Very Fat Characters and Writing Difference

As Roxane Gay notes in her discussion of The Help,

Writing across race (or gender, sexuality, and disability) is complicated. Sometimes, it is downright messy. There is ample evidence that it is quite difficult to get difference right, to avoid cultural appropriation, reinscribing stereotypes, revising or minimizing history, or demeaning and trivializing difference or otherness. As writers we are always asking ourselves, “How do I get it right?”

Very fat characters can be hard to write authentically as well.  To this day I haven’t seen What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, because I just don’t want to have to process it.

So I was pleased that I could enjoy Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s short story The Case Of The Vanishing Boy (free at the moment on her site).  The main character weighs about 400lbs, but that is not all we are told about this character.  It affects some interactions — especially anything that could be seen as romantic — but not others.

I’ve seen Kris Rusch in person a few times at cons over the years and I wouldn’t pick “fat” as a descriptor.  She also wrote across gender in this story.

What fat characters have you enjoyed lately?

7 thoughts on “Very Fat Characters and Writing Difference

  1. I saw What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and it made me sad because I knew how harshly most people were judging the poor woman. She seemed sweet. I always thought that should be the most important thing. It was a good movie, the cast did a fine job.
    As a writer I’ve not yet taken on writing a super-obese character although I qualify as super obese myself (300 pounds) and the main character in my forthcoming book is overweight. Perhaps I simply don’t think about it because it is other physical issues and not my weight that prevent me from doing some of the things I’d like to do. Well, that and aging. That one gets us all eventually.

    • As a writer I’ve not yet taken on writing a super-obese character although I qualify as super obese myself (300 pounds) and the main character in my forthcoming book is overweight. Perhaps I simply don’t think about it because it is other physical issues and not my weight that prevent me from doing some of the things I’d like to do.

      It is true that most people who are fat aren’t *very* fat. One of the things I liked about the 400lb person in Kris Rusch’s story was a lack of (named) physical limitations. The character has a custom chair, but whether it’s for comfort or health problems is not stated.

  2. I have always enjoyed the character Sookie (played by Melissa McCarthy) on GIlmore Girls. That’s a series I’d like to rewatch soon, I think. She’s fat, and it’s never brought up, really, or made fun of or played for laughs or ever really commented on. She’s entirely her own unique person, she falls in love and gets married on the series, she’s a successful chef and businesswoman, and her fat never enters in to any of that. She’s just…a person, a character, allowed to exist without her fat being her main trait!

  3. great post.

    I wish I could find my copy of “Life in the Fat Lane.” I picked it up in a second hand bookstore years ago for some light reading on the plane home, thinking it was going to be about a girl with anorexia but not really that fat. I was pleasantly surprised. There are several fat characters, all portrayed as human beings. One thing with fat people in the media is their portrayed as sterotypes, or one dimensional, or sexless, or whatever else.

    One is mean and vindictive, but it’s indicated she became that way through bullying. One is the fat role model for the main character, who has embraced body acceptance and given up on dieting, and has loads of self respect. She talks about her partner, whom she loves, but knows he doesn’t like how fat she is and refuses to marry him. There’s a fat sexy character, who’s on mixed race and is very desireable. There’s a fat boy who fulfills the sterotype of “constantly eating,” but he’s also shown as being tough, sweet, loyal, talented, and a bit of a heart throb. Then there’s the main character, who starts off thin and slowly begins to accept herself as she truly is.

    I love this book, in case it isn’t obvious. It was the first time I was exposed to actual fat CHARACTERS. It makes such a difference.

  4. There were two other fat characters on Gilmore Girls who’s weight was never mentioned on the show. One was the character played by Sally Struthers (and it probably helped the public accept her as fat after not having been seen for many years after All in the Family and gaining a tremendous amount of weight in the interim and being subjected to public ridicule). Another is Miss Patty (played by Liz Torres who was also on All in the Family in the 1970s and slim then). No mention was made of her weight on the show either.

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