Fat and lit

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Feb 4 17:48:35 EST 2003

I don't want to get into this topic, because it's something skinny people
like me are never able to talk to fat people about without being (usually
unintentionally) offensive.  Also because fatness as it's defined nowadays
is taken to ridiculous extremes.  Jacob and I went to see a play that had
been written as a result of an online discussion about body type and
attractiveness.  The main character was supposed to be someone who was
overweight and yet became the main love interest of the male lead--without
losing weight.  The play was wonderful, but the female lead was...well, she
was definitely not slender, but not what I'd call fat.  (The play's author
is a very hefty guy himself, and I suppose I used him as a baseline for
'overweight.')  So we nagged him about it afterward, because what we REALLY
wanted to see was a VERY large woman who was also clearly an attractive
woman.  One of the things the playwright said about it, aside from other
casting issues, was that this actress did think she was fat.  That made me
just sick inside, because she was a very pretty young woman.  So I think the
stereotype of the chunky person losing weight and therefore becoming
attractive, saving the world, etc., is stupid and unnecessary.

It's where the issue of body type, weight, and attractiveness meet reality
that I feel inclined to protest.  As I said, the line at which someone is
considered "fat" is drawn really really low these days.  But there is a
point at which too much fat becomes extremely unhealthy.  And this is what
disturbs me.  It's one thing to divorce your feelings of self-worth from
what your body type is.  It's another to be proud of being unhealthy--and by
this I mean that you have evidence that your personal body type and weight
are causing health problems, and yet you're proud of your body and refuse to
change it.  My family learned this last year when my father, chronically
obese, became diabetic.  He was told straight out by his doctor that this
was a result of his weight.  Before that, his weight had been affecting his
breathing, his sleep patterns, and his energy.  Now that he's started
exercising he's lost about fifty pounds already, and I hope he does lose the
next 150, because he's going to be happier and healthier.

The thing is, I don't like the assumption that *every* time a character
loses weight it's some kind of comment on how overweight people are immoral
and lazy and you have to be thin to be happy.  I remember one of Orson Scott
Card's stories from _Folk of the Fringe_, in which a very large lady is
forced to cross the country on foot from North Carolina to Utah.  She sheds
a lot of weight and ends up rail-thin and tough.  I don't see this as
anything other than a reflection of reality that almost everyone, given this
kind of strenuous exercise, will have a marked change in their physique.

I don't know.  This is probably all still unintentionally offensive and I'm
an insensitive cad.  I can't presume to know why people weigh what they do.
I don't know why I'm at a supposedly normal weight for someone my height,
and yet my butt is still the size of Kansas.  I would just like to be able
to write about--and read about--people of different weights without having
to overcompensate for the stereotype.

Melissa Proffitt

(An addendum:  One of my favorite "overweight" characters from literature is
in Charlotte McLeod's Peter Shandy series.  In the second book, we meet
Iduna Bjorklund, who is an amazingly beautiful woman and is also very large.
The descriptions of her are just lovely.  She's introduced in _The Luck Runs
Out_ and then has appearances in most of the later books.  And she never
gets thin.)

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