On Skinny Characters

Bit of a tangential post today, but I’ve recently gone jean shopping (in other words: everybody run) and have been mulling over this topic a lot recently and finally think I have my thoughts organized into a sort of sense.

To put it bluntly, I am sick and tired of skinny characters in MG and YA novels.  Flashback to me as a bespectacled, nerdy, pudgy and enthusiastic wee young sprite: I was reading constantly, and books had an immeasurable impact on how I viewed the world and myself.  It was the predominate form of media I consumed, and, since I was in my highly formative years, everything left an impression.  The lack of certain things made an impression.  (Hem hem.)  I loved being able to relate to characters–while breaking boards at Taekwon-do class, I would pretend to be a favorite heroine because that made everything easier, and the characters I read were kind of my best friends.  Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t isolated or bullied (which was magical–I think I must have gone to a really good elementary school) and I had a few friends in the realm of reality as well, but, you know, they weren’t as portable.

So.  Skinny characters.  They’re like white characters, and straight characters, in that when the character’s weight/race/sexual orientation doesn’t have any bearing on the plot, it’s the default.  It’s not a thing you tend to notice if you’re not consciously scanning books for it, but to me it seems like a disturbing trend.  Excuse me while I go through the archives of my favorite MG books growing up as well as some popular YA books:

confetti girl

Confetti Girl (one of my favorites in late elementary/early middle school)?  “The tallest girl in my class, all legs.  Too tall and skinny for my jeans no matter what size I buy.” I have the exact opposite problem, Lina.  “Everything is high water.  That’s why I’m a sockio-phile.  I need something to hide my knobby ankles.”


Divergent?  Here we have Tris, our strong and fearless narrator, who is always described as small and fragile-looking (even if she isn’t emotionally).

the hunger games

The Hunger Games gets a pass because most people are starving to death.  So, like, that’s legit.  (The Fault in Our Stars gets the same pass.  *produces pass from pocket, shines it on shirt and hands it to John Green and Suzanne Collins*)

Wait wait wait, John Green isn’t entirely scot-free either…


Here we have a MC who’s so scrawny he’s ironically referred to as “Pudge”.


Harry Potter?  Harry’s all right, he’s pretty normal weight, though this isn’t really fleshed out (no pun intended) in the books; Ron, however, is described as gangly and scrawny.  The weights of the female characters aren’t elaborated upon (except for perhaps Cho Chang, whom I think was called tiny and fragile? but I could just be making that up), but they are all played by skinny actresses in the movies.   (Though I can’t mistake movie casting for author’s intent, and hereby apologize to JK if Hermione was actually supposed to be bammin’ slammin’ bootylicious.)  They even changed the actress for Lavender Brown from the original casting after they found out she was going to be a love interest for Ron.

lavender brown

This was the biggest WTH??!! moment of the series for me.

Matched?  matched

As I was looking for these examples, I came across more and more and more…and it got me thinking.  Hey, you know, the YA book I’m working on now also has–you guessed it–a lanky, scrawny white teenage boy as the main character.  So why, as authors, do we do this?

Well, naturally, we can’t make our characters average weight.  I mean, they’re our darling little muffin misfits, and their appearance has to match somewhat.  Especially if they’re a girl, in a culture where women’s weights are closely scrutinized, we need to have them feel the tiniest bit self-conscious about it, even if it’s not really relevant to the story arc.  And I get that–it’s great to have characters that break the standard mold and that “misfits” in your reading audience can relate to.  But…why am I grasping at straws here to come up with examples of “misfit weights” from the other end of the scale?

Honestly, I think it comes down to the fact that in our culture, awful as it may be, being overweight or obese or even slightly chubby is seen as a weakness.  It just…is.  Yeah, we’ve got all these beautiful plus-sized models and most people would agree that bigger girls can be gorgeous too, but only if they go the extra mile and doll themselves up with posh clothes and heavy makeup, right?  Only if they rock that Rebel Wilson vibe and base their whole personality around the fact that they’re fat and they don’t care, right?  The simple truth is that as much as we may pretend, there’s not nearly as much skinny-shaming in the world as fat shaming.  Carved into one of the science lab benches today I read “[name withheld] is a fat ugly bitch.”  (Fat was underlined, yes.)  It’s an insult.

The same day I ducked into the bathroom and overheard an agonizingly stereotypical teenage girl conversation issuing from over by the sinks.  You can probably predict how it went–“OMG you’re sooooo skinny!” “OMG what are you talking about I’m like so fat today I don’t even know how anyone looks at me oh my god” “but OMG no you always look so skinny and perfect”…I wish I could say that was hyperbole.  “Skinny”, in our culture, is praise.  I probably don’t have to tell you to walk into any clothing store at the mall and look on the walls–you’ll see posters of emaciated girls with the golden sun streaming through their hair and a huge smile on their faces as some anonymous sexy-time guy friend holds their waist.  Ugh.  We’ve perpetuated this idea that skinny equals glamorous, skinny equals powerful and “in control”, skinny equals lovable and commendable.  “Fat”, on the other hand–when it should just be a physical description like anything else with no negative connotation–is what noncreative people use for insults, a word like a dagger to be drawn out at sleepovers and in locker rooms.  And I feel like these connotations have wormed their way into our books.  We don’t want our readers to view our characters as weak or ugly, even if the characters themselves feel this way, and so we align their physical appearance to match.

So.  Chop chop, society.  More fat characters, less fat shaming, less skinny-praising, less weight-judging.  More POC and sexually diverse protagonists would not go amiss either, but I digress.

Just my 2 cents on the matter.  What are your thoughts?  Has anyone else noticed this, or am I seeing things?


Friday Faves #2

Featuring 5k fears and finds, beautiful blog buttons, bolstered body image, link love, and writing-related reads.  Not in this order.

Greetings my dear friends.  I would like to apologize for not posting since last Sunday, but I know you’re cool with it ‘cuz you’re cool like that.  It wasn’t that I had writer’s block, really–it was more that I did have a lot of ideas but, incidentally, there was a lot of stuff I wanted to do a heck of a lot more than sit down to pound out a blog post.  Projects, people…mysterious projects. 😉  Ah, well, you’ll find out about them soon enough.  They’re good ones. 🙂

Anyway, this, at least, means that come September 4th when I forgo my internet-inhabiting ways for the academic lifestyle once again, I will not completely abandon you for a week!  I now have many “backup” post topics saved up to prevent total radio silence here.  So, everyone has won here.  Let us move on.

1.  Beautiful Blog Buttons.  Have y’all noticed my new lovely ORANGE social media buttons in my sidebar?  They were only 99 cents 5 dollars in the Etsy store, made by IGottaCreate, who also offers FREE buttons, though not all in orange. 🙂  Cheap Etsy downloads are quickly becoming a kind of vortex for me…  At any rate, I’ve finally found out how to make social media icon bars, as per my question in my Blogoversary post!  I used this tutorial, designed for WordPress.COM blogs, to integrate the buttons into a widget.  It’s way easier than I was mentally building it up to be.

2.  Bolstered Body Image.  Maybe it’s come across around these parts (because I’ve written about it at length) that, lately, I haven’t been exactly happy with my appearance.  I’ll skip the melodrama.  Then I found some clothes that actually fit me nicely, wrote a post in an attempt to shape myself up, read some even more awesome posts, stripped down to my skivvies in front of a mirror and recited some self-esteem mantras (a la Kiss My Broccoli), started running longer and harder (why is running like the magic self-esteem-boosting drug?  though I’m not complaining), and bought some pretty eyeshadow and liner for my peepers.  I’ve always really loved my eyes–probably my favorite superficial feature, and I’m glad I’ve figured out how to play them up a little bit more now.  No shame in flaunting what ya got! 😉


I also got a haircut.  Not that this picture makes it very easy to tell.  Also, I’ve coined a term–that above hairstyle?  That’s not “unruly” or “out-of-control”, folks, that’s SPUNKALICIOUS, you hear me?  SPUNKALICIOUS.  Please let’s integrate this into our daily conversations.  As in, “My bangs are being especially SPUNKALICIOUS today”, or “My day was sure hard; I guess life’s just testing me to see how SPUNKALICIOUS I can be about it!”  Yes, SPUNKALICIOUS must ALWAYS be ALL CAPITALS.  Preferably accompanied by a Z-formation fingersnap, if you can manage it.

3.  5k fears and finds.  My second 5k ever is tomorrow!  AHHH/yay!/I’m going to be so dead by the end of this!  Funny thing: since I’ve done this before (once), my brain has seemingly gone into “pro mode” about the whole thing.  As in, why should I worry about preparations?  Stretching beforehand, hydrating sufficiently?  Why even bother, especially when you’re not shooting for a PR?

I really hope I can snap out of this before tomorrow morning; at the very least, I have no doubt it will dissolve into a cloud of fear and crippling self-doubt at the starting line.  But this too must be worked through!

If your arrogant brain hasn’t gone into everything-under-control mode about your next 5k, here are some great reads from around the internet to help you prepare yourself for the race:

4.  Writing-related reads.

  • 10 Things Teens Should Know About Writing.  He comes right out and says teen writing sucks.  I can’t figure out whether I’m awestruck and thankful that someone prevented me from getting my hopes up too high, or feeling crushed…
  • Maureen Johnson’s Brain Monkeys.  Her answer to that eternally-posed question, “Where do you get your ideas?”  And it’s Maureen Johnson.  You’re guaranteed an out-loud laugh.

Also, this and this.

DSCN4119The former, I was lucky enough to snag for free at the magical old library, and the latter I pre-ordered.  (It’s been out for about a month now.)  The former…well, it’s Stephen King!  So witty, hilarious, and wonderfully profane; and since it was an older copy, I didn’t feel guilty about underlining quotes and dogearing pages.  For reference, you know.  😉  It’s just general, down-to-earth writing advice that doesn’t even bother to be tailored to specific ages.  And the latter, obviously, is geared more toward young writers, and it remains optimistic about a writer’s chances while still cautioning you to get a “real job”.  😀

The parents are also very supportive of all my writerly endeavors, but then again, they are parents.  That is Job of Parent.  So…does my writing suck?  Do I have no chance of success?  Or am I an amazing undiscovered gem (Mother Dearest’s viewpoint on the matter)? 😉  I’m getting whiplash darting back and forth…I guess the only thing I can do, in either case, is to keep pounding on.  Work hard, put in effort, always be striving to improve.  Maybe even query anyway, despite my age deficiency.  The worst that can happen is “No”.

No further alliteration for today…Happy Friday! 🙂


What’s your favorite thing about your body?  Please divulge all in the comments!  Today, take a moment to appreciate at least one thing that is beautiful about yourself.  Don’t fall prey to the “but that’s so vain” thing.  Strut yo stuff, gurl.  And tell me what it is that makes you beautiful!  (Well, one item from the list, anyway.)

On Sprites and Body Image

Remember when I talked about my year-long bird-training project last year? (Yeah…that went so well…)  Well, every student in my grade did this, and at the end of the year, every student had to give a presentation about their project. A lot of people created RPG video games.  (I think that’s what they’re called.  You know me, oh-so-knowledgable in the field of gaming; MMORPG looks like a weird onomatopoeic snort to me.)  During his presentation, one of these game designers said something that really resonated with me.  Yes, this was over three months ago–I’m not sure why I’ve sat on this idea for such a long time and deigned to post it–saving the topic for a rainy day, perhaps?  (If that was the case, I shouldn’t have waited this long.  It’s Washington, for cryin’ out loud…)  I think it was probably more along the lines of lack of conviction in what I would be saying.  My knees and the ensuing weight gain have made it tough to really have a positive body image lately, especially when I’m around the horserace-sleek cross-country team (no one tell them I described them as horses) or with some of my friends.  A lot of my friends are just naturally skinny.  They don’t starve themselves, think about it all that much, or even eat a particularly healthy diet.  😉  It’s just their physiology–so, good for them!

Bad for me.

As you guys know (since I tell you about it fairly regularly!), I’ve always been on the heavier side.  Being woefully vertically challenged doesn’t help matters.  And yeah, now that I can’t exercise as much or as hard as I would like to for fear of reinjury/stabbing pain, I’ve outgrown even my curvier frame and should probably nix with the desserts.  (Which I have been doing!  Saving my treats up for a big splurge on Friday, a la Carrots n’ Cake) Smile  And living in a location and zeitgeist obsessed with thinness, this is hard on me sometimes.  Probably because of my perfectionistic tendencies, my lack of ability to say “What the heck, no one’s judging me!” and let lie.  Body image (and “face image”, for that matter, if such a thing exists) has never been exactly one of my strong suits—but, back to RPG-guy’s quote!  I promise this all relates somehow!

Describing the creation of the characters in his video game, which are called “sprites”, RPG-guy (who will be referred to thusly henceforth for privacy reasons) said something along the lines of this:  “The basics of creating a sprite are this: first you choose the physical body for the sprite, the attributes and combat skills, general appearance, et cetera, and then you design a personality for the sprite—whether they’re hostile or docile, smart or…not-so-smart…skilled at forgery—you get the idea.  That’s really what’s going to determine how they navigate the game, how they get out of tight spots, once you program them into the storyline.”

Wow, you ask, how can this quote possibly relate to body image?  It doesn’t—at all—really, except I have this habit of chronically overthinking every single message my brain receives, and I was able to dig deep enough to find some metaphorical resonance within this. Open-mouthed smile

This was the quote that made me realize exactly what my body image problem was.  It wasn’t that my body was too big or didn’t look like everyone else’s—it was that I had a problem separating my sprite’s appearance from my sprite’s personality, mentally.  Body shame doesn’t result from a fear that people are going to judge our bodies, but a crazy irrational insecurity, a genuine terror that people will judge our personalities, our selves, based on the exterior we present to the world.  Up until this point, I had a definite problem realizing “body” and “self” are two totally different things!  I really like this quote from the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, (not that I’ve ever read the book, but it’s a pretty famous quote):

“You don’t have a soul, Doctor. You are a soul. You have a body, temporarily.”

So why do so many women (and men, for that matter), forget to take this into account?  Your sprite’s appearance might determine how easily it shoulders a bow, but it says absolutely nothing about how slyly it can negotiate a dangerous deal. Smile  (Just stick with the RPG theme here—I’m on a roll.)

Most importantly, you actually have the power to change your personality, though it takes work.  If you decide you’d like to be kinder, more perseverant, or mature, eventually you’ll be able to become that person you’ve always imagined yourself to be.  While you do have the power to change your body, to some degree, there’s a certain max-out point—the Sprite-creator in the sky, if you will, determines the basics of how you will look.  And most of us, given the choice, would probably gladly trade in the hand we were dealt for a different figure.  But we forget to recognize the most important part of our sprite Smile–the personality, all the wonderful memories and talents and kindness crowded up into our skulls.   Don’t overlook your skill with forgery! Winking smile You are not your body.  Your sprite is two happily independent parts that happen to be in a mutually beneficial relationship; the physical exterior of the sprite is simply the container for the personality, how the sprite is going to navigate in the virtual game world.  Of course, you can always choose to be proud of your sprite’s appearance, further enhancing said mutually beneficial relationship, but please, sprites everywhere, remember your programming.  You’re part of this convoluted storyline for a reason, and your role in your preprogrammed Valiant Quest has nothing to do with your appearance.  Have fun discovering what said Quest is.


Confessions of a Teenaged Something-or-Other

(alternately titled ‘Let Me Unload All My Angst Upon You in a Translucent [semi-transparent] Blog Post!’…)

These “Confession”-style posts are immensely popular in the blogosphere, and for good reason; while we like seeing bloggers at their best and encouraging them in their successes and triumphs, there’s also something oh-so-darkly satisfying about seeing them at their worst, revealing all their human vulnerabilities to the internet in list form.  While they aren’t necessarily a trending post topic right now, I still thought I’d whip one up for you guys, since I’m all about keepin’ it real here on TGITO.

#1.  I haven’t been blogging every day since I said I was going to.  Hey, maybe you already noticed this!  I was taking a few much-needed mental health days: reading, focusing (and procrastinating) on my writing, and hanging out with this lovely chickie (LOOKY LOOKY SHE MADE A WORDPRESS BLOG FOLLOW IT Y’ALL ‘TIS GON’ BE EPIC), and just generally doing stuff away from screens.  Alas, this might continue for a bit as my writing endeavors suck most of the worthwhile words from my brain and leaving me, if I post at all, posting crap.  I so much thank you for your understanding in this matter.

#2.  I am overweight.  Somehow, over the course of my shinny knees, all the internet-induced sitting about, and the wonders of puberty (and gaining some muscle!), 20 pounds have happened in the last seven months.  I feel like there’s SUCH a stigma about this kind of thing in the healthy-living blogosphere, even as we preach body acceptance and love (“As long as you’re healthy,” we say, “your body is beautiful!”)  What if I’m not at my ideal healthy weight, blogosphere?  Huh?  What if this isn’t some muscle-is-denser-than-fat thing and I actually have above-optimal fat levels in my body?  Does this unnerve you?  Unsettle you?  Will you be okay with this?  Will you still treat me as a person in possession of a brilliant brain and opinions and thoughts that deserve respect?  I was going to write up a whole post on this topic and how we bloggers inadvertently practice body-shaming ourselves, but #3. I’m not going to.

#4.  Sometimes I read hypointelligent teenage girl magazines.



At least you can tell I don’t buy them regularly.  This one’s dated August 2012.

#5. I ran in my underwear today.  (Yes, on the treadmill in the garage, don’t worry.)  My main reason for this was that I was fully attired when I started running, but it was really stinkin’ hot and, the way I saw it, I had no choice in the matter.  Polka-dotted underwear and an orange-and-yellow striped sports bra.  It was oddly liberating.  My little bro came in to grab a carton of chocolate milk and didn’t even notice.  Makes me wonder…

#6.  I am actually really excited for school to start back up!!


Okay, this wasn’t really a secret/confession.  I exert no effort to keep my true nerdiness from you guys.

This is my attempt at a prudish* nerd face.  Notice the upside-down book.

This is my attempt at a prudish* nerd face. Notice the upside-down book.


I like learning things, and I need something to get the silence out of my head.  You guys know I think too much, and it gets to me over the summer months, when all that scary variability of not having a set schedule and forced social interaction comes into play.  *whimpery voice* I’m lonely, you guys.  I’m usually okay, until about 7 PM, and then it’s all darkness and quietness and eating way too much chocolate in a vain effort to compensate for drops in endorphin levels…

Ehh.  I have problems, just like everybody else.  I deal with them.  I’m actually kind of sorry for this post; I try to keep things positive here.  But I needed to vent.  You guys would have noticed something was up anyway, if I tried to continue on in my usual cheery manner.

*The fact that I used the word “prudish” pretty much clinches my title as a nerd, right?

I so much thank you (if you made it this far) for listening to me!


On a more frivolous note–I know I said I was for-sure growing out The Beast again, but I’m thinking of returning to the pixie before the school year starts again.  You may or may not have noticed, but with its new length and freedom, the Beast has started to get some ideas.  And, to be honest, the real reason I wanted to grow my hair out was so I could change up the style from time to time, but that really ain’t gonna happen no matter what length it’s at.  Sometimes I overestimate my own investment in my femininity.

HAIR!! 005

Yay or nay?  I’m thinking yay.

The Killing of the Beast, Part 4: What Getting My Hair Cut Off Has Done For Me

Waaaybackwhen, in late summer, before the school year even started, I had a blog mini-series called The Killing of the Beast, dedicated to my journey towards chopping off the foot of thick massive hair I’ve toted around with me for all my life.


100_0831It looked like this.  Or, at least, it kind of did; those are highly pixelated images and my physical appearance has changed a lot since then, due to growing and braces and yesh.

I hated it.

On a good day, my appearance was satisfactory to me–on a bad day I absolutely loathed it.  This sounds extremely vain to admit, but there you are.  In short (hah), there was a lot of it, there was a lot of frizz and flyaways and there was very little motivation to do fancy girlish things with it.  And so it stayed down.  Every day.

I’d taken to calling it “The Beast” because of its abhorrent and untameable nature, and joked around with my friends about it.  “I’m wearing a hat because The Beast wasn’t cooperating today,” or “You know, sometimes I think I might be almost pretty were it not for The Beast.”  We all laughed about it; in truth, all through last year I suffered through seriously low self-esteem (not just because of my hair, but that was certainly a contributing factor) and developed disordered eating habits, compulsive exercising habits, and did a lot of hiding behind hats and headscarves.  I feel sick to my stomach writing about this; I’m aware these are really new world teen girl problems, but I do think they’re serious problems nonetheless.  If something had enough power to degrade my confidence in every aspect of my life and make a whole year a hell of hiding behind a mask, it’s by my definition a serious problem.

I recovered.  Obviously there was a much longer backstory involved, but to avoid making this post too long I’ll just say I did a lot of thinking and healthy exercising and eating, and eventually came to a place where I’m okay with myself.  Not narcissistic by any means, but friends with myself.  I accept my faults and forgive myself if I screw something up, much the same way I would with my best friends.  It was a long, excruciating process, but I like to think I’m back now.

Ever since that process began, I’d toyed with the idea of chopping off The Beast–the great majority of it.  It wasn’t just a haircut for me, but something very symbolic.  I was quite literally cutting that toxic era out of my life and welcoming in the new Girl in the Orange, someone who wouldn’t be ashamed of herself and wouldn’t be afraid to know herself.

HAIR!! 026

At the end of the summer, I went out on a limb…and just did it.  (Allow me to add: BAAH THAT PICTURE DOES NOT LOOK LIKE ME;  MY FACE SHAPE HAS CHANGED SO MUCH IN THE PAST SEVEN MONTHS.)  I remember the night exactly–I’d made beef-less stroganoff because beef stroganoff had been my favorite meal as an omnivorous wee young sprite, and I served it over egg noodles, but we were running late to the hair stylist’s so I couldn’t eat it until after the appointment, which ended up being about 7 o’ clock, which is usually SO LATE of a dining time for me.  (It takes A LOTTA TIME to whack that much of a girl’s hair off.)  But adrenaline and endorphins kept me running throughout the appointment and I probably could have gone to bed without supper…which would have been a big first. 🙂  As it was, I didn’t eat right upon getting home–I zoomed into the bathroom and promptly snapped about a bajillion pictures of myself, something I’d NEVER done before–and, yes, most of them turned out dorky, but I was so happy feeling like a normal girl and feeling pretty and taking pictures of myself.

HAIR!! 007

I felt pretty.

Girls aren’t supposed to admit this because it sounds shallow or something, but feeling pretty is important to us, mmmkay?  Maybe it’s shallow and vain or whatever, but I don’t really care.  Personally, I am a firm believer that a gal can be empathetic AND passionate AND intelligent AND a great person WHILE STILL caring about her appearance and wanting to feel beautiful.  Some biological instinct, some characteristic of estrogen, who knows…it’s important to us, so it better be important to everyone else.  Whether it’s getting a haircut, wearing a favorite color, wearing heels or makeup or jewelry–I’m a big supporter in anything that helps a girl feel more beautiful and confident and more like herself–and that’s exactly what this haircut did for me.

More than anything, killing the beast gave me confidence.  This is the kicker, people.  More than anything else–shiny hair or fancy dresses or a nice figure or sparkling eyes–the thing that makes a girl seem beautiful is confidence.  No one is attracted to a girl who believes she’s worth less than someone else or doesn’t respect herself.  Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to go full-out diva–you can still be kind to others, considerate, and responsible while treating yourself like the prize you are!  Making the conscious decision to realize you have EVERY RIGHT TO BE ON THIS EARTH and are worth just as much as any other girl, any other person on this planet, will transform your life.

Not only did my life take a positive U-turn with the Beast’s death, I participate in life more now–I suspect it’s a combination of a new self-image and starting this positive creative outlet of a blog, but I now feel like I deserve respect and am less likely to waste my time with people who won’t give me that.  Additionally, I feel way more confident jumping into activities or passions that I would definitely have been too scared to try previously, thinking that people would judge or belittle me (*coughcough* food blog *coughcough*) or that I would judge or belittle myself.  (I was really good at doing that.)  Getting my hair cut off, starting this blog, making a conscious decision to get my life back on track and gain killer confidence with it–that’s when The Girl in the Orange was born.

On that note, I want to thank all TGITO followers who have supported me through this journey through your simple presence and your feedback!  This sounds like a farewell–I promise, I won’t be leaving the blogosphere anytime soon 🙂 so don’t worry; this post has just got me feeling sentimental.  I love and appreciate you guys so, so much.  Thanks for reading my ramblings and putting up with me. 😀 (*snifflesniffle*)

HAIR!! 005

The face of a gal when she realizes her life just started.

Now whenever I see a girl who’s so obviously hiding behind her hair, I just want to reach out and chop it all off and tell her she’s beautiful!–too bad that, I assume, such an act would not be met with positive reception. 😉  Ah, propriety schmopriety.