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20 March 2009 @ 08:51 pm
All About Vee  
C. Leigh Purtill's YA novel All About Vee was recommended to me just after I'd finished last September's Shapely Prose guest post listing FA-friendly middle grade and YA books. It was too late for that post, but I promised I'd read it when I could, and I read it this week.

I understand why this book was recommended to me in a Fat Acceptance context. The protagonist is a fat (not hugely, but some: 5' 8 1/2", 217lb) girl, and she's brimming with confidence and talent. In fact, her level of confidence is high enough for most of the book as to seem a little naive; she doesn't seem to know in advance that Hollywood may be less than welcoming to fat girls, or that it might take her more than a month to start bringing home the bacon via acting jobs.

I like the book. It's enjoyable and engaging; it has romance and energy. But -- it's not a fat acceptance book in the final analysis. I'm sad to say so, because Veronica is a great model of confidence and competance, and the male lead adores her just the way she is from the moment he sets eyes on her. But Veronica loses some weight in the later part of the book, and a plot arc that melds weight loss with character growth and happy endings is not an FA book.

All About Vee is a heck of a lot better than many. The cute boy likes her equally before and after she loses weight; her acting talent and confidence are indisputable all along; the weight loss is not a big to-do, either in-book or by the narrative voice; and the weight loss occurs organically, as the result of Veronica adding a bit of exercise to her life and ceasing some patterns of emotional eating. She's still not especially thin at the end, and perhaps most importantly, she never sets out to lose weight, it just happens. That's... good. But that's terrible too. Because although the text contains a bold intentional message that fatness is fine (and is no hindrance to your talent or competance or confidence or attractiveness!), the text inadvertantly also adds a subtler message that sometime along the way, if you're living your right life, you will end up losing some weight.
breathingalicebreathingalice on March 21st, 2009 10:26 pm (UTC)
Whew. These kinds of 'so close, yet so far!' ones are hard in ways that ridiculous books aren't - I think that it gets to the point you call terrible, in that the book's suckered you into thinking 'fat is great! you're ok! you're worthwhile regardless of size!'

And then.

'Oh, but if you were *really* alright, you'd have lost some weight because that's how life works.'

I often have harsher responses to books like this because it feels like a betrayal when a narrative turns in such a way. (It's taken me years to get less angry over Crime & Punishment's last 3 pages.)
Rebecca Rabinowitz: Orphea Prouddiceytillerman on March 21st, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
I often have a harsh response too. I am angry at this one, but I think the reason that I didn't have a harsher response this time is because -- as odd as this sounds -- the CHARACTER of Veronica is a 100% positive FA role model. She, herself, never wants to lose weight. When she briefly succumbs to the fatphobia in the world around her, she still doesn't think Hey maybe I can lose weight, and her loss of confidence is always temporary. Then, even when she does lose weight, she doesn't particularly express happiness or relief about it. FA role model 100%.

It's the narration that causes the FA betrayal by inserting the plot point about her losing weight. You're right about "so close, yet so far" -- it would only take the removal of about eight lines (maybe twelve? I didn't count) over three separated pages to make this into a resounding fatpol book. And nothing would have been lost besides the fatphobia.
leigh_purtill on March 21st, 2009 11:19 pm (UTC)
Hi Rebecca!

Thanks for reading the book and for posting your thoughts. I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed it even if it wasn't the FA book you (and I!) thought it would be. While I wish VEE could have been included among your choices for FA books, I do believe that my novel encourages a healthy attitude about body image. Although, as you note, Veronica does lose weight, it is strictly accidental. What was more important to me was Veronica exploring yoga, which was something she would never have attempted back home in Arizona. The book is about being a fish out of water, about trying new things, about being knocked down and getting up again. And yes, there is a certain amount of naivete on Veronica's part: she lived an incredibly sheltered life, protected even from knowing about her late mother and how she died.

I've never had a chance to discuss the book on a level like this! Thank you so much for presenting it here and for educating me and your readers.

Rebecca Rabinowitz: Bea and Mr. Jonesdiceytillerman on March 21st, 2009 11:32 pm (UTC)
You're very welcome, Leigh. I really enjoyed it a lot besides the issue I explained above. I love Veronica's discovery of yoga, and I love how the discovery is presented without any stereotypes about fatness (such as a stereotype that she'd necessarily be initially bad at yoga compared to a thin person, or things like that).

As I said above, I do find Veronica herself to be a great FA role model. And what's interesting here is that if the world had no fatphobia at all (hard to picture, eh?), and fat people and characters were afforded the full amount of respect that thin people are currently afforded, and books portrayed all kinds of fat and thin people -- well, in that happy fake world, I would have zero problem with Veronica's incidental weight loss. Veronica's action are a shining example of HAES, and in real life, some people who do HAES do lose some weight. But many people don't, and some people gain weight (and that's healthy for them). So, because the real world operates under the poisonous myth that everyone doing HAES will end up thin, a book that shows a character doing HAES and losing weight simply feeds that myth. In the happy fake world without fatphobia, Veronica's incidental weight loss would be fine with me, because next to All About Vee on the shelf would be a book about a character doing HAES who gains weight, and next to that would be a book about a character doing HAES who stays the same weight.

Or, even better, the weight wouldn't even be a subject to mention.

I look forward to your future books, Leigh.
ex_gnomicut on March 23rd, 2009 02:17 pm (UTC)
And a nutshell, this is why we need more books. Because no book is every book, no book can be every book, but if there aren't enough fat (or queer, or Latina, or disabled, or whatever) characters, the few books that exist HAVE to stand in for every book. And they can't be, and that's not right.
Rebecca Rabinowitz: Bea and Mr. Jonesdiceytillerman on March 23rd, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly. All About Vee is an excellent example of of why, on topics of broad power imbalances, "no book is every book" is relevant but is not the end of the conversation.
breathingalicebreathingalice on March 23rd, 2009 06:21 pm (UTC)
Amen! For a book to bear the burden of having to hit all of the FA points in all instances is a burden few books will be able to carry. However, Leigh, if there was a specific reason why you included weight loss in the narrative, I'm curious to hear more about it, since (having not read it), it seems like that point is ancillary to the rest of the book. This is making me more curious to read it, though!
leigh_purtill on March 24th, 2009 03:28 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you're intrigued, breathingalice! The genesis of the book was my own ED; I have had anorexia for most of my life. When I moved out to LA (not to act but to write), I saw all around me skinny size zeroes and I wondered what would happen if I were to put myself out there among them: would I succumb to the extremism many women do in order to compete? The character of Veronica developed from there, as I wanted to invest myself in a young woman who had the confidence to withstand that pressure. I wanted to give her everything I never had but always wished for: talent, confidence, and support. Originally the book starred all three Vees - Veronica and her best friends, Val and Ginny, who moved to LA to follow their own dreams - but the publisher just wanted a story about Veronica so I had to leave the other girls back in Arizona! :)

So basically, the reason for the story was me! lol! I think I'm drawn to write fish-out-of-water stories because I have always felt that way about myself: never quite fitting in, always moving around from town to town. To me, that's what Veronica is - more than her size, more than her talent - just a girl who's trying to make a place for herself.

I hope you're still intrigued and will give Vee a chance. And if so, do drop me a line and let me know. I love hearing reader feedback.

Thanks for your interest and thanks, Rebecca, for letting me go on and on...:)