The following book has been selected as part of my search to find positive representations of folks who identify as fat women in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. That positive representation will not hinge on the character being miserable and then happy after losing weight or falling in love. Characters can lose weight or fall in love, but it is not the catalyst for their happiness. I also will not recommend books in which the character pulls her body apart (I call this the “chicken dinner”) and criticize pieces.
Thus, books will either meet or not meet my criteria, which will factor overall into my recommendations. I purposely use the word “fat” because it is not a bad word. Using plump, curvy, plus-sized, fluffy, big-boned, shapely, voluptuous, or any other term suggests that fat is bad and thus needs a euphemism.
Dear Ms. Sue Watson:
I’m writing to my followers about your 2011 book, Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes. Firstly, thanks for using the word “fat.” Most people think it’s a bad word, but I have a whole webpage devoted to finding fat women in books. So, thanks for that! Also, I didn’t know “fairy cakes” was British for “cupcake.” I think.
For me, reading a book with such a saccharine title is a risk, risky because I’ll likely guess everything that happens before it does and start skimming the pages to confirm my suspicions. I mean, look at the cover!
You surprised me, though, Ms. Watson. Not once did I guess which direction the book would go. Well, the main character had to make cake eventually, but I was surprised that she started as a TV producer. Other than that, you left clues that misdirected me, and I applaud you! I only thought people did such things in mystery novels, but these tactics prove effective in romances, too.
Because their lives weren’t spelled out from chapter one, I cared about your characters. Stella, your 40-something narrator, was quite vicious. I mean, she wanted some people dead! When her boss makes her angry, Stella goes all Full Metal Jacket in her head:
I would shoot her like a target at a fairground, hook a duck, hit a can, and win a teddy. And as her veins bulged and her malevolent orange lips slurped the calorie-free liquid, I slowly pulled that imaginary trigger and blew off Mary Jane Robinson’s head.
Shouldn’t this make me worried? I’m not so sure. I can imagine a suburban mom getting quite angry, especially when she’s having problems with her distant husband and nine-year-old daughter going through a goth phase. When things with the husband go down a dark and stormy road, Ms. Watson, you keep things realistic. Nothing gets cheesy, and I thought Stella handled the emotional Christmas scene beautifully (even if she does bludgeon someone with a turkey). After all, nasty people aren’t forgiven because there are presents and a tree.
Did you know you’re funny, Ms. Watson? It’s one of your best qualities. Surely, you’ve noticed how lacking your punctuation is (I’ve fixed all the quotes included; you’re welcome), but readers like me will forget such issues if we laugh. Things looked bleak when Stella’s boss transferred Stella to a different department to produce a show about gardens and religion. Stella assures us no one would watch such garbage, but she has to make a show anyway:
So there I was, in darkest Rochdale, up to my neck in compost and Christ, reluctantly producing the department’s latest offering, now titled Is God in the Garden?, billed as “a seasonal exploration of the influence of God on and around nature against the backcloth of a church garden,” but which was rapidly becoming a “sex-fueled romp through the boggy English countryside” (with a few bulbs and a bit of Jesus).
Aren’t you a hoot!
But tell me, Ms. Watson. Do you hate your body? I’ve seen your author photo. Even though it looks like it’s a taken from a drone in the sky, I can see that you’re fat, just like me. So why, then, did you make Stella hate her body so desperately? And why do her friends confirm her feelings? Stella admits that if she loses weight she can squeeze into what is a size 8 in the United States. Do you know how small that is, Ms. Watson? It’s smaller than the average woman in my country. And to prove that Stella is fat, you have her constantly eating dessert. Constantly. But much like Bridget Jones, Stella has always just started a diet. When she starts consuming diet meals (fruity versions of Slim Fast), I couldn’t help but wish I were reading Dietland instead, in which an anti-diet spy would reach out to Stella and reintroduce her to actual food.
While your main character did not diet or date her way to happiness, I sure wish Stella and her friends had been kinder to themselves and each other. There was a lot of celebration over failed relationships that led to depression, which led to losing weight. There’s a lot of tummy tucking and chin hiding (exactly how does one hide one’s neck?). Here’s the odd thing, Ms. Watson: had you left all mentions of fat shaming out of your book, it wouldn’t have changed the plot or characters one ounce. Not one. So, if you’re going to write fat characters in the future, here’s some advice: 1) actually make them fat, 2) let them eat all food, not just dessert and diet food, 3) create friends who don’t humiliate your fat character, or better yet, write some friends of various sizes.
You were so close, Ms. Watson. So close!
Grab the Lapels