|Augustus Gloop winning his Golden Ticket|
Because I am a writer, and because I am a believer in the power of literature to shape minds and influence society, I set myself some homework. What are the images in children's literature of people who are considered overweight? A Google search led me to an interesting article on a website called Health for the Whole Self. The article detailed the portrayal of overweight characters in books, and it wasn't pretty. To summarize: if not downright mean and horrible--Dudley Dursley in Harry Potter--fat characters are often portrayed as gluttonous or unintelligent or in some way morally deficient. Think Augustus Gloop or, from my British childhood, Billy Bunter.
|Billy Bunter sneaking some "tuck."|
Another well-written article is by Beth Carswell, entitled The Skinny on Fat in Fiction. As she says,
"If a character is fat, it's a struggle for them, and often the central theme of the book. It often goes hand-in-hand with unflattering character traits, such as laziness, sloppiness or greed."
"In a world that is (all too slowly) more often refusing to accept prejudiced stereotyping of other varieties, fat people seem like the last largely socially acceptable target of the bigot. Will authors ever take to making a character fat just because, like having freckles, or blue being their favorite colour, or does it always have to serve a bigger purpose? Will there ever be a day when a character is fat without it carrying so much weight?"Part of our society's prejudice may come from being repeatedly told by a medical establishment that being overweight is horribly unhealthy. But not all people who are considered overweight are "couch potatoes." I know a woman whom some would consider fat, but who is a tremendous kickboxer. She has accepted her body and thinks of herself as strong.
Finally, I write this as someone who is trying to think through this issue, who recognizes it is complex, and would love to encourage a discussion about it.
Some questions: Can you think of children's novels with main characters who are overweight, for whom their weight is not viewed as a moral failing? Are there novels out there where the character's arc does not include the journey from fat and unhappy to thin and happy?