The Search for Better Fiction: Leave out the Fat Tropes!

I was just happily perusing some notes from Strange Horizons (a magazine focusing on speculative fiction) on a few tropes that really are done to death in fiction (particularly speculative fiction) and I was so happy to see the following call to stop equating Fat with Evil:

Fatness is used as a signal of evil, dissolution, and/or moral decay, usually with the unspoken assumption that it’s completely obvious that fat people are immoral and disgusting. (Note: This does not mean all fat characters in stories must be good guys. We’re just tired of seeing fat used as a cheap shorthand signifier of evil.)

  1. Someone wants to kill someone else, and that’s perfectly reasonable because, after all, the victim-to-be is fat.
  2. The story spends a lot of time describing, over and over, just how fat a character is, and how awful that is.
  3. Physical contact with a fat person is understood to be obviously revolting.

Yes!  Let’s move beyond such concepts: both in Fiction AND in real life!!

This wee bit was encouraging enough for me that it made me smile today.  How about you?  Any good recent fiction you’ve come across and wouldn’t mind sharing here?  Something which DOESN’T follow the above trope of Fat=Evil/Vile/Killable?


33 thoughts on “The Search for Better Fiction: Leave out the Fat Tropes!

  1. On the one hand, good to see editors saying that – on the other, bad that they had to (i.e. that enough stories featuring such clichés were coming in for them to call a halt). Kind of reminds me of seeing guidelines in the Writers’ Market many moons ago, in which the editor of a small zine whose name I can’t even recall said ‘No more stories about obese characters eating people’. Eek. (Confession: as a sometime short SF/fantasy writer myself, I looked through that list to see if I’m guilty of any of their other no-nos. Thankfully, it appears not, so I might even dig out some of my old stuff and see if they like it – thanks for pointing me to that site.)

    As for recommendations, I’m slowly working through Gibson and Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which everyone but me seems to have read years ago. But I keep getting sidetracked by my current guilty pleasure, which is Doctor Who novels. And by actual writing, which is a little more useful…

    • Emerald I had the pleasure of listening to David Tennant read one of the Who novels on audio disc and need to find more!! Such a great voice to listen to on a long drive 🙂

      • I’m reading my way through a bunch of the Doctor #11 novels, and I have some #8 ones to be getting on with. I missed a lot of 9 and 10 on TV, so have some serious catching up to do…

        • Emerald yes there is a LOT that goes on for Doctor 10; though I’m finding at least the plot points (if not the doctor himself in this incarnation) really riveting for Doctor 11!! 😀

  2. I agree that it really shouldn’t need to be said that fat shouldn’t equal evil. It’s just lazy writing.
    Doctor Who novels are a guilty pleasure. I hate how the Slitheen and their close neighbours the Abzorbaloff are fat. The Abzorbaloff was designed by a 9 year old who won a competition to design a Doctor Who monster. Figures really!

    • sarah I agree about using such easy tropes being lazy. Which is why I was disappointed in the two Doctor Who aliens you mention as well. A huge blob that absorbs others and becomes even more huge? Damn. Why didn’t they just give the Abzorbaloff a twinkie and call him out as a Fat B*tch to make the “allusion” complete? Not the best moment in Who history I think.

  3. Just off the top of my head, authors who write fat characters as just normal people: C.J. Cherryh (Foreigner: Lord Geigi, the Grandmother of the Edi Clan), Lois McMaster Bujold (Mark Vorkosigan is Fatty McFatterson and he absolutely *rules*, many characters are fairly solidly built or “plump”). Neil Gaiman seems very neutral towards body type, while Pratchett is just the opposite, with him, every type has meaning but rarely the common one.

    Currently reading Stross’ “Glashouse” where people can look just any way they want and change it within short time, I am curious how he’s going to handle fat, and if he’s going to touch the issue at all.

    I wonder how much of that evil fatness comes from old caricatures of robber barons and capitalists, taking more than their share at everything while poor folks starve. I guess that especially in medivaloid fantasy, a solid stature would have to be read at the very least as sign of a privileged life, so it’s problematic in that genre. I would really love to read a book that *uses* this, though.

    • inge I love some good Sci Fi/Fant so I am adding Cherryh now to my “authors to read” list!!! Body-diversity is an added boon to good writing I feel.

      • RE: Cherryh: I love her SF, but find her fantasy rarely worth it. (Some of my friends disagree.) With Bujold, I love her fantasy and SF, but when she goes too far into romance, I lose interest.

  4. La Cucina is my favorite book with a fat heroine. She is greatly admired/lusted after by an Englishman. The sex scenes are written fabulously. It’s a book I read about twice a year and highly recommend. : )

  5. It’s one book I’ll never clear out of my collection.
    Apologies, there’s nothing slightly science fiction~y about it at all. There’s some slight fantasy/magical sequences though. : )
    I was entranced at the first paragraph.How often does the heroine of a tale start fat, stay fat and get to have wild sex to boot?

  6. The most fat-positive books I’ve read have been the Goldie Schultz murder mystery novels by Diane Mott. Goldie is a caterer, size fourteen (she stays the same size throughout all the books) and although sometimes she laments her figure, she loves to cook, enjoys eating all kinds of food, has a loving husband and a good sex life, is intelligent, and is well-liked in the community. She’s also a survivor of domestic violence.

    Don’t even get me started on the Abzorbaloff. Nothing but an outer space version of Fat Bastard. He’s probably the inspiration for the kid that created him.

  7. I’ve read and loved Goldie! IIRC, the author is a Colorado native, so I get local flavor with my mysteries, too.

    I’ve been writing since I was 10, and a lot of my adolescent angsty stuff is full of that getting-thin wish-fulfillment.

    Now that I’m older and (oh, please, I hope!) wiser, I write all my heroines fat. I’m currently at work on a second novel featuring a size 20 character who becomes a vampire. She is considered a beauty as-is, not in spite of or because of her size, but because she’s simply a beautiful woman. (It doesn’t hurt that the hero’s taste in women was formed during the 14th century, either!) I’ve got another novel in the works about a size 18 professional mistress – yes, men pay her to pay attention to them!

    The thing I like most about writing fat characters, though, is that I get to write a character first – and then, maybe, if it’s at all relevant, I can mention that she’s a size whatever. People are people first, after all; since none of us off the page is one-dimensional, none of us on the page should be, either.

    • Catherine Winters I really love that phrase “People are people first” and wish it could be emblazoned across every mind anytime the thought of objecting to someone else’s appearance can wavering to the surface!

  8. Thanks for the great sci fi/fantasy recommendations. I’m starting to put together an ongoing list to post based on the “One fat friendly fiction author a day” list I put together in January for the New Years ReVolution event. Those authors are archived (there were way more than 30 it turned out) at the link below–the links are on the right side of the page “Big Fat Reading – Fat Friendly Fiction Authors” under, but I’m always looking for more and I didn’t have much in the SSF category so these were particularly welcom!


  9. It’s not recent, but I always recommend Castle Waiting by Linda Medley for body diversity. It’s a indy comic book that has 2 hardback collected volumes that include all issues published up til now. It’s a fantasy series with an ensemble cast that covers a wide range of ages and body types. I’d rate it as pg-13; there’s no nudity, or swearing, and only “cartoon violence” actually shown, but it does touch on some heavy subject matter a little. For instance, the main story starts with one of the characters escaping from an abusive husband

    A more recent kid-appropriate graphic novel is Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch. Many of the characters are inbetweenies (especially compared to the drawing style of mainstream comics), and a few are fat. The title character is an 11 year old girl with an average body, but she has this adorable double chin she inherited from her fat mom (most of her siblings have it as well) and I always imagine that she grows up to be fat and burly. I would call the book fat-neutral instead of fat-positive, but the neutrality itself is really, really refreshing.

    • lowbudgetcyborg I totally requested that our library purchase Hereville and look forward to it coming in so I can read it! Glad to hear about body size neutrality as well! There are certainly enough books out there willing to vilify particular looks; anything else is vastly refreshing I find!

  10. Anne McCaffery is pretty size neutral depending on series. In Petaybee, there are 3 or so hugely obese female main characters and their size seems to be a signifier of importance more than anything else. One’s the head woman, another is an herbalist/healer and the third is a spiritual leader.

    In the Death of Sleep books, she created a race of people who moved to high gravity worlds that are bigger than people that are from normal-g worlds. They’re described somewhat like dwarves but without the health problems. McCaffery tends to write in the heads of her characters, so while the main character is kind of freaked out about heavy worlders, McCaffery makes it pretty clear that they’re people just like everybody else.

    I just realized that she tends to write more fat women in to rural or rustic places… and usually as big-hearted people who are in charge. She doesn’t tend to write many fat men, and when she does they tend towards the sensualist.

    I’ve also found LM Montgomery to be size neutral. She tends to write people and some of them happen to be fat. Granted she was writing about a hundred years ago, so she tends to use the words “plump” and “ample.” I was just remembering a few conversations Anne and Diana have about size that I just find so funny. The first one happens when they’re both young women about how Diana envies Anne’s slender frame and Anne wishes she were plumper like Diana. Which I like because each friend holds the other in such high esteem that she can’t picture the other any other way and won’t hear her disparage herself. The second happens when they’re approaching middle age and talking about what age and child birth has done to them… Diana is amused that while she’s fatter than ever, Anne notes that she’s skinnier than ever and is all elbows.

    • Sara Altman those are also great recommendations that I look forward to adding! 😀 I’ll have to do reviews of all these when I’ve read them!!! So awesome 🙂 And the byplay between Diana and Anne sounds great to read about!

    • I used to read a pulp series as a teen, and those authors just *loved* their heavy-worlders. Those guys (and gals) were as wide as they were high, had loud voices, commanding presences, lightining reflexes, and more sayings about the importance of eating well than hobbits have.

  11. Thanks for these great suggestions–from authors I either had not heard of but had heard of but would not have known had fat positive characters. I’m putting them on my list and I’ve subscribed to the comments here so I won’t miss anyone who has more!

  12. Not literature, but I wanted to put in a plug for Lady Kluck, Maid Marian’s companion in Disney’s animated Robin Hood. Yes, I know the movie can’t decide whether it’s Olde Englysch or The Dukes of Hazzard, but it’s worth watching just for Lady Kluck! She is an unabashedly fat Scottish hen who is introduced playing badminton with nary a huff or a puff, cheerfully enters into a game of pretend with a bunch of accidental trespassers (who are enchanted), and tweaks the whiskers of Bad King John at every opportunity. When things get dangerous, she personally takes down whole platoons of evil mooks with a combination of football tackles and karate chops, laughing joyously all the way. Little John has to pull her off the field when it’s time to flee.

  13. I’m reading the Game of Thrones series and one of my recurring peeves is the way the author writes fat characters — there are only a couple but the fat stereotypes are so egregious! There’s a Fat Clumsy Coward-Weakling, a Fat Drunk Incompetent Brute, several Fat Brutal Slavemaster/Gladiators/Chieftains, and a Bloated-Swollen-Unkempt Hysterical Woman (who as an added bonus is still nursing her 8-year-old son). Enough already!

    • Ugg. Heather that sounds like a mess of “give it up and move on already” there! Which is a bummer because there seems to be so much hype around Game of Thrones right now!!

  14. Pingback: Being Fat: Just like being a child-hating puppy-killer. Yeah! « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape.

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