Hello lovelies!! I hope everyone is doing well this week. If you’re having a rough week, I hope things begin to look up soon for you, know that I’m sending good vibes your way.
This week’s topic is: Book You Felt Betrayed By. I haven’t yet gotten together my blog post detailing my #fatbodiesinlit project (I’ll link it when it goes up) as it is taking a lot longer to put together than I thought. So today, I wanted to talk about 5 books that I disappointed me with their fatphobia. I’ve got some screenshots so we can look at the evidence together. I hope this post will help shine a light on a often dismissed and invisible topic within the book community. The books we read are FILLED with fatphobic characterisations, and I believe that until we address them, every time we see them, things will never change for the better. Just for your own information, I’ve read and highly rated two of these books, read and disliked one, DNFed one, and one I haven’t decided whether I’m setting it aside for good or not. These won’t be in any specific order, so here we go!
IMPORTANT NOTES AND TWs: Because of the nature of this post, there will at times be discussions of specific plot points.
TWs: Discussion of graphic Fatphobia, Mention of child rape, Mention of rape with an object. I will again TW for the rape when that specific book is being discussed so that you can skip if you need to.
Mage’s Blood – David Hair
The following screenshot is from the introduction of the first fat character in the book, on page 17
Firstly, there’s nothing wrong (in my opinion) in itself, in a character being described as “fat” in the text. HOWEVER. “looked even more obese up close than he had yesterday when viewed across the Place d’Accord. There is a LOT wrong with this sentence. I’ll start with what, to me, is the biggest issue. The dehumanising language used to talk about his body. We ‘see’ people, maybe ‘catch a glimpse’ of them or ‘spot’ them. We don’t ‘view’ people. Think about that word. When do you use it? “I viewed my friend from across the way.” No one says that. We do use that language when talking about buildings or other OBJECTS, though. Using this language to talk about a person is unacceptable, and exposes the author’s own fatphobic views, which has leaked into the way he has crafted this character. I think we can all see what’s wrong with the sentence, “He grinned greasily, his jowls wobbling” when talking about someone the author has described as “obese”. This dehumanising and just lazy characterisation is shameful and gives me no hope for the novel as a whole. When this is the characterisation given to the very first and so far only fat character??? No thank you.
Vigil – Angela Slatter
So there’s nothing inherently wrong with anything on this page, but note the descriptor “The door stayed ajar like a mouth waiting for a morsel to drop in” because in the context of whose room this is and the way the author has built this person’s characterisation, this matters.
Honestly, this is such a fatphobic mess I’m not even sure where to start. The qualification that Thais’ largeness isn’t “just carrying a little extra weight” or “voluptuous”, as if that makes it something bad and wrong. Her couch bowing, so you knew this was her favourite place to sit. The fact that the room apparently smells like “a body that had a lots of places where sweat gathered, no matter how many showers were taken.” Honestly, EVERY.SINGLE.THING. about how this character is introduced to the reader is so off the charts fatphobic and disgusting, I don’t know what else to say, really.
And because of course it does, it actually gets worse. She literally pays with chocolate bars. Which are eyed “greedily” and then “snatched” away. GET IT?! BECAUSE SHE’S SOOOOOOOO FAT, OF COURSE YOU PAY HER WITH CHOCOLATE BARS! *tosses this book into a fire*
Last Song Before Night – Ilana C. Meyer
So initially, I thought the characterisation of the King and his family might actually be nice. The description “round and soft” had a neutral ring to it. It doesn’t necessary have negative connotations. Anddddddd then things go down hill. Their child is also round and soft, and rumours abound that he’s “afraid of the dark and dogs”, which is cast in a negative light, as though the child is “soft” in both body and character. This suspicion is confirmed as we learn that Harald’s father was the last “great ruler”. It was difficult for me to pin down exactly why this characterisation was so wrong, but luckily a lovely friend on Twitter nailed it.
Montress Vol 1 – Marjorie Lu and Sana Takeda
Ok, so Monstress is different than the other entires on this list because it is a piece of graphic work, which means the size and shape of characters bodies are explicit without the author having to “tell” us about them. Monstress is one of the books on this list that I like, and will continue to read on in the series. I think it’s wonderful representation in other areas is why the fatphobia was so distressing, and disappointing. There are queer women, WOC, morally grey women…all who are afforded complex inner struggles, motivations, and story lines. The only fat woman, however, is a one-dimensional villain who, in a story with a lot of ‘villains’ is portrayed in a completely unsympathetic light. We are not supposed to root for her. She is vile in every way. And when you make the SINGLE fat woman of your story the one with that shallow and one-dimensional of a characterisation, that is fatphobic writing, and should not be ignored or dismissed.
TW: the following images/discussion include reference to child rape by an object, please take care.
This woman, who doesn’t even get a name, dehumanises the MC and her race and delightfully revels in torturing and raping prisoners, most of whom are children. And she is the only.fat.woman. In a book FILLED with women, this is the only time a fat woman gets to exist in this world.
And because of course it gets worse, the way the main character antagonises this woman, in order to kill her and gain her escape, is to call her a pig.
Luck in the Shadows – Lynn Flewelling
Luck in the Shadows features a very common kind of fatphobia, which is when the only time a fat bodied character gets to exist in the story is if they are a repulsive villain.
We know this character, Ghemella, is fat, by Flewellings description of her standing up to open the door. “Heaving her great bulk…the jeweler lumbered”. The impression made by the authors choice of description is she is fat.
The description of her continues onto the next page, as she had “slack flesh”. This is about the point when I sighed, because I knew she was going to be a villain. And not even a well-written one. There are code words authors use, especially for fat women, in their stories to indicate whether a fat character is going to be good or bad. For women, it’s usually something like, “looked like a mother hen”, which invokes the mental image of something round, a bit fluffy, but good hearted and nurturing. Someone with “slack flesh” who “lumbers” about is definitely going to be a one-dimensional villain. And, indeed that is what Ghemella indeed turns out to be.
It turns out that Ghemella and a man have been involved in illegal activity that is used to frame one of the main characters for treason, which he is arrested and almost executed for. Her partner, when questioned, attempts to say he knows nothing about what they’re accusing him of, that they can’t tie these paper to him. Then Ghemella is brought in. She IMMEDIATELY outs BOTH her and her partner as the culprits, which ultimately leads to them being sentenced to their right hands being cut off and being banished from the kingdom. Although they are both guilty of a crime, she is clearly painted in a worse light than her male, thin partner. Look at how she’s described: “an immensely fat woman in a garish brocade night robe.” Her weight and her greedy opulence, which is tacky at that, are the ONLY notable things about her ‘character’ aside from her being a villain. THAT’S IT.
When I say that this is lazy, one dimensional writing, that is what I mean. When I say that these characterisations are fatphobic, this is why I say that. Her ENTIRE characterisation revolves around her fatness and the associated negative attributes the author, and they assume their audience along with them, tie to fatness. WHICH IS NOT ACTUAL CHARACTER CONSTRUCTION! Fatness is used as short hand for a laundry list of unfavourable and negative attributes that, because of our fatphobic society, we are all familiar with, and so when an author uses these shorthands in their writing, we all go “OH! I see what they mean”, when in actuality, there is no actual skill behind the building or writing of that character. It is a cardboard cutout held up by discriminatory stereotypes that ACTIVELY harm real fat people every single day. It leads to housing discrimination, wage discrimination, medical discrimination…just to name to few. Fatphobica is a serious structural societal wide system of oppression. We HAVE to address it in our fiction. We HAVE to call it out, talk about why it’s wrong and what we can do to avoid it. We HAVE to actively work on our own way of thinking about fatness and fat people. We have to.