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?

BLOGOVERSARY

So I was perusing Plants & Pages and discovered (well, it was already lurking in my subconscious, but this brought it to the top of my mind) that not only is today my blogoversary, it is also the birthday of Harry Potter and JK Rowling and Neville Longbottom.  Now if that’s not awesome enough for you I wash my hands of you.  I’m feeling pretty prophetic right now.

(You know you’re a Potterhead when you can’t help but hear the theme music that goes with that scene as you watch that .gif…)

To spare you from all the sap that would normally come with this type of occasion, I made you–not cake, as I had once thought, but Chocolate Covered Katie’s Double Chocolate Brownie Batter pancakes, topped with peanut butter and–what else?–the mandatory sprinkles and a candle.  As my attempted shortstacks always do, it turned out kinda ugly special homely, but that’s all right.  They tasted delicious, if a bit…legumey from the gluten-free flour I used.

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DSCN3548(^^Oohooh, smoke. Fancy photographin’ times.) 😉
TGITO IS 1!!!  BLOW THE NOISEMAKERS!!  BANG THE CYMBALS!!  THROW GLASS AT A WALL AND WATCH IT SHATTER INTO PRETTY PATTERNS!!  It’s the occasion of the year!

Okay, no, I promised myself I wouldn’t get too .gif-happy when compiling this post.  But between the pancakes, the Potter .gif perusal, and my ecstatic electronic celebration, it’s shaping up to be a fine morning indeed.

Today, on the actual, much-hallowed blogoversary itself, I thought I’d share some “tricks of the trade”–in other words, techniques, sites, and programs that I wish I knew about before I started blogging!  It took me a long time and a lot of poking around to eventually discover most of these, and they’ve proven immensely valuable to my overall blogging experience!  So, without further ado:

  • PicMonkey!  Seriously, if pictures are at all important to you and your blog, visit this site.  You don’t even have to make an account or membership or anything!  PicMonkey is one of those things that really sounds too good to be true–it’s a free, online photo editor (though you can upgrade to access more features for $33/year) with tons of special effects, overlays, text options and fun graphics.  Did I mention it’s free?!  Quite possibly the only downside is that, since it’s online, you can’t access it anywhere like you would be able to on photo editing software dowloaded to your laptop, only places with WiFi.  But it’s pretty amazing stuff!  Some images I’ve created with Picmonkey:

Stitch consolation

Stitch Confessional

Hummus Pasta 015 picmonkey

And PicMonkey helped the pictures on my latest poemography post to go from this:

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to this:

pm1

by muting the colors (“Dusk” effect”), bumping up the browns (“Boost” effect), and spotlighting the lone plant (“Spotlight” effect).  I know some people are principally opposed to photo editing (*cough cough* Cleo *cough cough*) but I think when the lighting isn’t right or you just need a different mood from the photos you’re working with, effects like this can be extremely helpful.

So…visit PicMonkey!  Start clicking around!  You’ll be surprised at all you can do (this includes making collages!).

  • Making Grab Button Images/Basic HTML Coding.  It’s apparently very helpful to have a “grab button” for your website that visitors can, erm, “grab” and display in your sidebar.  This way, when their readers stumble across that image on their blog, clicking it will direct them to your blog, so more people can meet you!  For example, Kiss My Broccoli and The Smart Kitchen both have these types of buttons, which you can find in their sidebars.  I myself don’t have a grab button–I dunno, to me it’s a bit too much of a shameless self-plug (is this anything anyone would be interested in me doing??)–but I used this tutorial to create the new New Reader/Citrus button in my sidebar.  I wish I’d known how easy HTML coding could be when I first started blogging!  I created the image itself by having a photoshoot with Citrus :), selecting my favorite shot, adding the text in PicMonkey, and then transforming it into a button that, when clicked, will take you to my To the Newcomers post.  I wanted new readers to be able to find this introductory post quickly and easily, and what better way to do that than a picture of the world’s gorgeousest bird??
  • Making .gifs.  Not that I made any of the .gifs in this post, but there’s several tutorials floating about the internet on how to construct them, both from your own videos and a conglomeration of stagnant slides.  Like a hybrid of a photo and a video (without annoying audio!) they can be an interesting and interactive form of media…and, for the record, they’re pronounced .gif.  🙂
  • Picasa, and Gimp.  Picasa is another photo editor, this one hosted by Google–it’s downloadable, and lets you organize your photos and optionally share them in an online album.  The “I’m Feeling Lucky” effect is great to use when you just need to spruce up photos a little bit–it brightens colors and sharpens edges.  And an online album can only be good times for you and your blog.  Gimp is also free, and downloadable; an open-source program like PhotoShop but marginally more confusing.  I use Gimp mainly when I need to blur something out, resize a photo (though you can do this in PicMonkey too) or apply a fancier effect, like in this picture, where I leeched the color from half the photo:

such vibrancy

(And a little “behind the scenes” for this photo, in case you think I just happen to have someone to kiss hanging around the house: this was achieved by me slipping my brother’s jeans over my arms and his shoes onto my hands, and bending over so my hands were resting on the floor.  Camera on self-timer on the floor.  The pink shoes are my actual feet, and the grey shoes are hiding my hands.  🙂  Ah, the magic of photography!)

  • Windows Live Writer.  Another program I wish I’d learned about way sooner!  This is a downloadable program that allows you to compose posts even when you don’t have internet access, and it syncs up with your blog account when you hit “Publish”, sending it right to your blog to go live.  Many bloggers use this program because the importing and editing of photos is much faster and goes much more smoothly than with WordPress!  And it even lets you see what your post is going to look like on your blog as you’re composing it, because the “compose” box is like an empty post on your theme…I’m not explaining this very well.  Anyway, try it and see what I mean.  Myself, I don’t use this very often, because for some reason it tends to double each photo in my Media Library, thereby making me take up twice the space the post normally would, which is not fun times…
  • WordAds.  If you’re looking to make money from blogging, one of the most popular and stress-free ways is probably by enabling advertisements on your site.  (I’m actually looking into this–I just don’t want it to degrade my poetic status if I “sell out”…)  For Blogger bloggers (teehee), you can use the program Google Adsense, but for the non-self-hosted, WordPress.Com bloggers, WordAds is the program of choice.  Additionally, perusing Pinterest today, I came across this post which details two other ways you can earn money by blogging: sponsored posts, and sponsored tweets.  May be worth looking into.

Now it’s my turn to ask the questions! 🙂  If any “big-time” bloggers happen to come across this post, would you be so kind as to enlighten me about these aspects of blogging that still baffle me?

  1. How do you Instagram such beautiful food photos?  Surely you didn’t take them with your smartphone…but I can’t figure out how to upload camera/computer pics to my Instagram account…
  2. You know those bars you put in your sidebar that have all the icons for all your social media profiles in a row?  Yeah, how do you make those?
  3. Blog logos?  Pro designer job, or possibly DIY?
  4. Tips for selfies in the sidebar?  We don’t want anyone thinking I look like this all the time…

DSCN1727(Although, in this total glamour shot, my undereye dark circles are virtually nonexistent!) 😉

So…how’re you celebrating this fine occasion today?  You can join me in my .gif-and-pancake-palooza and, afterward, raise your fork in the air in delight, so glad The Girl in the Orange is in your life…or I suppose you could just get a little creative in celebrating Neville’s birthday.  Cuz I mean come on, the guy always gets overlooked.  And ya gotta love that accent…