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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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.

DSCN3098

ALL THIS ESTROGEN HAS TO GO SOMEWHERE OTHER THAN ANGSTY BLOG POSTS MMKAY?

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!!

DSCN3086

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!

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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.