Friday, March 29, 2013

My Disappointing Search for Body-Positive Adult Fiction (Help Wanted!)

"A girl learns that stories happen to 'beautiful' women, whether they are interesting or not. And, interesting or not, stories do not happen to women who are not 'beautiful.'"
- Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth


I've begun a new quest! No, no, don't worry. It's nothing quite so personally disruptive as giving up mirrors for a year. Yet, in some ways, my new quest also has life-changing potential.  Here's the scoop: 

Who: Me.
What: Build a long list of body-positive adult fiction books, and read them all.
When: Now! This year! Forever! 
Where: Wherever books are sold (or, preferably, borrowed, exchanged, or given away for free)
Why: Because before I was a writer, I was a reader. 

It kills me to know that I'll never be able to read every great fiction book in my lifetime, but - given this fact - I may as well start filtering out the stories that make me feel like shit about my body. I'm also perfectly willing to give up books that reinforce the idea (the MYTH) that "stories do not happen to women who are not 'beautiful.'"

I'm SO SICK AND TIRED of reading books I've picked up specifically because they are rumored to have an amazing and complex female protagonist who doesn't fit mainstream beauty norms, only to find that the protagonist's happy ending only shows up after she loses weight or goes through some other sort of physical transformation. Of course, no writer has ever directly said "my character's life completely changed because she got that haircut!" No, they aren't that obvious. Instead, they show us that ugly duckling heroines who finally become swans, find happiness because of the confidence that comes along with becoming a swan. Yes, it is not beauty but confidence-brought-on-by-beauty that changes women's lives for the better. Ohhhh, right. I get it now; there aren't any other ways to build confidence other than by changing one's appearance! Anyway, you know what kind of books I'm talking about, the ones that teach us that, no matter how many good things we've got going on (exciting careers, fulfilling hobbies, loving relationships, pure dumb luck), our lives will only be as fabulous as our looks. 

Well screw that. It isn't even true. 

Zillions of REAL, LIVING, women have bodies that are ugly/plain/weird/fat/short/crazy-tall/hairy/big-footed/small-breasted/round-bellied/crooked-toothed/frizzy-haired/etc., and yet they still manage to find gorgeous love, exciting careers, and generally fabulous lives. YOU are probably one of these women!

But where are the literary stories that share this truth? 


Great book series! Start here.
I refuse to believe that they aren't out there. I probably just haven't known where to look.  I've tried building a list of body-positive adult fiction.... and it's been really hard. So far I'm reading or re-reading some of the best from Jennifer Weiner, and have also tracked down a sweet mystery series written by Sue Ann Jafarian, in which the feisty sluethy heroine is a "never-married, middle-aged, plus-sized woman who makes no excuses for her weight." But that's about it. 

Instead, my searches on Google and on GoodReads.com have mostly landed on one of three not-quite-right categories:

(1) Lists featuring "books with plus-sized heroes/heroines" which are not, actually, body-positive, due to the fact that  in many of these books, fat/chubby/plus-sized characters find happiness only after weight-loss (such as Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone or Doug Crandell's The Flawless Skin of Ugly People - which both happen to be amazing books with the exception of their subtle "get prettier then get happier" messages).


(2) Lists of body-positive young adult fiction (I mean, I loved Judy Blume's scoliotic Deenie, back in the day, but I want the grown-up version for my grown-up life!).  


Wow, this 1991 cover really brings back memories! You too?
(3) Lists of explicit erotica serving unique fetish readers. (I'm not knocking explicit erotica, but I'm waaayy to prudish to read this stuff on the bus, and I find appearance-based fetishes to be somewhat - errr... inherently - dehumanizing. I mean, check out the book covers below. Is it just me, or is this just a sexified version of the dehumanized "headless fatties" we're always seeing in the "scared-of-fat-mainstream-news-community?")


Headless Fattie Erotica: Exhibit A
Headless Fattie Erotica: Exhibit B
Sigh...

In other words, I haven't yet found an already-curated list of truly body-positive adult fiction. 

So, I'm making one. Can you help me? 

I need book recommendations. ANY fiction genre is welcomed. 

What are YOUR favorites? 

47 comments:

  1. I will spend some time trying to remember relevant titles for you. Right now Meg Cabot's Heather Wells series (first is "Size 12 is Not Fat") is the only thing that springs to mind - though I haven't read all the books so I don't know if the series is consistently body positive.

    And, I will be keeping an eye on the comments for recommendations to add to my reading list.

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    1. Karen! Thanks for the recommendation. One question: if the title says "Size 12 is Not Fat" I am suspicious that the book might actually be anti-fat (i.e., "size 12 is not fat and can be beautiful, but size 26 is fat and therefore bad". Do you remember if it had this kind of approach?
      Kjerstin

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    2. It's been a long time since I read "Size 12 is Not Fat," but it's a blend of cozy mystery and chick lit and has a kind of typical self-deprecating chick lit protagonist. She's former teen pop star, who was dropped by her label for gaining weight (hence the title). Now that I think about it, maybe the series isn't really body positive. sorry!

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  2. First of all, I'm slightly confused. I can't tell whether you're looking for fiction or non-fiction or both.

    It's been a while since I've read it, and it may be borderline YA, but Maeve Binchy's "Circle of Friends" I think does a good job of addressing body self-image of Irish college students. The main character gets called "Big Benny" (short for Bernadette) and struggles with appreciating her body, and ultimately ends up satisfied with herself and her life. I don't believe it's because of a physical transformation, but, like I said, it's been a while since I've read it.

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    Replies
    1. Seashmore - Thank you so much for alerting me to my multiple typos! Since my writing is nonfiction, I seem to be writing it unconsciously. To clarify: I'm looking for FICTION.

      And... I read Circle of Friends back in high school and LOVED it! I need to re-read it for sure. :D

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  3. Hi, Kjerstin'

    have you read the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series?
    I loved these books, and I do not have the level of awareness that you do about body image, but I believe these fit your criteria. If you think not, please let me know what that is the case.

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    Replies
    1. I've heard of this series and will check them out and let you know what I think!
      Kjerstin

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  4. I really enjoyed Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. Ok, so she was slim and incredibly fit, but she wasn't beautiful or pretty, also she was pretty hard core. Her becoming happy, content, less vengeful, was never linked to being fit, slim or feeling beautiful.

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    Replies
    1. Hannah - You are SO RIGHT! I've read the first two of these and definitely need to read the third. Excellent suggestion.

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  5. I am currently really enjoying my reading of Kathleen McGowan's "The Book of Love." I'm especially enjoying how the women are honorably portrayed. I'm listening to the audio book as I drive to work, and can't wait to get back in my car to hear the next chapter.

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  6. Tiffany Baker's "The Little Giant of Aberdeen County" (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/3235139-the-little-giant-of-aberdeen-county) tackles body image rather blatantly. Read the review on goodreads - it might take too long to get to the more body-positive stuff for your liking!


    I looked through the 500+ pieces of fiction on my shelves (I'm an English teacher, so that sort of volume is allowed... I hope!), and couldn't find ANYTHING else that wasn't YA! Man! My search officially begins today.

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    1. Samson - THanks so much for your note about this. I'm glad I'm not the only one who sees a gap that needs filling. I'm adding your suggestion to my GoodReads list.

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  7. Kjerstin, as a plus sized woman, I often find reading material touch and go in terms of body image. One author that really speaks to me is Jennifer Crusie. Her book Bet Me features a larger than life character who has her doubts but finds a man who goes for her and her alone.

    I also am beginning my career as a writer of erotica under the pen name Shayna York. I hope my characters run the gammut of what women can look like with strong, independant but loving and definitely sexy sides!!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for your suggestion to read Jennifer Crusie! Keep me posted on your own work - sounds juicy! :)

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  8. Hmmm, read it as a teen, so it might not be as positive as I remember, but the mystery The Thin Woman might work. She has to lose weight to inherit from a dead relative, and does, but in the end decides to gain back. I don't remember if it was some or all, and I can't remember why she wants the weight back, if it's for herself, or for the male protagonist. I do remember as a shallow teen having a ??? moment. It made me think about my attitude, certainly.

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  9. To be fair, in She's Come Undone, getting thin isn't enough. She's still a total fricking mess for a while there and has to do some other stuff - going back to school - to really get it together and be happy.

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    1. Good point! My (admittedly strict) cut of is this: did the author suggest explicitly or implicitly that losing weight was NECESSARY, even if it was "necessary but not sufficient"? I'm looking for narratives in which happy endings are body-neutrail!

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    2. and by "body-neutrail" I meant "body-neutral" :P

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  10. I've not read any of her books, but I do know that Judy Bagshaw writes BBW romantic fiction: http://www.judybagshaw.com/homepage.html

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  11. In the Ruth Galloway Myteries by Elly Griffiths - the first one is The Crossing Places - the heroine is a forensic archaeologist and a plumpish early middle aged woman but it doesn't stop her having an interesting love life and some scary experiences solving mysteries.

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  12. OOOH I love forensic/mystery-ish stuff. I will check it out!
    Kjerstin

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  13. A BIG FAT THANK YOU for including my Odelia Grey mystery series in your blog! The link was sent to me by a friend/boss who was tickled to see my name mentioned. BTW, Odelia finds love just the way she is! -- Sue Ann Jaffarian

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  14. Check out Denise Swanson's Scumble River series. Her main character, Skye Dennison, seems pretty comfortable with her size. It's a great series!

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  15. I second Sue Ann Jaffarian's series. I love the plus sized Odelia Grey! I recently ran across a vampire series (the humorous kind, no brooding so far) by Gerry Bartlett. Real Vampires Have Curves is the first, I believe.

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  16. I just found a site for "Fat Friendly Fiction"

    http://pearlsong.com/fatfriendlyfiction/

    There's a lot more out there than I even thought too.

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  17. The elegance of the hedgehog could fall into this positive body image adult fiction thing. Have you read it? One of the main characters is a really great person and even DESIRABLE even though she ain't nothin special to look at.

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  18. Heteroflexibility (I can't remember off the top of my head who wrote it). It's a cute ride of a photographer who is getting a divorce and gets drawn into a new world of gay women when they contract her for their wedding day photos. The woman doesn't become gay or anything, it's just opening her mind to another type of world she wasn't familiar with. Through it all she's pretty negative about her body image (her muffin top, her frizzy hair, and some facial flaw she felt she had and I can't remember because I hadn't gotten enough sleep). No dieting, no giant makeover..I think she gets a haircut/dye, but it's not.....tied to her changing perceptions as a catalyst, more a...how her changing perceptions make her willing to try new things. The haircut/dye is a result of the change, not an origin of it, which I think is fine and an important distinction. It's got a permanent place on my Kindle.

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  19. I know that this is late but I have to recommend Kerry Greenwood's Corinna Chapman series. She's a perfect (Australian) size 20, a baker, a detective and sexy as hell.

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  20. Susan - thanks for your suggestion! I'm always happy to add to the list. :D

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  21. i really love Dragon Tattoo series gilrs as they are looking so smart and slim. Excellent share.

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