I hate the word plus-sized. I dislike it because of the way it is used and its connotation. It is very rare to hear the word plus-sized in a positive way. Though that is changing and it’s about darn time.
I have a book coming out soon with a plus-sized protagonist. I tried to avoid that word in the book but she is about a size 12-14. Some wouldn’t even consider that to be plus-sized. My MC’s name is Meadow and her weight isn’t her problem. She has low self-esteem and she’s shy, and a bit self-conscious about her weight. Her biggest issues, though, are around her family and where she fits into it.
Why did I write a plus-sized MC? It’s simple really. I read a lot of YA. A lot lot. So often, the protagonist describes herself as “skinny and flat-chested.” (This doesn’t make them bad characters. It’s just overdone.) But what this really means is that she’s thin and hot. There are only about a million examples of this. Too often, these skinny, hot characters have boys fighting over them but they can’t even understand why. *see the infamous Bella Swann
Why is this bad? Well, because not everyone fits into the skinny and flat-chested category. Many don’t! I am SO GLAD that we are living in an age of body acceptance. Yes, there is still plenty of fat-shaming going on in the world. But when I was a kid/teenager/young adult, there were no positive plus-sized examples of women in the media. There were maybe one or two plus-sized models. Plus-sized actresses constantly fought to lose weight and keep it off while their journeys were documented in every magazine ever. There were basically no plus-sized women on tv except Roseanne. Roseanne was/is great! But I didn’t look to her as an example of body confidence when I was 16.
Confession: For years, I felt undeserving of friends, boyfriends, or fun because of my weight. I’m certain I wasn’t alone in that. Yes, I struggle with depression and that was the biggest part of the problem, but it didn’t help that I didn’t see myself reflected in magazines, movies, media, or even books. There was a similar issue with nerdy girls which I will cover in another post. But I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled, that nerd girl culture is a thing now. Yes! I LOVE STAR WARS AND BROADWAY AND I’VE SEEN RENT MORE THAN 15 TIMES AND…oh right. Another post for another day.
Girls and women today have so many great examples to look up to:
Melissa McCarthy. If you haven’t read the piece about how she confronted a critic who could only comment on her looks instead of her performance in Tammy, google it right now.
Lindy West. She’s a writer who has done a lot for body positivity. Here’s her piece about her wedding. I ❤ her so much. http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/21/my-wedding-perfect-fat-woman
Supermodels! Ashley Graham, Tess Holliday, Robyn Lawley, Candace Huffine, Whitney Thompson, and there are more!
There are so many more amazing women out there who are kicking through doors and making body positivity a real thing. I love it. I’m a big fan of the podcast, The Wellness Wonderland. The amazing Katie Dalebout speaks about this a lot. I love this podcast in which she is a guest on The Brave Exchange: http://somethingtomove.com/podcast/21-let-it-out-with-katie-dalebout-wellness-wonderland-radio-%E2%80%A8/
Back to the point, I started looking around for characters who were plus-sized and confident. I didn’t find many.
Here are a few that I came up with:
There’s Eleanor from Eleanor & Park. I love Eleanor and she does not apologize for who she is at any point. She may well be one of my favorite characters of all time.
The DUFF. I love this book. I’ve read it multiple times. In the book, Bianca isn’t really concerned with her weight and she was awesome. I thought the movie was great, but…Bianca was tiny in the movie. Mae Whitman was great and funny, but decidedly not fat. The DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend. There was no fat there. Why did that need to be changed? Nor is she ugly, btw.
There are a few others and many of them revolve around the fat girl losing weight. Gah. I’m so sick of this trope. Can we stop with it already?
Recently, a book came along that gave us a “fat” main character who also happens to be a total badass. Enter Dumplin’. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy came out a couple of weeks ago and it was a pleasure to read. Willowdean is another unapologetic fat girl. She has a lot of depth! One minutes, she’s totally confident and the next she isn’t. But she goes through a real journey of self-acceptance while she brings her entire town along with her. I laughed, cried, and had to stifle cheering because I didn’t want to wake up my kid in the next room.
I finished writing the rough draft of Meadow Perkins, Trusty Sidekick two years ago. I can’t even believe that! Many times, I’ve descended into panic because I wasn’t sure if readers wanted to read about a plus-sized girl who doesn’t lose the weight and whose entire story isn’t focused on that aspect of her character. But I so believe that characters like Meadow are necessary and important. I love her because she is mine and I think there’s a lot about her to love. She isn’t particularly badass, but she’s really learning to experience life and getting comfortable with herself, not only her weight, during one life-changing summer. Her big journey is more about living her own life out loud and not living in the shadow of her best frenemy. She was a joy to write and I truly hope that comes across.
Teenage girls (and tweens, and kids, and grown-ass women) need female characters who are something besides their weight. They need characters who are deep, fully-developed and real. And who come in all sizes.
It’s exciting and wonderful to see that in the mainstream traditional publishing world, at least in YA, plus-sized (there has to be a better word…) characters are being welcomed. Dumplin’ is killing it on the NYT bestseller charts. So yeah, go read Dumplin’ right now! And look for Meadow Perkins, Trusty Sidekick out soon from Soul Mate Publishing. Also, shout out to Soul Mate for taking a chance on a plus-sized character!
Another sad funny thing…I couldn’t easily find an image of a plus-sized girl to use as a graphic here. actually, I didn’t find one at all on any of the free stock photo sites I use. Ah well. Keep fighting the good fight!
If you know of other body-positive YA books, let me know in the comments!