positive fictional depictions of fat women
October 2, 2019 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm reading the Shell Seekers, and it's a beautiful, pleasurable read so far, except for one thing that's rankling me: the repeated contempt for overweight women, the exaltation of the naturally slender, and the correlation of female overweight with poor character. This is something I have noticed in other otherwise kind-natured books as well. Help me find some counterpoints.

The other series where this jumped out at me is the Anne of Green Gables series. You've got this whole series about kindness and decent behavior and spiritual growth and avoiding pettiness, yet Montgomery felt fine throwing in a few jabs at the fatties.

Anyway, I know I'm oversensitive to this stuff, and I'm trying not to be annoyed by it. Help me out. Show me some fiction where a chubby woman is a heroine, or is sexually/romantically successful, or is respected/admired, or otherwise laudable. (I am not interested in negative depictions of skinny women -- those are a dime a dozen and no better than the anti-fat stance.)
posted by fingersandtoes to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Are you interested in contemporary fiction? If so, Jennifer Weiner’s work is supposed to be really fun.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 5:11 PM on October 2, 2019

Fine with contemporary fiction, but... from what I remember of Weiner's work, the chubby characters are VERY conscious of being overweight, and it's a big issue with them; that's not what I'm looking for. I guess I'm hoping for a depiction where it just so happens that a cool woman is also plump.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:15 PM on October 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

If you want some fun romance, The Wedding Date has a protagonist who is a short, curvy/chubby/overweight, black woman.
posted by damayanti at 5:15 PM on October 2, 2019 [7 favorites]

In Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, Lady Sybil Ramkin and Agnes Nitt are both large women with great powers (although very different ones). Lady Sybil is rich, clever, and powerful, and her husband adores her. Agnes is not only a witch but an opera singer who (the narrative suggests) is able to carry a magnificent voice because of her frame.

For Agnes Nitt, see Maskerade and Carpe Jugulum. For Lady Sybil, see the whole Watch series.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:15 PM on October 2, 2019 [13 favorites]

Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire gets at this, though the fat character isn't the main protagonist. I recommend the whole series, really.

If you like romance at all, there's a character in Julia Quinn's Bridgerton books that works, too. She's the heroine of Romancing Mister Bridgerton, Penelope, and she's a delight. It's been years since I read this, so take this recommendation with a small grain of salt. I am PRETTY sure she doesn't lose weight to be prettier, but not 100% sure.
posted by hought20 at 5:51 PM on October 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

I don't think it's a significant plot point but the references to fatness in Beyond The Pale are all positive, and it is very much a novel about women. It's a great book in general, but also the author has been involved in fat activism for a long time and that obviously influences her writing.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:17 PM on October 2, 2019

The main character of The Flatshare is less fat than just big--she's six feet or more and proportioned on that scale (so not tall and skinny; large all around). And it's adorable and delightful with (I'm pretty sure) zero body shaming.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:27 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is about a "traditionally built" woman who owns her own detective agency, and is a lovely cozy mystery series.
posted by abeja bicicleta at 6:30 PM on October 2, 2019 [11 favorites]

Christina Lauren's The Unhoneymooners is another romance with a very curvy/plump heroine who has no body issues.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:30 PM on October 2, 2019

Liane Moriarty’s latest, Nine Perfect Strangers, features a delightful middle aged female protagonist who is happy with herself even though she’s not skinny and has a lot of insightful and funny things to say about it. Highly recommend, it’s a great book in general.
posted by nancynickerson at 6:36 PM on October 2, 2019

I just finished Ready Player One, and the heroine is a chubby female. The hero is absolutely in love with her and attracted to her, neither because of nor in spite of her fatness.
posted by unannihilated at 6:50 PM on October 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

On mobile so no links, but you can't go wrong with Jennifer Crusie's Bet Me, any number of Talia Hibbert books, Dumplin' by Julie Murphy, or There's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon.
posted by Tamanna at 6:57 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Tom Robbins's Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas features a character named Q-Jo Huffington who fit your description. And though I haven't read this book in over 20 years, I remember that character as being wise and heroic and kind of awesome.
posted by ToucanDoug at 7:04 PM on October 2, 2019

You will love Dietland by Sarai Walker.
posted by scratch at 7:14 PM on October 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

I just finished Starfarers by Vonda McIntyre, a kinda weird but interesting sf novel where one of the main characters is a fat woman who is awesome, and the fatness is just part of who she is, not commented on negatively or positively.
posted by exceptinsects at 8:22 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Laurie Penny’s Gamache series is full of substantial women eating amazing food
posted by bq at 10:52 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Corinna Chapman series by Kerry Greenwood has a plus sized main character who is comfortable with her body, and is described as such.
posted by kjs4 at 11:14 PM on October 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for kind-natured books I want to note that Dietland demonises sex work and gleefully depicts the brutal murder of a sex worker.

For recommendations, Martha Wells' Raksura series is about non-human shapeshifters, some of whom are thin and others fat, and there's no value or judgement at all assigned to body size or shape. The time I've spent reading and re-reading this series is probably the happiest I've been in the last couple of years.
posted by aussie_powerlifter at 1:47 AM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Are you OK with graphic novels? I loved how the bad-ass heroine in Nimona is matter-of-factly hefty, and this is never noticeable or a plot point whatsoever. (My daughters read it and I doubt that they picked up on it at all.)
posted by snarfois at 5:10 AM on October 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

If the words epic hippo western alt history sound intriguing, Archie (Regina Archaumbault) in Sarah Gailey's River of Teeth is fat. She's a very successful con artist whose hippo-wrangling friend recruits her for a heist involving revenge and hippos on the Mississippi.
posted by carrioncomfort at 5:54 AM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

If cozy mysteries appeal to you, you might try Claudia Bishop's Austin McKenzie series. The hero is a rather pompous retired veterinarian, who is absolutely head over heels in both love and lust with his statuesque size 16 wife. The books are focalized through him, which only works if you find his pomposity funny (it's meant to be), but this also means you get a lot of access to his very genuine awe at how gorgeous she is, which is lovely.
posted by dizziest at 7:08 AM on October 3, 2019

All of Rainbow Rowell's books have (positive depictions of) fat women/girls in them.
posted by tangosnail at 10:41 AM on October 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

Kylie Scott writes romance novels that mostly feature chubby women. It's not a huge focus of the books but it is part of them and the women always end up with very hot dudes who love them.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2019

Besides Dumplin', Julie Murphy's Puddin' also has a great fat girl character, and her new book Dear Sweet Pea just came out the other day--haven't read it yet, though.
posted by assenav at 12:07 PM on October 3, 2019

It's a short story but man oh man is it all-body-sizes positive: The Rose McGregor Drinking and Admiration Society by T. Kingfisher.
posted by DSime at 1:42 PM on October 3, 2019

The female lead in Zadie Smith's excellent On Beauty is fat, and while some of the other characters in the novel feel some kind of way about it, the reader is discouraged from attaching any kind of moral value to her fatness. I would argue that this is a complex portrayal and not a purely positive one but I think the book treats the subject thoughtfully.
posted by zeusianfog at 4:01 PM on October 3, 2019

Speaking of T. Kingfisher / Ursula Vernon, give Digger a look. Heroine is fat and female, also a wombat. (Really. A wombat. Roll with it.)

Been a while since I read it (my ex-husband let one of his friends borrow my omnibus and never got it back), but I recall at least one more female (human) character with some avoirdupois, and no unrealistically thin characters.
posted by humbug at 7:03 PM on October 3, 2019

I’ve not yet read it myself, but I hear good things about fat fashion blogger Bethany Rutter’s debut YA novel No Big Deal.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 12:13 PM on October 6, 2019

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