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Writing Fat Characters

First things first, a disclaimer. This post is concerned with my personal thoughts, opinions and approaches when writing my plus sized lead character. You may not agree, and that’s completely fine! Its intention is to inform, not instruct.

 

TW: Discussion of fatphobia, and eating disorders.

 

I’ve been writing almost all my life, and for the vast majority of it those stories had only skinny heroes. They had thin leads because I had only ever read books with thin leads. The fat characters were either comic relief sidekicks, or they were villains, disgusting in their fatness. Also, I’m a millennial, so of course I had it drilled into me that thin was good and fat was bad and that was that.

 

Part and parcel of being a millennial woman is that I have also struggled with my own self-image for pretty much all my life. I won’t go into the nasty details, but that’s enough background to explain why I made all my lead characters thin and, if anything, TOO skinny. It was a method of wish fulfilment, but also a form of self-torture. It never made me feel better about my own body, it only made me loathe it more.

 

I’m still on a journey of self-acceptance, probably a lifelong one, but a big part of that journey was reading books with positive plus size rep and then making the decision to write plus sized leads in my own stories.

 

Enter Dee!

 

Dee (or Ganymedes if ya fancy) is the main character in my debut fantasy murder mystery, Voyage of the Damned. He’s loud, slightly (very) outrageous, generous, considerate, and also fat.

 

And that was the key for me. I had read a lot of stories ABOUT being fat. And they were wonderful stories of transformation and acceptance. Stories about learning to love a body the world is determined to make you hate. But that was not the story I wanted to tell. The representation I craved was tales where fat characters are just characters like everyone else. I didn’t want to be reminded how unusual or different a plus sized body is. I just wanted to see plus sized bodies full stop.

 

I never wanted Dee’s story to be about the fact that he’s fat. I think these stories are important, but they sometimes can be a barrier to wider acceptance. They can lead people who aren’t part of that demographic to feel those stories aren’t ‘for them’ so they avoid engaging with them entirely. They can unintentionally put fat characters into a box where the main thing about them is their fatness, and this impacts how people see real life fat people. They are fat, first and foremost.

 

For me, the representation I craved was where fat was just an adjective, like the fact Dee is short, or has dimples. It’s not remarkable, and it has absolutely zero impact on the story. He is chubby, and he has murders to solve and dragons to talk to. I think some of the strongest representation can be when these characters just exist in places you rarely see them, like the leads of fantasy books. This is the normalisation I craved and so tried to instil with Dee and other chubby characters in the book.

 

I decided to take it one step further. Dee suffers from a lot of self-confidence issues, but none of these come from his fatness. In fact, his body is one of the few things he loves about himself. He thinks he’s sexy and so do others. I have read enough stories where fat people hate their bodies, I wanted to write one where he not only abides it but adores it. And why the hell shouldn’t he? It was incredibly confronting and healing to write.

 

Another key aspect when approaching Dee, was that, for me ‘positive representation’ does not, mean ‘perfect representation’, it means ‘realistic or relatable representation.’

 

I’ll explain. I have spoken about this with other plus-sized people, and that is an issue around when it is deemed ‘acceptable’ to be fat. I have seen photos when scrolling social media of celebrities who have put on weight and the predictable cruel comments. But this is expected. It’s the well-meaning replies beneath the photos that niggle at me. They say ‘stop being so cruel! She’s on new medication!’ or ‘Jokes on you, she can still run a marathon! Fatness doesn’t equal unhealthy!’ And this is true. There can be multiple reasons why a person might be fat, and we should never jump to conclusions. I know fat women who could outlift gym bros easily.

 

But it always upsets me to read those comments, because it implies that there is a ‘good’

fat and a ‘bad’ fat. Good fat is out of your control. It’s medical, or fat people who also are athletes. They have proved themselves ‘worthy’. We cannot criticise good fat. But you are bad fat if you are fat because you like to eat, bad fat if you struggle to exercise, because maybe you’re too depressed or just plain hate it. Bad fat can be condemned and mocked. We should never ‘encourage’ bad fat.

 

I have seen this leak into books. Fat characters who are amazing warriors or are never shown eating. This is still valid rep, and I will take all the fat rep I can get my greedy little hands on! But it was not what I wanted when writing Dee. I wanted fat rep that spoke to me and the shame I’ve felt just existing. I’m not an athlete and I do sometimes comfort eat my feelings. Showing a character do those things is not bad rep. It is relatable rep. There is a difference.

 

For someone who has spent a lifetime mentally torturing myself because I dared eat a KitKat in a moment of weakness, writing a fat character who unabashedly loves food and does not feel ANY shame for it was euphoric. Dee has an ambition to eat all the cultural dishes from the empire he lives in, he also comfort eats after traumatic events (like ya know, witnessing a murder).

 

Writing a character who does these things isn’t me implying ‘this is healthy’ or ‘this is what all fat people do’ it is simply saying ‘this is what Dee does’. Some fat people are fat because they eat a lot, and it doesn’t make them less worthy of love, compassion, or to be the main characters in a silly magical murder mystery.

 

Remember, realism, not perfection. Dee and his body do not exist as a parable. He is a character who is fat and has many flaws and vices, just as skinny characters have been allowed to for so many decades. He can be lazy, he can eat chocolate and he doesn’t need to beat everyone else in hand to hand combat to be positive and valid fat representation.

 

Of course, there are limits. If your only fat character’s entire personality is eating a lot of food and being comic relief, you’re leaning into dangerous stereotypes. It is important to ensure they are also well rounded and developed characters in their own right. Dee also cares for children, has a skill for languages, a fabulous fashion sense and falls quick and hard in love.

 

But for me, if a skinny character can act a certain way, or show a certain vice, and it be accepted without question, then there is absolutely no reason why a fat character can’t do the same. Dee eats alongside his skinny companion who matches him plate for plate. You can guess which of the two has been criticised for eating and which has never been commented on. And I feel like that proves my point entirely, and why I wrote Dee the way I did.

 

When approaching the main character of my next book I’m ashamed to say my first thought was ‘oh no, they can’t be chubby. I already wrote a chubby lead.’ And I thought to myself, how no writer has ever thought that about their average sized leads.

 

That demonstrated exactly why we need to keep writing fat leads until their fatness is no longer remarkable, until all their actions and vices are no longer pulled apart and held to lofty heights skinny characters never need to reach.

 

I’m still on a journey of discovery, and have lots of things to learn, but I have come a long way from that writer who only ever wrote thin leads. I’m slowly learning to love my body, and Dee has no small part in that. It is my greatest hope that he also helps readers on similar journeys of acceptance.  

 

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2 comentários


Jack Rose
Jack Rose
10 de mar.

This was truly insightful to understand Dee and what made him so special! I'm glad you chose to write this blog on it! Dee might just be part of my top 5 book characters because he literally is everything I needed in the book haha!

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Allison Hubbard
Allison Hubbard
10 de mar.

I adore Dee and also want to try the food from all the cultures in VOYAGE OF THE DAMNED. Seriously though, you wrote a beautiful, complex human who has a positive body image. More of these, please!

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