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

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…

LookingForAlaska

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

hp7

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?

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Week in Review

If you haven’t cottoned on, for my last few posts I’ve been trying, albeit with questionable success, to give my posts zippy and witty and possibly punny titles.  (No, autocorrect, that word is not puny.)  My brain is fried this week though, so I guess you guys get a blessed reprieve mournful absence of my normally on-point and ineffable wordsmithery.

So, yeah, um.  My brain is fried.  Don’t mind too much, though, it’s a great excuse for rambly posts with lots of comma splices and erratic ideas from all corners of it.  (It being my mind.  This might not be a too-coherent post.  I’ve just finished up with finals and am trying to type this up while streaming Sherlock S3 for the second time…)

Weekity Things: (by which I mean events of note that occurred over the course of this week, excusez mois)

  1. Reading Good Omens.
    DSCN4422I don’t–I can’t–it’s just–*exhales sharply through nose in frustration* this book is now one of my all-time favorites ever, and I can’t really explain why.  Why does it make me tear up when I think of it now? Why did I feel the need to put off studying and self-care for a whole two days in order to tear through it?  Why did this religious satire speak to me on a more profoundly spiritual level than any other book I’ve read?

i don't know doctor who gifIt’s just ineffable, I guess.  (Heads up: I will be using the word “ineffable” so much in the coming posts that you will become so ineffably done with it that you feel an ineffable itch to ineffably strangle me.)  It was one of those weird things that really struck me in exactly the right way, and now my conversations with anyone new this week have been beginning with a sharp and judgmental “Have you read Good Omens?!”  Most people haven’t.  Uggghhh.  Get on this book, world.  It is so good (and hilarious) that whenever I think of it I’m pretty sure my heart rate speeds up and the emotional center of my brain (is that the amygdala? *googles* yes it’s the amygdala) sort of spasms out and my face is kind of caught between doing this
giphyand this.
glass cage of emotion
IT’S NOT EVEN PARTICULARLY SAD OR PARTICULARLY HAPPY IT JUST GIVES ME ALL THE FEELS UUGGH.

Here’s my equally non-articulate GoodReads review, if anyone’s interested:

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, WitchGood Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, man. Why didn’t I read this book sooner? Why, oh why, did I pick it up for “idle reading” in the heat of Finals season??
I’m not really sure how to describe this book, except that it’s one of those books where you drift around with your eyes unfocused for hours after reading, and you spill a bunch of stuff because you’ve been well and truly entranced. It’s one of those books that you can stare at and squeeze to your chest because the characters, even those that hail from the pits of Hell (especially those) feel like your best mates and the whole book fills you with a kind of existentially ironic warm fuzzy feeling, which I didn’t even know was a thing. Laugh-out-loud hilarious, a good read for those who want to stop taking themselves so seriously. The writing was beautiful and I loved the dialogue. In the beginning (haha, Bible pun, haha) it felt like there were WAY TOO MANY characters for my poor feeble mortal mind to juggle, but it pares down into a glorious semblance of sense.
I also have the hugest crush on Aziraphale, bless his soul.

View all my reviews

(bee tee dubs you should all become my friend on GoodReads because I need more virtual friends to fangirl over books with okay? okay)

     2.  Scholastic Art and Writing Awards results!  (This was the thing that my poetry collection won in last year, with the celebration at Carnegie Hall.)  This year I submitted a short story (that I wrote in 8th grade and that you haven’t read), “We Hired Death as Our Landscaper,” a poem collection of “Dichromate,”“Ellipse,” and “Silver,” another poem collection including two of my spoken word poems “Solicited Advice to Prepubescent Nintendo Freaks” and “Sweet, sweet Adolescence,” and finally, my poem “The Professional Aimless Wanderer”.  Two of the poem collections won Silver Keys (which is like an honorable mention except there is actually also an honorable mention category so I guess Silver Key is like one step up from honorable mention) and “Wanderer” is going on to National Judging!

SAWA 2014 announcement

Hmm.  Well, I realize this doesn’t actually look too…legitimate.  (You gotta love the PicMonkey “paper scrap” feature though, amiright?)  I promise these were my actual results. Huzzah for creative censoring.

It’s kind of wryly funny that Scholastic always loves my poetry (at least they seem to), whereas I work a lot harder on my prose and like it better than my poetry.  I wasn’t sure about some of the poems I submitted, but I definitely thought the short story or at least “Landscaper” was going somewhere.  I guess I’m too biased.  I also guess that the fewer words in which I have to say something, the better I say it…which I kind of already knew.  Brevity is not my forte, but when I can manage it, it definitely improves my writing.

3.  FINALS SEASON IS OVAHH! *upturns a science lab bench and begins tap dancing upon it*  Really, that’s being a bit overdramatic, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I was expecting it to be. In a fit of procrastination and denial one night, I even wrote a satire of Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” proclaiming “Some say the world will end with Finals…”  I had just heard so many rumors about how awful they were, and I suppose I had it easy since I’m but a wee freshie, but they were all right.  My lowest score was in Algebra 2/Pre-calc, predictably, and that was just an A-.  I am in a state of ineffable gratitude that there was no Orchestra final, because my Orchestra grade has now squeaked up to a 93.01%, which is literally one-hundredth of a percent over the requirement for an A.  So now my GPA is a 4.0. *smiles beatifically*

Hope you had an equally eventful week, my dearest tropical fish, and that the next 7 days also hold, for you, a trove of mystique and ineffable excitement. (Congrats on getting through finals, if you’re a student!)

Old School Bloggin’

About a week ago, I saw this survey pop up on Olive to Run’s blog; and, while I try to keep things like this (non-original posts) to a minimum, I’m actually such a sucker for a good survey and linkup opportunity (list-making is my weakness).  Also, it doesn’t involve much intensive creative thinking on my part when my current wells of inspiration have been siphoned dry by Camp NaNoWriMo!  Yay for easy posts!  I’m like that teacher in elementary school who just let you watch videos all day when they were hungover.  Except I’m not hungover.  Just tired.

Too strong?  Yeah…

Moving on.  Survey time!

5 things for which I have a passion  (reworded because I couldn’t stand the dangling preposition)

Oh hey, my About page covers this!  Sweetness!

  • Writing–fiction, poetry, blog
  • Running
  • All manner of scholarly endeavors
  • Photography
  • aand, Travel

+ cooking, occasionally.  I dunno.  Sometimes I just really want a personal gourmet chef.

5 things I would like to do before I die

  • Publish a novel!
  • Do an Ironman triathlon like those crazy folk (never mind the fact that I swim like a mortally wounded polar bear)
  • Go hanggliding off the Bighorn Mountains
  • Volunteer abroad
  • Find the love of my life

5 things I say a lot

  • “Fooberries”.  <–standard expletive
  • “GAAAH!”<–multipurpose exclamation; used to denote extreme frustration, confusion, giddiness or ecstasy–deduce interpretation based on amount of “a” ‘s and exclamation points.  Context is your friend.
  • “I’m making a smoothie.”
  • “Citrus!  BIRD BIRD!” <–usually screamed from across the house, used as a locating call.  He always responds.
  • “What if (insert insanely implausible/impossible random scenario)?”  I pride myself on obscure curiosity.

5 books or magazines I’ve recently read (also reworded)

(pssst–I’m on Goodreads!)  Books with reviews are linked thusly.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, Joanna Fluke

Heh.

Story of a Girl, Sara Zarr

The Ocean At the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

 

 

 

 

A Mango-Shaped Space, Wendy Mass

A Mango-shaped Space

 

 

 

 

Under the Dome, Stephen King (in progress)

5 favorite movies

Ehh.  I don’t really do the movies thing.

Anyway…

  • Despicable Me
  • The Sandlot
  • all the Star Wars movies (yes, even the prequels.  They hold an immense amount of nostalgic value for me.  Haters gon’ hate.)

I have this tacked to the bulletin board next to my desk.

  • all the Harry Potter movies (yes, this is a total cop-out.)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower

5 places I where I would love to travel (also reworded)

  • Australia!
  • UK!
  • Singapore!
  • South America (I would love to someday study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country [currently fluent through my fingers, not so much through my mouth] ;P)
  • Wyoming!  (I’m actually headed back there to stay at a summer home for a week, in a week!  Excitement!)

5 people I cordially invite to take this survey

Well, that actually took more effort than I expected from my so-called “easy post”.  See you all tomorrow with a bright and spiffy Poemography post!  Right now sleep is sounding pretty desirable…

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