Free use image by Christian Dorn on Pixabay
This month's Insecure Writer's Support Group question:
Being a writer, when you're reading someone else's work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people's books?
The thing that will most quickly frustrate me about a book and cause me to either knock a star (or more) off the rating and/or stop reading the book entirely is the use of heavy people as mean-spirited comic relief or a story where every large person is miserable, slovenly, constantly shoveling food in his or her face, and/or is an unattractive (and often envious) prop used to enhance how hot the hero/heroine of the story is. This sort of writing is lazy, boring, and lacks nuance and insight.
Back in 2019, I was listening to an audiobook by Nora Roberts. I initially liked the hardboiled female detective character, although I disliked the way the male love interest's overt sexual harassment of her was portrayed as sexy. I decided to keep listening to the story, writing this aspect off as an unfortunate and overused trope.
I stopped listening to the book and immediately gave a one-star rating when Mr. Studly Detective stopped by a witness' apartment for an interview. The witness was a heavyset elderly woman described as "having two chins and working on a third." And, of course, her apartment was full of cats.
Fuck a whole lot of that shit.
I like to incorporate fat characters into my writing, not as the butt of jokes, not as the swooning sidekick, but as heroes and heroines in their own right.
Robin Roberts and Little John Tamboli are a pair of Cockney ghouls. They were inspired by the great comedy team of Laurel and Hardy. Robin is a small, wiry fellow with a sharp wit. John is big and bucolic, a good-natured, sensitive soul. Of the two of them, Robin is the one who is more likely to be stuffing his face with gruesome foodstuff at any and every given moment.
While John's body type is mentioned to describe his appearance, it is never done so in a negative fashion. He is portly, stocky, sturdy, stout. He tends to have a rumpled appearance, but this is because he's a ghoul who came from a working-class background during his lifetime and the idea of being pressed and polished is foreign to him, not because he's fat. Comic relief moments involving John center around the fact that he is a bit naive, not to ridicule his appearance.
Being hateful towards heavy people is not funny. It is unkind and unnecessary, and it needs to stop.
The illustration at the top of the post shows a slender young woman and a heavyset young woman. While such an illustration can be used to show how thin girls develop eating disorders because they see themselves as fatter than they really are, my point in using it is to pose this question.
Why do we insist that something is wrong with looking like the larger lady?
What if nothing is wrong with either of them?
What can we tell by looking at these characters?
Can we tell how much they eat, how much they exercise, what medical conditions they have, or what medications they may be taking? Do we know what either of them eats? Do we know if either of them has an eating disorder?
We can't tell anything by a person's size except that the person is that size.
Making assumptions about people based on their size is cruel, hurtful, and harmful. As authors, I feel that we have an obligation to stop promoting hateful stereotypes.
Fat jokes are lazy as fuck anyway.
Unless you're Gabriel Iglesias, your fat jokes aren't funny. Leave them out of your narrative.
The fat, ornery owl has spoken.
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