The title of this article, “Finding Fat Lit,” is promising. I was like, yeah! We need more fat characters! And then I read the article. Matt Stewart, who describes himself at his heaviest as “a hideous 239 pounds,” wants books about fat people—but only the ones who are trying to lose weight.
Millions of Americans go through this agony every day; 68% of us are overweight or obese. Yet we have few literary insights about obesity to help comfort us; zero provocative tales about the plight of the salad-muncher for us to identify with during bleak dieting times; hardly any entertaining stories about hitting the gym which might propel us to suck it up and go to pilates class after a long workday. We turn to Oprah, or The Biggest Loser, or Weight Watchers—but not fiction.
So yeah, he’s looking for “perceptive insights about struggling with obesity” in his literature. Not exactly what I’m looking for in my own literature about fat people, quite frankly. Some of the comments are noteworthy. Cynthia Hawkins says:
I can’t think of a work that might be about struggles with obesity … but even more interesting, I can’t think of a character who just happens to be overweight who isn’t also a baffoon, a source of comedy in some way, a sidekick, or a villain, etc.
It strikes me that ‘fat fiction’ would be quite a niche market with a limited appeal to people who haven’t struggled with weight. Our favourite characters tend to be ones we can relate to, or aspire to be like.
Really—if someone is fat, there’s no way we would ever “aspire to be like” them? Because any good qualities they may have are overshadowed by their fatness, I presume? Ridiculous.
I would say that the reason there aren’t many books with fat protagonists in either literary or popular fiction is because we live in a highly fat phobic culture. If we didn’t, literary agents wouldn’t feel the need to pose questions about the commercial appeal of same to the readers of their blogs…
In all the books I’ve ever read featuring a fat protagonist, weight/self image has been an issue of some kind and self loathing writ large. Art, after all, imitates life and it’s near impossible, as a fat individual, to make one’s way in such an openly hostile environment and not have those issues come up. This is particularly true of women, who regularly bond over their perceived physical shortcomings, particularly when it comes to issues of food and weight and regardless of what size they are. Why do you think Bridget Jones’s Diary – a book about a neurotic, weight-fixated ninny, who isn’t actually fat – struck such a massive chord with the public?
This, however, is where art and life seem to part company. What there aren’t many of are novels in which a fat female protagonist is permitted to find love, happiness or success without losing weight by some means first, (broken heart leading to convenient loss of appetite/fortuitously timed sickness/Weight Watchers), or where they’re only permitted to find happiness with another fat person because, let’s face it, no one else would have them, (and, yes, this is sarcasm). I tend to avoid these like the plague. As a fat woman whose self-esteem improved in leaps and bounds the moment she decided to make peace with her body and quit the infernal diet-go-round for good, I have a major problem with that kind of tired, patronising pish. It’s not dissimilar to the state of gay fiction back in the pre-Stonewall dark ages – you could publish it, film it or put it on the stage … just as long as the characters you were portraying were shown to be wretched, embittered, lonely and seething with self-hatred, preferably enough to hang themselves in the final act.
That whole discussion weirdly made me think of Mike and Molly. Alan Sepinwall recently said that the show “is constantly at war over whether it wants to be laughing with or at its main characters. The ‘with’ parts I like, and Gardell and McCarthy are charming. The ‘at’ parts are nauseating.”
We want to see fat characters in TV and in books, and in film, but we don’t want them to be shown as objects of pity or (the dreaded Jemima J syndrome) people whose sad lives improve immeasurably once they are thin.
So, what are your favorite books with fat characters in them? And how do you want to see fat people portrayed in books?
Thanks to aych for the link!
Posted by mo pie