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.”