Today I'm thrilled to host Megan Frazer, debut author of Secrets of Truth & Beauty - a book I'm very excited about that is coming out in July. So welcome Megan!
I'm a little bit ashamed to admit it, but I saw the first Scary Movie in the theater. I'm not sure exactly how my friend and I wound up there – it was almost ten years ago, now. What I do remember is our reactions. I was annoyed that the movie was essentially line for line the same as Scream, a lazy way to do satire in my opinion. My friend was annoyed at the scene in the garage where the overweight girl gets stuck in the elevator, unable to escape from the killer because she is too fat. The scene is drawn out so that the audience can laugh all the longer at the plight of this overweight girl.
I've had body image issues for as long as I remembered, but it took this moment, and my friend's explanation of her anger, for me to realize not only the prejudice against overweight people, but also that it's one of the last socially acceptable form of prejudice.
It was this same friend, who, when I explained the initial premise for Secrets of Truth & Beauty, and my difficulties in figuring out how to balance issues of self-esteem with the very real problems of teen obesity, said “Don't make her fat, and don't make her thin; make her something different.”
And it was that experience in the movie theater that inspired the scene in which Dara's friend Owen explains to her that people treating her badly because she's overweight is no different than people treating him badly because he's gay.
Unfortunately, this bias is not limited to bad jokes in movies. Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has investigated the issue of weight bias and has several videos available about the issue on their website. A study they funded by Rebecca M. Puhl and Chelsea Heuer found that weight discrimination has increased 66% in the last decade and can be felt in all areas of life: jobs, healthcare, and school. Effectively, overweight and obese people are passed over for jobs, get lesser quality healthcare, and are attend colleges at lower rates – even when they are equally qualified.
Some people may argue that overweight people are getting what they deserve, that they did this to themselves. It's an imperfect metaphor, but people are less likely to make that charge against a cancer victim – or an alcoholic for that matter, so I cry foul on that argument.
The best way to combat this prejudice is with awareness. Start with those videos from the Rudd Center. I think we can also take a cue from multiculturalism in literature. The best multicultural books, in my opinion, have characters whose culture is of course a part of their identity, but it is not the whole story. Indeed this is another point made by Owen, an inspiring filmmaker, who wants to make movies with gay characters, “but not necessarily gay movies.”
There are a number of great books that feature overweight characters, but aren't just about the weight. They are real teens having real problems that may or may not have anything to do with their size.
An Incomplete Book List – I'd love to hear your suggestions
Paula Danziger – The Cat Ate My Gym Suit (I haven't actually read this since I was a teen, but I loved it then.)
Erin Dionne – Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies
K.L. Going – Fat Kid Rules the World
Carolyn Mackler – The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things
Susan Vaught – Big Fat Manifesto
Lenore here: Thanks Megan! It's true that overweight people face a lot of open prejudice, and it still just shocks me. Can anyone think of books that raise awareness of this issue in a sensitive way to add to Megan's list?