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09 January 2011 @ 08:49 pm
"YA Fatphobia" by Kathryn Nolfi  
I'm thrilled to see a fatpol article in Horn Book Magazine. Kathyrn Nolfi's YA Fatphobia is a real fat politics & Fat Studies piece, unlike so much media that veers near but tacks away.

I have three favorite quotes from the article:

Many authors include fat characters only to further the agency and growth of the main (read thin) characters, to provide instruction about bullying, or as a vehicle for character development through the magic of weight loss. As protagonist Jamie says in Susan Vaught’s groundbreaking Big Fat Manifesto: “The fat girl never gets to be the main character. She never gets to talk, really talk, about her life and her feelings and her dreams.” Often the fat girl is the sidekick, sexless and hungry or desperately oversexed. The fat boy is sloppy, grotesque, and lonely; sometimes he’s the funny man. Either way, fat characters are pathologized.


Kids need books that reveal the fraudulence of the diet industry, the inequity of the fashion industry, the hostility of women’s magazines; that endeavor to show fulfillment, confidence, and happiness despite the difficulties of being fat in a fat-hating society.


It is possible to write compelling and unsentimental stories for teens without casually insulting fat people, without relegating fat characters to the side, and without portraying fat teens as irretrievably damaged. To rely on the easy fat joke is lazy and oppressive writing. As the fat acceptance movement grows, I hope to see more positive and honest portrayals of diverse characters and less fatphobia and sizeism in YA novels.

Yes, and yes, and yes. Thank you Kathyrn Nolfi, and thank you HBM for publishing it. Fat Studies receives so much suspicion and hostility in the children's lit world (well, no more than it receives in the greater world, but the children's lit world is where I live) that HBM's choice to publish such a strong article is really revolutionary.

I agree with some of Nolfi's "Recommended Fat Acceptance Books," but not all of them. Here are my own thoughts on the ones I've read.

I enthusiastically agree with Nolfi's recommendations of:

This Book Isn't Fat, It's Fabulous by Nina Beck.
Fat Hoochie Prom Queen by Nico Medina.
Fat Girl Dances with Rocks by Susan Stinson (though I admit that I read Stinson's book long before I started studying the intersection of children's lit and fatpol).

I agree tolerably with Nolfi's recommendation of Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have by Allen Zadoff if I use fat acceptance as the only ideological criterion. But Food, Girls has razor-sharp slivers of racism, and I can't bear to see the book mentioned without that caveat. I posted about it here. (Nolfi's nod to intersectionality-- "ideally, these books would not exhibit oppressive attitudes toward other identities and would show the intersections between fat teens of different races, nations, classes, abilities, and sexualities" -- is most welcome. It should be applied everywhere, but Zadoff's book needs an anti-racist critical eye especially desperately.)

And then there are some books that Nolfi recommends for but that I consider a mixed bag. Readers familiar with this blog will recognize the phrase "kinda-kinda." Deborah and I use it as shorthand for a term we stole from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (and twisted for our own purposes): "kinda subversive, kinda hegemonic." The following are books that Nolfi recommends in terms of fat acceptance, but that I consider to be kinda-kinda on that axis.

Big Fat Manifesto by Susan Vaught. Between the covers of this book lie almost every constuction of fatness you could dream of. It includes tons of fat acceptance and healing, strengthening messages about the meaning of fatness, but also plenty of messages dissing fatness in stale old ways. Here's what I said when guest blogging at Shapely Prose:
Fat power messages overflow – and mix with a few old stereotypes too. This attempt at a direct fatpol novel is romantic, passionate, emotional, and political. Jamie’s a high school senior writing a column called Fat Girl Manifesto for her school newspaper. She’s very active and she has a (hot and fat) boyfriend – who decides to get WLS. Vaught’s groundbreaking messages include assertions that fat people are attractive and that WLS is the only way for a fat person to become thin because dieting doesn’t work. However, Vaught includes so very many messages about fatness that they reach chaos point. You’ll find some offensive old anti-fat chestnuts in this warm and energetic page-turner, but you’ll also find lots of cheer-worthy fat acceptance messages. A great place to start, for young adults who have never encountered fatpol before.
All About Vee by C. Leigh Purtill. Protagonist loses some weight as part of the growth arc. I posted about it here.

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler. Protagonist loses some weight as part of the growth arc. I posted about it here, which will also lead you back to earlier thoughts if you want.

Myrtle of Willendorf by Rebecca O'Connell. Back we go to my Shapely Prose guest post:
Myrtle is a college student, though flashbacks show earlier periods of her life. She’s fat and she’s an artist. She’s also a binge-eater, and she lives with a thin and health-snobby roommate. Major themes include “goddess” mythology and menstruation. Caveats: boys are never attracted to Myrtle (though she wishes they were), and her bingeing is certainly a fat stereotype. However, I’m including this book because, despite the fact that it’s a stereotype, some fat people do binge, and O’Connell’s narrative voice is respectful. Also, although the bingeing and lack of boys shows no sign of changing – even at the end, when Myrtle finds public success as an artist – there’s also no implication that Myrtle will lose weight as part of her growth arc. Consider this a BED book as much as a fatness book.

Nolfi's article is an unapologetic fat politics and Fat Studies article about children's books, published in an eminent children's lit journal. That's amazing. May more articles grow from here, and may fat politics begin to influence other segements of our field too, from writing and editing to reviewing, promoting, selling, and reading.
lynnemurraylynnemurray on January 10th, 2011 07:27 am (UTC)
Coincidental post!
Thanks so much for this info. I've been posting a fat friendly fiction book a day for January here (and on Facebook and Twitter). There are enough in the YA and romance field in particular that I'm going to have to extend the process into February. What I particularly appreciate about your info is your unsparing analysis of the actual body positive content of each book based on accessing and reading the books. I've not got a book buying budget at all at this point and due to mobility problems no access to a public library. So I have to go on what others say and what I can ascertain from sample chapters. Really informed critiques such as yours are rare and invaluable!
Rebecca Rabinowitz: Hotter Than a Hot Dogdiceytillerman on January 10th, 2011 08:00 am (UTC)
Re: Coincidental post!
Hi Lynne! I read your LJ on my flist. This New Years Revolution thing is pretty cool, eh? :)

Thank you for the appreciation. My field is children's lit (obviously) and I've been studying portrayals of fatness in children's lit since 1995. I'd like to offer you the option, if you're interested, to link to anything of mine when you're posting about a book that I've written about (either here or at that Shapely Prose roundup). For example, your most recent post is the Carolyn Mackler book; feel free to add a link to any of my commentary on it, if you'd like to.
lynnemurraylynnemurray on January 10th, 2011 06:47 pm (UTC)
Re: Coincidental post!
Hi Rebecca,

Thanks for the idea of linking--your analysis is so spot on that I'll definitely do this. I saw your review of The Earth, etc. right after I'd Live Journaled it, although I was able to put in a sentence about it in the Facebook post that I did right afterward. My brain wasn't working well enough at that hour to figure out how to add another link beyond the author webpage link.

Also, I'll can submit your links and a link to Kathryn Nolfi's Horn Book piece to Pattie to add to the New Year's Revolution Fiction Resources section so people can find info from there.

Viva la Revolution!

Rebecca Rabinowitz: Hotter Than a Hot Dogdiceytillerman on January 10th, 2011 06:50 pm (UTC)
Re: Coincidental post!
Hey, thanks, Lynne!

Here's the picture book section of the Shapely Prose post, in case Pattie wants to use that too.
lynnemurraylynnemurray on January 10th, 2011 07:20 pm (UTC)
Re: Coincidental post!
Got it, and I'll give it to Pattie for the Resources, thanks! By the way, I seriously considered mentioning the Allen Zadoff book as one of my author-a-day picks, but I refrained because the book was so aggressively cross-marketed on Amazon in particular with the author's "diet journey" book about his weight loss. It just seemed to me that it might be a triggering factor for some people. Was not able to read it, so I didn't hear about the "yellow fever" mention. Yikes!
lady_schrapnell: Yeeesss? owllady_schrapnell on January 10th, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)
Oh good - I read the article right off and was unsure what you'd thought about it, as your post was so very neutral. Glad to see you were (mostly) not disappointed in it! It's wonderful to see a real fatpol piece somewhere like this.

Haven't read all the books there, but I remembered what you'd said about Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have and also was pretty sure one of those recommended books was All About Vee, though I couldn't pull the title up. The three books you've agreed with recommending are going straight on my to-read shelf at Goodreads.

Was very disappointed to see that Will Grayson, Will Grayson is fatphobic - I'd literally just started reading it when I saw your post, and Tiny's largeness had only been described in terms of his height. It was a lot of fun at the point I'd read to then.
Rebecca Rabinowitz: House You Pass On the Waydiceytillerman on January 10th, 2011 06:36 pm (UTC)
I haven't read Will Grayson, Will Grayson yet either. Given what we've already heard in the other direction, perhaps it is kinda-kinda? I'm curious to read it and see.
lady_schrapnell: It's always better with TEAlady_schrapnell on January 10th, 2011 08:42 pm (UTC)
I had completely forgotten that parenthetical comment of joy and gnomicutterance's response - or at least, I'd forgotten that they were about this particular book. Thanks for providing the memory backup!

I'm curious to get back to it too (finishing off another book first). And will definitely look forward to hearing what you think.

Emilytakumashii on January 11th, 2011 02:41 am (UTC)
I sort of felt like some of the moments Nolfi calls out in WGWG are statements from the flawed viewpoints of the narrators, not from the viewpoint of the author -- in particular, lower-case-will-grayson's fatphobic comments seem like depressive self-loathing projected outward onto a convenient target. Which isn't to say that it's fun to read. Yeah, I think it's kinda-kinda.
(Anonymous) on January 10th, 2011 07:06 pm (UTC)
I'd have to say that Nolfi had me until she recommended the non-fiction by the plus-size model. I haven't read it, so I'm not commenting on its content. And I'm certainly not against teens reading that or learning to accept/love the body they have. I'm all for that--go self acceptance! But the characters Nolfi seemed to talk about were very large (my impression from the words she used, I haven't read the books) and she complained that some of the covers showed "normal" size girls who are bigger than the waifs one usually sees on YA covers, but still not truly representative of the size of the character in the book. To have her then recommend a book by a plus-size model, who is merely a normal size woman rather than a toothpick, just seemed a bit of a contradiction. Is a teen girl who is bigger than a size 10 or 12 (the size of a plus-size model) really going to start to feel good about herself when she compares herself to the author/advice giver who's a normal size woman who's pretty enough to be a model?

Here! here! to accepting everyone and understanding that ALL people have full lives and can be happy at any weight. Good article overall, and I hope to see more of its kind.
Rebecca Rabinowitzdiceytillerman on January 11th, 2011 06:30 am (UTC)
Yes, I see your point. And I'm curious whether the Crystal Renn book has real fat acceptance in it.
susanstinson on January 12th, 2011 03:05 pm (UTC)
Hey, thanks for the good words about Fat Girl Dances With Rocks. It's a lovely thing for me to have my novel recommended in such a surprising and excellent article about books for children and teens that truly engages with fat politics. May consciousness start to shift around these issues -- it can't come a second too soon. Thanks for your own work in this area, too.

Thrive. Susan

PS I'm putting in a request to friend you. My own lj has gotten a little scant lately, but there's a #fat tag that might bring forward topics you'd be interested in.
Rebecca Rabinowitz: Bea and Mr. Jonesdiceytillerman on January 13th, 2011 07:14 am (UTC)
Hi Susan! I read Fat Girl Dances with Rocks many years ago and hope to have a chance to re-read it at some point.

I've always been curious: was it marketed as adult or YA?
susanstinson on January 13th, 2011 05:27 pm (UTC)
It was marketed as adult. It's out of print now (I control the rights), and I've wondered if it might have a second life as a YA book, especially since the world has changed since it was published in terms of how much of a barrier queer content might be in those worlds.
pingback_botpingback_bot on January 19th, 2011 01:41 pm (UTC)
Good -- Bad -- THINGS always come in threes. Or maybe fours.
User lady_schrapnell referenced to your post from Good -- Bad -- THINGS always come in threes. Or maybe fours. saying: [...] with some being new historical fiction for the History Project, some occasioned by 's response [...]