Sunday, August 3, 2014

WHAT IS NORMAL, ANYWAY?

I recently read a book that made me pause. In a nutshell: The main character is a size 2 and extremely pretty, with emphasis on her small size. The best friend is chubby and not attractive. The MC draws all eyes, while the best friend struggles to get guys to even consider her.

What. The hell?

I’m not talking plot or story twists or character arcs here. I’m simply looking at the way the characters are presented. First of all, a size 2 is small. Like, tiny. And hey, if you’re a size 2 and HEALTHY, rock on. But if you’re body is meant to be a size 12 and you’re struggling to get into a size 2—which doesn’t seem like it’s EVER going to happen (because lets face it, it really might not be achievable)—and you’re UNHEALTHY...that’s not really okay. Books like these are targeted at teens. Teenagers who would love to be noticed. But what, I’m wondering, is the cost of being noticed? Not eating as much as they should? Throwing up their food? Trying to be something they’re not?
        
         Fact: A size 2 doesn’t make you pretty. Neither does a size 12. No particular size makes you pretty at all, actually.
         Healthy makes you pretty.
         Being happy makes you pretty.
         Having self esteem makes you pretty.
         Accepting who you are and embracing YOU makes you pretty.
        
Truth is, body shaming is body shaming no matter the size. So being a healthy size 2 and being a healthy size 12 are the same things, actually. Just like being an unhealthy size 2 and an unhealty12. No difference. (Please note, these are example sizes. Obviously people come in all sizes).
There’s this weight chart, you’ve probably seen it. It says that if your this age and this height you should weigh this much. They give three weight options for small, medium, and large frames. Weight has so many factors. So when I pick up a book and read that the MC is so tiny and gorgeous, but the chubby friend is not attractive, I think one thing:
What kind of message is being delivered here?
“Hey, get tiny! It’s the greatest!” Never mind that it’s not physically possible for some people.
Where are the normal characters that are loved for who they are and what they represent and the things they overcome? Where are those characters? Where are the BEAUTIFUL characters, regardless of size? Hmm? Where? They need to be there. Because that’s real life. That’s what teens relate to.
I’m not saying to glorify obesity. I’m saying to show believable characters that are like you and like me. I’m putting it out there that it is NOT COOL to pair a small MC with a “chubby” friend and deal the “chubby” friend the unattractive card. Again, size=pretty is not true, and it’s not a good message. I’d like to think that it matters what readers perceive, how they relate to the book.
         Think about it. What makes pretty? What message, in the end, is really being delivered?
         Dr. Suess said it best.
         “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

         Or big.

6 comments:

Annie said...

As an overweight child, I remember reading books that used size in similar ways and it made me feel even more awkward about my weight. (Because kids don't get it enough from movies/TV/advertising/social pressure, right? We need to have it in books, too. Ugh.) Thanks so much for bringing this issue up.

Crystal Collier said...

Yeah... There are a few YA books I've read that I couldn't recommend because of similar issues. Beauty really is about personality if you ask me.

Kristin Lenz said...

A wonderful YA novel that deals with healthy weight/eating is 45 Pounds by KA Barson.

Shari Becker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shari Becker said...

I think that in the past petite characters were ideal metaphors for someone thought to be weak - someone who needs to come into herself to find her strength. As a vertically challenged, slight teen myself, I totally felt underestimated, and I loved these characters. Now that I have daughters - one super tall, and one er ... vertically challenged, I realize how important it is to have characters who everyone can relate to. In my newest book, I'm doing my best to create a character who has no apparent body shape or size. All my descriptions are about hair color, eyes, tattoos, piercings. I hope my readers will imagine this heroine however they want her to be.

Amber Hart said...

Thanks, all!

Shari, that is an interesting concept. To create a character based on eye/hair color and personality traits is wonderful. Totally love the idea of letting the reader be the one to form the body in their mind.

And I like reading about ALL sizes. I think that's important. Not just one or the other.