Discuss: Is Fat the Last Acceptable Prejudice?
Lately, Christie and I have been having discussions about the portrayal of obesity in teen fiction. So we have been reading and talking about the concept. Here is a look at some of our posts and book reviews:
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Cooner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)
The Cover Story: Body image and ya book covers
Top 10 Books about Eating Disorders
A moment to pause and reflect on body image and ya lit
It began because we both had read Every Day by David Levithan. Christie and I had completely different reactions to Every Day (see the two reviews of Every Day above). I mentioned the obese character in my review, but for Christie – that was a complete stumbling block for her, a deal breaker. A few weeks later, there was some discussion of the topic on Twitter and it was clear that many people agreed with Christie and were enraged and offended by the depiction of obesity in Every Day. Without a doubt, it is clear that both “A” (the main character) and Rhiannon are both disgusted by the obese body that A one day inhabits. In fact, of all the characters that A can find a way to be sympathetic to, this obese young man is not one. As Christie mentions in her review, there is no sympathy for the grotesque fat guy when there is for even the drug addict.
Around the same time, Christie stumbled across an interesting blog post by author Rae Carson, so we decided that she would read and review The Girl of Fire and Thorns to make a comparison. At the same time, I had been reading both Butter and Skinny. In fact, I read Butter and Skinny back to back and I thought they both dealt with the subject well. I liked that both of the stories address some of the emotional components to over eating. I particularly liked how Skinny came to some of her decisions to change her weight in some ways for herself, although there were obviously some outside influences. (Weighing on Weight by Rae Carson)
In a previous post we discussed some of the books that we thought dealt well with weight issues (see Top 10 list above). All in all we agree that there are not enough positive portrayals of overweight teens where weight is not the central issue of the story. We are also concerned that the overall message tends to be that being overweight is that last social taboo that it is still okay to make fun of and criticize. Even as the GLBTQ representation makes tremendous strides in ya lit, and it should, being overweight has not necessarily – although I definitely think that there were some good things in both Butter and Skinny in relation to what the central premise of those books were.
So here are our questions for you:
What teen (ya) lit do you feel has the best, most accurate and fair presentations of teens dealing with being overweight/obese?
What teen (ya) lit do you feel has the least sensitive or most offensive portrayal of teens dealing with being overweight/obese?
Given that being obese does in fact present some real health issues, how do you think we can help teens learn to love themselves while still encouraging them to develop healthy eating and exercise habits?
Yesterday, the news reported that a study showed that overweight teens actually eat fewer calories that average weight teens, but perhaps a more sedentary lifestyle was a co-factor in their weight issues. And without a doubt there are often both emotional and sometimes biological factors that can contribute to being overweight or obese. Do you think ya literature presents a well rounded view of the various possible reasons that a teen may be obese? (NPR: Heavy teens eat less but weigh more than their thinner peers)
Filed under: Body Image
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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