Being Fat: Just like being a child-hating puppy-killer. Yeah!

Some days I just want to “AAaaaarrrrg” over all the many and sundry places in which one so readily encounters fat hatred.  The latest spy-with-my-little-eye was on, of all things, the Shelfari blog.  I was just reading along a rather interestingly written piece on how to write a villain into your story when BAM I am mouth-gapingly drawn to this little gem:

One of the greatest challenges for writing memorable villains is how you signal to the reader the depth of your villain’s depravity. In the most base of cases, villains are fat, ugly, murderous, rapacious, child-hating, puppy-killing monsters who dress in all black and use too much eyeliner and from whom even the insects flee. You show they are evil by having them look physically vile, and have them do something horrific to lose them the reader’s sympathy. (emphasis mine)

Yep.  That’s right.  Being fat renders a character not only physically vile (yeah, thanks for that) but also helps create an impression of a depraved soul so without redeeming features that a reader should be 100% certain that they are never to send a sympathetic glance their way.  The fat hatred isn’t even sugar-coated here folks!

Me and my depraved fatness

Me and my depravedly evil fatness, being all physically vile at you!

I suppose I really shouldn’t feel surprise.  We’ve discussed (here even and recently) the way that fat is the fall-back trope, the short-hand descriptor, for anyone looking to instantly create an unsympathetic character in written works.  Still, seeing this as just a throw-away line in a long article on how to make a good evil character really just makes me incredibly frustrated.  Can’t we move beyond stereotypical tropes about fat being as evil as murdering freakin’ puppies*?!??

That is all for tonight’s rants.  Comments?  Additional thoughts?

ETA: Check the comments below for a rather decent response from the article’s author!

*And, apparently, wearing too much makeup.  Not even sure where to go with that one. Is it a mark against anyone who identifies as goth/emo/counter-culture? A slut-shaming point against women who dare to move beyond an “appropriate” level of face-painting?  What??

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23 thoughts on “Being Fat: Just like being a child-hating puppy-killer. Yeah!

  1. Wow. All of these are such lazy techniques, too. Wears all black? Too much eyeliner? (snorts in derision) I can do better in my sleep.

    The best way to signal the evil of these characters? Is the same as the best way to signal the nobility of the good characters: by their actions and inactions.

    After all, one of the most chilling villains I ever saw was Tricia Helfer as Six on Battlestar Gallactica. She was thin, gorgeous, alluring, and tastefully made up… and then she reached into a baby carriage and snapped that poor baby’s neck with a look of curiosity on her face. Now THAT’S how to make people shudder and fear! There was nothing overtly scary or lazily signaling her villain status until she did something insanely villainous.

    That’s what we call good writing combined with good acting and good direction. But it all started with good writing.

  2. Blatant villains tend to have physical extremes, either pleasant or unpleasant. Think of Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” and Ursala in “The Little Mermaid”.

    Better villains are more difficult to spot, as with Twistie’s Six example. It’s sad that this article’s author ignored the possibility of writing a more subtle character by choosing to lump some physical characteristics (fat, ugly, physically vile) in with the behaviors that truly make the character a villain (murderous, rapacious, child-hating, puppy-killing).

    I don’t think it’s intentionally hateful, but it is mentally lazy.

  3. To really get the evil going on you better get a heavier hand with that eyeliner and stop wearing so much color and looking so friendly and well adjusted and all. Jeez!
    I never realized that “fat” was synonymous with “evil.” Maybe I should use that to my advantage somehow. I don’t know how, but surely with my innate evil that resides in my adipose tissue, I will figure out a way!

  4. I run into that ALL the time!

    Today my brother and I were watching Transworld convention videos (where costumes, animatronics, and other spooky things are shown off by makers to buyers such as people who run haunted houses).

    One of the animatronics was a nude, fat, apparently bed-ridden, androgynous character lying on stained bed sheets that “farts and emits odor.”

    My family, though they agree that there is fat hatred and bias, tend to think that I over-react. So, when I said “It only has that ‘ew’ effect because of society’s ideas of fat people. We believe fat people are disgusting, dirty, smelly slobs, and the makers play on that to make money.”

    My brother rolled his eyes.

  5. In the most base of cases, villains are fat, ugly, murderous, rapacious, child-hating, puppy-killing monsters who dress in all black and use too much eyeliner and from whom even the insects flee.

    Sounds like misfiring irony, as unconvincing as the idea its trying to put across that fat=evil.

    You show they are evil by having them look physically vile, and have them do something horrific to lose them the reader’s sympathy

    And I’m sorry to have to say this, but the attempts of certain people to pretend that being slim= automatically stunning and gorgeous is beginning to sound a bit desperate.

  6. Yeah, that’s pretty weak. If you want a story to be one cliche after another, not to mention offensive, then use the fat/”ugly”=evil trope.

    If you want complex characters, however…

    I actually think it would be MORE frightening to have an innocent-looking, pretty person doing evil because it shocks. You don’t expect it coming from someone like that. I think that’s why stories about children who kill fascinate people so much.

    • Perhaps bringing up these sorts of tropes might be useful as a means of encouraging future/current writers to look beyond them or, even, to USE these tropes as a way to really trick the reader and make them question assumptions. When that dirty, smell, fat vagabond ends up being the lord of the woodlands; or that beautiful and innocent looking person ends up being the slick murderous type; these sorts of turn-arounds can really work to a writer’s advantage I’d think and might create an environment where readers stop so quickly attributing broadly over-arching “Good” or “evil” descriptors to simple physical characteristics!

  7. I just love the picture of you. I’m glad you use your attractiveness and adorableness for good, and not evil.

    And, I watched a bit of your dance vids before I was kicked off of the computer last night — you are amazing to watch in action. I want to learn to dance like you, but I imagine that it would take years, and I would lack that essential “April-ness” — your joy and fluidity.

  8. Not only is that piece of writerly advice offensive, it is encouraging the use of a cliche. A good writer avoids cliches.

    I love your vile and evil photo. You look great. 🙂

  9. Hey,

    I’m sorry that my article came across that way. I always try to write clearly and well, but I obviously didn’t this time. My intent was to say that when people are writing, they often use insulting clichés, like making the villain fat and the hero skinny, in order to signal who is good and who is bad, and that this is a bad thing to do. Unfortunately, it looks as though my word choice did not get this across, and in fact, got the opposite across! I’m sorry it came across so poorly. I would have been upset too.

    Best,
    Susan

    • Susan I appreciate your response. It did come across poorly and as an encouragement to, if you can’t think of anything else, use these sorts of cliches to get your mental juices flowing. However, I appreciate your acknowledgment that it could have been done better (especially if the opposite was your intent in writing the piece!) Thanks!

      • Thank you for your response! It is never my intent to write something hateful, and I am definitely working on writing more clearly in the future.

        Best,
        Susan

  10. I do see this in writing though. My husband and I often discuss the stories we’re reading. He was reading some passages from a story (can’t remember which one, but it was sci fi/ fantasy) and the villains were consistently described as fat. It totally side tracked our discussion of the plot, we started talking about views of fat instead. This was actually a good thing as T tends to disregard fat hatred- he doesn’t see it (he is also slim and has been all his life). To be able to see the consistent linking of villainy, greed and fat in print was a good eye opening moment.

    • *nods* I’ve been reading Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, and it really hit me hard the extent to which she uses fat as a signal of greed, laziness, incapacity, physical ugliness/repulsiveness, mental illness, and/or general badness in her characters. The way she describes all of her fat characters just piles on the hatred and stereotyping; even the “sympathetic” ones, like Karl von Bork, are snarked at about never missing their meals and so forth.

      I have to admit I’m glad I bought the books second hand, because I didn’t give her any of my money.

      Thank you, everyone, for this conversation!

    • Susan I’m happy to hear that this was a good eye-opener but really wished it was one that was diminishing! Like some sort of rare and endangered species!

  11. Even if villains are a variety of types, what about the heroes? How often do you find a frankly fat over-forty heroine portrayed positively and powerfully?

  12. All the best villains I recall (from child hood books anyway) were reed thin with long fingers, sharp noses and pointed chins who were intent on eating children. The fatties were usually friendly and warm rescuers with toasted crumpets, scones with lashings of cream and endless steaming mugs of tea.

    • bexkee I just saw an episode of Dr Who (with Tom Baker as the doctor) last night with the hubby and we were both INCREDIBLY creeped out by the villain in the episode who is a thin, older, white British dandy botanist who is most decidedly evil as realized by his actions and words of complete and utter disregard for human life in favor of mulching them for his plants. *shudder* THAT’S how you make a villainous character without relying on physical cue-tropes! 😀

  13. The entire fat villian stereotype makes my mind wander back to my high school days (let’s not put a year on it) where I wanted desperately to be in the school musical. But each year I knew that was never going to happen because there weren’t any parts for us fat girls. Oh the horrors if a fat girl was cast as Rizzo in Grease or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. No, we are only believable as old ladies and all other matronly characters. Ah, thinking about it still annoys me.

    P.S. First time commenter, but long time reader/fan. Love your blog and what you’re about. Thanks for the great content.

    • I hear you on that one! I was always cast as the loud ‘comic character’. Fat chance of ever being considered in a romantic role. Ah well, it guaranteed I got the laughs and the attention I craved!

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