

  289. Snarkysmachine, I am really sorry.

    To sum up (I hope):

    Everything you said about checking the unchecked privilege of literacy, especially regarding reading precociousness made me go *ping.* I wasn’t trying to “but… but… but…. have you considered [insert thing here to minimize the point...].”

    What I did was think “why do I get my knickers in a twist when issues of reading and the liking thereof come up?” So I went away and thought about it. My [off YA fatness topic] comment was me rabbiting down the byways of Literacy Privilege. Which I think I was especially interested in doing because the comment way upthread about “I don’t comment b/c I feel like the witty educated here make me feel dumb” made me feel really badly.

    I still really need to go through Grafton’s comments b/c I am so far into the backwaters of anti-ableism 101 all I am doing about those kinds of issues now is listening. But aside from that, (I think?) I am totally on board with your reminder.

    How Obama got into it is, because I cannot get out of my head one of his lines from his 2004 DNC speech where he said something to the tune of “children can’t achieve if we don’t eradicate the slander that a Black youth with a book is trying to act white.” That was one of the most public statements about how education/literacy exclusion works I have ever heard. And through the whole campaign last year there was still just that undertone, embedded in all the “Obama is an arugula noshing effete liberal with his Harvard Law Review Editing, Rheinold Niebohr liking, Book Publishing snootiness.”

    IOW: I was trying to say “Yes! And…” as opposed to “Well! But…”

    And also “This explanatory back-on-track-comment is further derailing and I’m sorry. Again. I don’t seem to be able to keep it short.”

  290. @nina, I agree that Rowling did a bit of development of Dudley, changing him from a cartoon to a person as the series went on. But while there may have been other characters who were identified as fat, I still think the depictions of Dudley and Vernon were particularly mean-spirited, like the one where Hagrid tries to turn Dudley into a pig but ends up giving him a pig’s tail.

  291. Thinking of YA books and FA and what not lead me right to one of my other favorite authors: Frances Hodgson Burnett

    A Secret Garden: Wherein the characters get nicer as they get plumper. Or plumper as they get nicer. In any case: skin & bones = ill and ill-tempered. Nicely fleshed = healthy and happy.

    A Little Princess: Wherein the main character thinks of herself as unattractive because she’s all angles. Plus!!! Acceptance of the different capabilities of others. Plus!!! The value of friendship.

  292. How about “The Hobbit”? It’s a classic of YA fantasy. Bilbo’s fat, right? Am I right in thinking most hobbits were described as plump? And some of the dwarves are fat as well, Bombur in particular. I’m hazy on if there’s any negative mentions of fat, as it’s been a while since I read it. I don’t think it’s ever a plot point or stops Bilbo and the others from having adventures.
    My mental image of “The Hobbit” is formed largely by the old animated movie, in which Bilbo looks like this: http://www.lordotrings.com/images/movies/hobbitbig.jpg

  293. How about “The Hobbit”? It’s a classic of YA fantasy. Bilbo’s fat, right? Am I right in thinking most hobbits were described as plump? And some of the dwarves are fat as well, Bombur in particular.

    Hmm, I’d go with a 50/50 on this one. Hobbits tended to be stout, but actual fatness is kind of described negatively – I think there are references to how much less physically “soft” Bilbo and Frodo become over the course of their journey. But it’s not dealt with in the moral panic way fat often is; it’s just kind of the resting state of happy hobbits who don’t go off and have adventures, both of which Bilbo and Frodo cease to be.

    Bombur is made fun of by the other dwarves for being fat, but he also seems to keep up on the journey okay and also doesn’t seem to lose weight on the course of it (despite the lack of food), so, I don’t know.

  294. On-topically, it always made me happy that in The Secret Garden, Mary gleefully points out to Martha that she’s getting fatter, due to her hearty meals and days spent on the moors and in the garden.

  295. /Has anyone else read Also Known As… Sadzia! The Belly Dancer! by Merill Joan Gerber?/

    no, but i’m going to now :)

    I wonder if anyone here is old enough to have read ‘Understood Betsy’?

    A little girl is raised in the city by her timid, skinny aunt. Aunty obsesses over how ‘nervous children’ have such poor appetites, and Betsy indeed becomes too nervous to eat. Then aunty has to go nurse her ailing sister, and skinny timid Betsy goes to hte country cousins… oh the horror, leaving hte city.

    There is plenty off food, no one talks about children with poor appetites, and Betsy becomes ‘sturdy’. No weight details here, but the ‘sturdy’ nine year old learns to stand up for herself, solve problems, and basically grow into an interesting person. The aunty comes back, still skinny, still timid.

    The only other weights specifically mentioned is a six year old girl who is ‘roly-poly’ and adorable, who can’t do her spelling yet. All she needs is spelling help, not weight loss. Also a very skinny boy whose father ‘drinks up the food money,’ who gets adopted by someone who plans to feed him up right.

  296. One of the things I’ve found interesting as I continue to read through this thread is that several of the books referenced as being fairly fat positive are from the Victorian/Edwardian era. Anne of Green Gables, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s books, the Little House books (although more critically).

    This struck me as a reminder of the fact (at least it has achieved fact status in my somewhat limited life and research experience) that the “ideal body size” is a trend that has changed througout history. In AoGG Anne was called “too skinny” and compared unfavourably with Diana’s apparent plumpness. My mother was also “too skinny” as a child and forced to drink cod liver oil and the like to “fatten her up and make her healthy.” (er that was a bit later, the 50’s)

    I would say that reading these books and noting the aesthetics and how they are different from now may have helped me accept my body because they helped me recognize that the reason I and so many others don’t fit the ideal is that the ideal is as much of a moving target as the latest trends in jeans (I was never in style – and skinny jeans were the thing then too).

    I’m pretty sure that many of us who speak of being harassed and humilated about our weight because it doesn’t fit the current ideal would have been begged to sit nude for paintings by renaissance painters.

    It’s back to the whole Sneetches thing (as mentioned by someone somewhere on this site at some point).

    I’m not sure if I have a massive point to make other than that those particular books may have been more helpful than I thought.

  297. I loved Understood Betsy! One of the “aunts” (more of a cousin, really) is described as being fat and soft and good to cuddle with; for the most part, the focus (when body size comes into things at all) is on giving your body sufficient nourishment and on what you can physically do as a result. In other words, it doesn’t just flip the definition to “fat good, skinny bad.”

  298. I just reread “A Secret Garden,” and thin very much equals negativity. The main character outright brags about her newfound health and happiness by saying “I’m definitely getting fatter.” Furthermore, thin is equated with hunger/a lack of food, instead of desirable things.

  299. Yeah, I’m not consciously boycotting her* but I found her statements about that book — even above and beyond the book itself — so appalling that it makes me not really able to enjoy her work right now. Which is a pity, because Dealings with Dragons was one of the best books I read growing up.

    * Not that I don’t think there’ s cause to or support people who are.

  300. @slythwolf: A long way up thread you were talking about your YA novel-in-progress, and your concern about potentially doing it wrong. I’d like to recommend Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward’s fantastic book, Writing the Other: A Practical Guide. One book won’t make you an expert, of course, but it has a whole lot of helpful suggestions and exercises and would be a good starting point.

    (And in hopes that isn’t too “making the thread All About Me,” I’ll comment that in my first YA novel, Empress of the World, I pictured both the protagonist Nic and her friend Katrina as being on the larger end of the inbetweenie spectrum, though that’s not explicitly stated in Nic’s first-person narrative. She uses the word “solid” to describe Katrina. Katrina’s size is visible in a short comic I wrote about her, called Me and Edith Head.)

  301. Grafton: Thanks. I will try to figure out how to Ning. It may take me a couple of days (last batch of paper drafts from the semester have just arrived, and I really ought to turn them around so people can revise…).

  302. I liked The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things- and I agree that her weight was not presented as a negative thing, but rather her relationship with her weight. I loved the part where she joined a kickboxing class- I don’t think she was described as losing weight, just getting stronger.

    Secondly, can anyone help me find the title of a YA book I picked up and had to put down a while ago? I just remember the first scene- the character describes herself as fat, but doesn’t care about losing weight, as she has much more important things to do (something to do with a college essay contest). She then rants about bubblegum lipgloss and kisses her dreadlocked, football-star boyfriend. That’s as far as I got in the book- does anyone know what it’s called? It sounds like it might be the Big Fat Manifesto, but I’m not sure

  303. RE: Fat v. Thin in Harry Potter —

    Actually, it’s a tossup — and bear in mind that JKR makes sure that even the heroes have their share of unattractive features (physical and otherwise).

    Here are some of the persons whose physical attributes are referenced by JKR:

    Thin:

    Sirius Black (who while having redeeming features is every bit the selfish bully that Dudley Dursley and his father are — and he tried to coast on his good looks as a youth).

    Bellatrix Black/Lestrange: Sister to Narcissa Black/Malfoy, cousin to Sirius Black, and like them quite thin and conventionally attractive in her youth. But her devotion to the Dark Arts, and to the Dark Lord, causes her basic nastiness to come to the fore, much as with Voldemort himself.

    The Malfoys: Lucius, Narcissa, Draco. All blond, all thin, all rich, all snobbish, all cowardly — though Narcissa and Draco prove to be capable of desperate bravery on occasion.

    Remus Lupin (who is shown as somewhat weak-willed, especially as a teenager, and so (understandably) desperate to be accepted that he looks the other way when Sirius, James and Peter are cruel to Severus Snape. Also turns out to be a pretty disengaged husband/father, something for which Harry angrily calls him out in the last book.

    Albus Dumbledore: Tall, thin, and quite the manipulator, under a surface mask of artless bonhomie. In fact, his belief in his own superiority leads to tragedy when he is a much younger man — though he does turn away from a bad path as a result. But even after that tragedy, he still can’t cure himself of a certain egotism that leads him to make a very bad decision.

    Severus Snape: Thin, greasy, bad-tempered, cruel, with a sharp wit that few find appealing. Dark Arts devotee, at least in his youth. Automatically suspected of being evil because of his unattractiveness, Alan Rickman portrayal notwithstanding. (The Marauders — James Potter, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, and Peter Pettigrew — spent their youths tormenting him simply because he was a safe target for them, being hated by nearly everyone.) And yet he is capable of great honor, great love, and great self-sacrifice.

    Lord Voldemort (aka Tom Riddle, Jnr.): Like Sirius Black, he starts as a deceptively-attractive thin person who has a taste for bullying. Unlike Sirius Black, he is utterly devoid of caring or a conscience. A true sociopath who has no ability to truly connect with any humans, which leads him to literally make himself inhuman in his quest for ultimate power.

    Fat (or at least Not Thin):

    Arthur Weasley: Chubby AND balding, the Unattractiveness Difecta! Yet beloved of the author and a man of strong character. JK Rowling was originally going to kill him off in Book Seven, but she realized that if she did that, she’d be offing the only really good father in the series — so she took out Remus Lupin instead.

    Molly Weasley: Chubby like her spouse, a true spitfire, particularly in defense of her family. Lost two brothers in the first war on Voldemort; she works to keep a brave face about this, and about the dangerous things her spouse and children do, but her anxiety about their safety is underlined by the Boggart incident in Order of the Phoenix.

    Madame Maxime: A very full-figured giantess who learns to let go of her snobbery under Hagrid’s tutelage.

    Dolores Umbridge: Plump woman, extremely nasty and backbiting under a surface attractiveness.

    Professor Sprout: Unabashedly fat, nurturing woman, very good with the younger students — can bring out gifts in Neville Longbottom that he never knew he had.

    Neville Longbottom: Plump, blond, shy because his magic took a long time to manifest. Later (after the series’ end) becomes Herbology professor at Hogwarts, without apparently (in the book canon, as opposed to the movie canon) slimming up, at least not so it’s considered worth mentioning.

    Dudley Dursley: Fat, spoiled, stubborn — though an encounter with Dementors slowly worked on his mind, causing him eventually to better himself morally (the body shape had already changed due to exercise, but not necessarily for the “better”). Is now a surprisingly decent chap and gets on reasonably well with his cousin Harry.

    Vernon Dursley: More meaty than fat, like Hagrid. Unlike Hagrid, a real jerkoff — vying with Umbridge and Voldemort for nastiest person in the book.

    Horace Slughorn: Short, rotund, fond of creature comforts, vain, cowardly — yet possessed of a conscience that does cause him to do the right thing, and unlike many Slytherins very much willing to recognize and reward excellence shown by non-Slytherins and even Muggle-borns. Think of a Horace Rumpole with a bit more money and connivery, and a bit less native bravery.

  304. Phoenix Woman – thanks for that list. I have read other opinions of the HP series that described it as fat-phobic because of Dudley, but I distinctly remembered other fat characters who were likable, and thin characters who were sly and despicable. It does seem that when it comes to fat people stereotypes, we get the warm, comforting (sometimes jolly) fat person (see Weasleys or Hobbits) or we get the greedy, piggish fat person (see Dudley). Not much in between. Then when we look at thin stereotypes, we get elegant and restrained OR cruel and controlling. I think in our time and place, we are still coping with these old archetypes of the fat cat and thin miser. I do believe we eat differently (and eat different foods) than our ancestors, and so there is less truth to these characteristics than, perhaps, ever.

  305. I finished Diana Wynne Jones’ book Witch Week and I didn’t think it was particularly fat-positive. The allegedly disgusting older fatter girl never appears again, so there’s no re-thinking her disgustingness. Nan Pilgrim finds her talents and gets more confident but she is still subtly portrayed as gluttonous (she is so worried she doesn’t eat breakfast “for once in her life”) and ugly (when she magically changes their clothes, her friend is trim and pretty, whereas pink silk is a mistake on someone as chubby as Nan). Is it progress to have a chubby girl as a protagonist, who doesn’t even lose weight as part of her happy ending? Sure. But it strikes me as more “ugly, gluttonous kids deserve happiness as much as the next kid” than “chubby kids are not necessarily ugly or gluttonous.”

  306. On Neville Longbottom: In the films he slims down because Matt Lewis grew like crazy, as kids do (even OBESITY!EPIDEMIC! kids) and they put him in a fat suit in response to it. Even in the fat suit he looks thin. If I had to guess, that’s for visual continuityas much as anything else.
    As far as book-Neville is concerned, his fatness is pretty much in passing, and not at all the source of his lack of confidence. THAT comes from his scary (but loving) Gran, embarrassment over his parents’ condition, belief that he’s not as talanted as his parents or friends, and as we eventually find out, that fact that he’s using his dad’s wand.
    What I really love is that under all his awkwardness, he’s incredibly brave and noble. Keep in mind that he leads the DA in Harry’s absence, kills Nagini, and is also one of only three charaters who are helped by the sword of Gryffindor.

    And as for Dudley’s tail, again, that’s in the first book, and I maintain that on just about every level that she grew from there. On characterization in general, she constantly stresses the point that actions and choices define character, rather than appearance, skill, knowledge, social class, etc.

    Did I mention how much I <3 Neville and Mrs. W?

  307. Hmm. Now that I think of it, the twins are also described as “stocky,” though I always forget because they aren’t at all in the movies.

  308. Hmm. Now that I think of it, the twins are also described as “stocky,” though I always forget because they aren’t at all in the movies.

    Yeah, and Charlie too, no? I think it’s implied that they take after Molly’s build, and the others after Arthur. Yay, genetics.

  309. Yep, whereas Ron pretty notoriously eats and eats and eats and only ever seems to get taller.

    I feel a little guilty about the twins thing, because the reason I associate them with they way they look in the movies is that I’m really attracted to them (Fred actually) in the movies. But that’s my whole skinny-dude fetish that I can’t shake. Well, and it’s a lot more complex than that anyway, because it started with Fred’s personality and got reinforced when he was cute in the movies, too. And yeah, I sound crazy but I can usually tell them apart.

  310. Lilka:

    As I said, I write fiction. I don’t claim that whatever I write represents all teenage girls everywhere. I too was a size 14ish at aged 13, and am 5’2. I’m not saying that is huge, but I was certainly bigger than my peers and I got picked on because of it. I took how that made me feel and put it into a book where a teenage narrator is *a little* bigger than her friends, but because of her teenage insecurity and general fat-shaming, she feels huge. I don’t feel that that’s ‘bizarre’ at all, and have no idea what you mean about the ‘comic fat mindset’. I think you read my comment as ‘OMG size 14 is so fat!!11′, when in fact I try in my work to do the exact opposite – size 14 is a healthy weight for a teenager, but because of people’s obsession with thinness, many people see that as ‘fat’ and my protagonist really suffers for it. I actually think it’s a very Shapely Prose type of book, which is why I came out of lurkdom after months of reading to leave my first comment here! All the best. :)

  311. I was a UK size 14 as a young teen and I was certainly very conscious of my size, at a time when many of my peers hadn’t really grown tits yet. I vividly remember my mum saying something like “Size 12 is a respectable size to be, but 14 is getting too big.” There was a sense that I’d Crossed The Line, and that was the case at school too – though frankly, I doubt I could get below a size 14 as an adult unless I was seriously ill. My frame is a 14 minimum.

    I know that’s around the time I started getting the fat bitch insults, anyway.

  312. I really enjoyed The Cat Ate My Gymsuit as a kid because, even though there’s the Marcy’s “fat but smart” overlay, she didn’t really change–she didn’t lose weight miraculously by the end–she was trying to like herself as is, instead. That’s just what I got from it, anyway–it’s been a while since I read it, and I don’t know if I’ve even read it as an adult. I could be mis-remembering.

    P.S. What’s FoBT? I tried googling it but all I got were sites about foetal blood testing. :(

  313. Biku
    FoBT is the Fantasy of Being Thin – the idea that we’d just get thin, everything in our lives would go well (or personal variations thereof). There’s an excellent essay on it somewhere in Shapely Prose; hopefully someone more ambitious than I am at the moment will track it down and link to it.

  314. I’m of two minds about Victorian and Edwardian books that body-police in the opposite way from current books. On one hand, I think it’s really interesting to have kids’ perspectives broadened about the arbitrary nature of beauty standards. On the other hand, I oog over body-policing people for low body weight, and I would hate to foster that in the kids I love.

    So my approach so far has been, when a child points out “Anne of Green Gables says she’s too skinny to be pretty!” to reinforce that it’s absolutely silly for anyone to think that anyone else is “too skinny” or “too fat,” because people come in all shapes and sizes.

    And yes, there’s definitely a part of me that takes glee in Belle Epoque advertisements where the “before” picture is a very slender woman and the “after” picture is a big, curvy woman, just because I think “Aha! I can be the ‘after’ picture sometimes!”

    But ultimately I think that I don’t want to body-police others even more than I don’t want to be body-policed myself.

  315. And to my fellow hyperlexics: the question was not actually “what did you read when you were young?” but “what YA fiction presents fatness in interesting ways?” Answering that question with discussions of adult fiction you read when you were a child is irrelevant at best.

  316. While I agree Blubber isn’t fat positive, it (much like the someone similarly plotted Nothing’s Fair in Fifth Grade) it does say a lot about kids who are even slightly different being unfairly targeted and tortured in a systematic way. Now when we read these books we notice how crappy the fat characters are, but they are still valuable because they present children as complex and manipulative and engaging in power struggles instead of mischievous scamps. As a kid who often felt fat, I was struck by how realistic the situations were, as I’m sure most kids can relate to the kind of emotional torture they inflict for no reason.

    Fat Chance was pretty messed up. What disturbed me about it was also that the protagonist keeps mentioning her totally average height and weight or something and the message is that maybe she will be “thin again” at some point. I’m sure it gave many people a complex.

    There’s a Bat in Bunk Five annoyed me too. It definitely suffered from the syndrome that plagues many YA books- everything gets wrapped up really fast at the end. Though I do think it’s significant how she still doesn’t like or trust her body after she loses weight.

    I wish I had The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things as a kid because it is so genuinely, flat-out empowering, but books like The Cat Ate My Gymsuit were helpful to me because they were relatable in ways tons of YA fiction definitely was not. And in some ways it’s not always realistic to have a happy ending where the fat girl learns she can kick ass at the end. I think a lot of those books had that classic 70’s pessimistic tone, where the ending is neither here nor there.

    Oh man, I too never forgot the immortal line about looking like a “thin Dolly Parton.” Like that makes any sense.

  317. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned “Nobody’s Family is Going to Change.” I haven’t read it since I was maybe 12. The protagonist, an African-American young woman, is fat. She feels a sense of self-loathing that is almost palpable — connected not just with her weight, but with getting her period and just generally being a corporeal entity with this embarrassing BODY. I wasn’t fat, but I still remember relating to it, uncomfortably, because it was so painful to just be a person at that age. Anyway, the moral of the story is ultimately about self-acceptance, about not buying into one’s family’s — and by extension, society’s — notion of what constitutes success or beauty or popularity.

    Anyone who’s read it more recently who can comment?

  318. I actually found Princess Ben to be really problematic – I’m a little surprised to see people reporting it so positively. The book was pretty explicit that she was fat because she was spoiled, lazy, had no self-control, and regularly gorged herself on things like lard. (No, I’m not making that last one up.) Then she is forced to eat meager rations and do hard labor (exercise), and in the meanwhile learns Self Control, and then loses weight.

    I don’t think teens need to hear “you wouldn’t be so fat if only you had more self control” yet again. They get it enough everywhere else. :/

  319. I would really like to see more diversity in films, tv and books. It’s great to have a discussion about fat and fat acceptance. But why is it that every protagonist that isn’t a size 2 is analyzed to death? Can you think of one protagonist who isn’t “average” but is treated like other tv shows/movies/books. I can’t. Being different is automatically the premise of the show. That gets tiresome.
    I just want to watch someone who looks more like me in a great program or an awesome book that isn’t centered around their fat.
    But good for writers trying to present this issue in a better light.

  320. @LilahMorgan, glad you mentioned Pierce and Jones, too of my faves. I think the Chrestomanci Chronicles too are good in that area–his wife is plump and powerful. Her frumpiness is also mentioned in passing as quite the opposite of Chrestomanci’s laser focus on his clothes…

  321. Someone above asked for a FA book for a four year old, and I found a wonderful book for one of my nephews this Christmas. It’s called “Mama, Do You Love Me?” It’s a simple Q&A between Mom and kid about would you love me if? The Mom is very fat, but you can only tell from the pictures. No comment at all is made about her fatness. Pretty pictures too.

    I heartily second the Tamora Pierce books. I don’t remember which book it was; (Possible spoiler!) but in one of them the kid has to cure a plague killing lots of people. Turns out the genesis of the plague is someone trying to get thin quick via magic, which goes horribly wrong. I avidly buy all her newest books. I am so waiting for the newest Beka Cooper!

    Also, the books that introduced me to the possibility of heroines being competent and full of character were Andre Norton’s Witch World books. I don’t remember what her stance on fat was, but her women and girls were pluck to the backbone. They had adventures and real moral dilemmas to consider.

    I’m over forty, and I adore many YA authors. Wrede, Tamora Pierce, Jane Yolen, Pamela Dean, Robin McKinley and others.

    Personally, I have a catagory of books I call good fluff. There are many writers I put in this catagory, and I don’t think it’s derogatory. Writing is telling a story and telling it well; a book doesn’t need to be a complicated metaphor to be a good book. And the books I find least readable are the ones who try to be literary without a good story as a vehicle. I’ll take cardboard characters and obvious plots over those any day.

  322. I haven’t heard anyone mention “Life in the Fat Lane” yet ( info here: http://litmed.med.nyu.edu/Annotation?action=view&annid=1500), but it profoundly affected me.

    This book fucked me up, big time. Especially since I already had tons of weight fluctuation and my mom is basically this tiny little thing (like she complains about being 110 pounds because she’s “so much fatter” than she was when she was 100 pounds). I’m something like 218 pounds right now (and that’s after a bunch of weight fluctuations and pregnancy and several metabolic disorders and such).

    Basically the whole idea is that the main character is the hottest girl in school, homecoming queen, etc and then she starts gaining tons of weight for no apparent reason and it turns out it’s a metabolic disorder that basically has no cure or treatment that works and it’s all about how her entire life falls apart (including her family and her friends and school life).

    Of course, let’s not forget that once she’s a “huge fatty” the only one who shows any interest in her is a similarly morbidly obese guy who is basically described as a disgusting slob that everyone also (get this) thinks is “gay” BECAUSE of his weight for some reason.

    It just really traumatized me that fat was equated with either death or the death of anything enjoyable in your life. And I journaled very heavily during my 8th grade through senior year of high school. I remember writing an entry in which I literally wrote that I would rather put a gun to my head and pull the trigger than be fat. This was mostly due to the fact that after reading that book (and dealing with the multiple traumatizing lectures and messages from my thin blond mom), I came to the conclusion that there was NO REASON TO LIVE if I became “fat” to any extent. Because apparently, according to this book, the simple act of BEING FAT will not only invariably RUIN YOUR LIFE, but it will RUIN THE LIVES OF EVERYONE AROUND YOU WHO YOU CARE ABOUT.

    WTF.

  323. Patriarchy Slayer, did you ever watch the movie “Nines”?

    There is a character in that movie who is quite overweight but her weight is only brought up a handful of times.

    Otherwise, she’s humorous, energetic and multi-dimensional, and I enjoyed her acting quite a lot (especially her “singing nun broadway musical” part, lol!).

    Even Ryan Reynold’s character admits at the end that she was his “favorite” one, not because of her weight, but because of WHO SHE WAS. But then again, this is a fairly non-mainstream movie, so if you have a chance, check it out.

  324. In Aliens Ate My Homework and the following books of the series by Bruce Coville, the main character is “pudgy” (and klutzy, mostly, I think, because he’s teased, which makes it all worse). He goes on an alien adventure and while he does get in better shape, it’s never about his weight, it’s about all the running and climbing and adventure for the mission, and the book – insofar as I can remember – never says anything about him getting skinny, just fitter. Which makes him less clumsy, since he has self-confidence. He still loves his mom’s baked with love homemade cookies.

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