Growing up, I definitely felt the pressure to be thin. I was always the “fat girl,” and while that didn’t effect how many friends I had, it absolutely affected my self-esteem. Let’s face it, there’s a certain beauty standard that we’re all expected to uphold, and the pressure is especially high for women. While I was personally struggling with this, I found company in fictional characters that were going through the same thing.
At the tender age of 14, it must have been apparent that I was entirely uncomfortable with my body. Not only were the trials of puberty in full swing, but generally young women are becoming concerned with their weight and how they look. I will never forget sitting in the kitchen with my grandmother, her squeezing my hand and saying “The women in our family are round, like happy beach balls!” Her words were filled with good intentions, but who wants to be a beach ball? I wanted to be a surfboard, long and lean. Beach metaphors aside, my self-esteem was starting to get to me and I became less interested in the things I liked to do after school.
Except for reading, of course.
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Reading was the ultimate escape from my insecurities. Who has time to worry about their body image when there was the entire world to explore through books? During one fateful trip to the library, an orange spine caught my eye. It was Fat Chance by Margaret Clark, a story of a young girl who wants to be a model but first has to lose a lot of weight. It isn’t a perfect book, but it was the first book I read where the protagonist was fat, and it started to change how I felt about myself.
It was that book that allowed me to see myself portrayed as the main character rather than someone who was pushed aside because they weren’t “pretty enough”. Not only was I beginning to feel more at ease about my size, but it reaffirmed that just because you don’t fit the mold of what is pumped through media, you still are in control of your own equally as interesting and important story.
According to the Walden Center, more young people have access to media than ever before and are engaging with an average of 7.5 hours worth of media per day. So promotion for the “thin ideal” is reaching more young people, and this can be damaging down the line. It results in more than a dissatisfaction with their weight, it can lead to dangerous eating disorders. That’s why reading more body positive books can really help someone avoid that path and continue to live a healthy lifestyle.
Now, it wasn’t a fairy tale ending. Reading more books featuring plus-sized characters didn’t miraculously erase all of my self-doubt. But I can proudly say with their help, at 22-years-old I am in a much better place. I love who I’ve become and I no longer let any negative body image issues dictate what I want to do, or get in the way of new opportunities to grow!
There are more and more books for young readers that feature plus sized protagonists; it delights me to no end. Books like Dumplin’, 45 Pounds, and Fat Angie are giving young girls the chance to see their own stories validated. And why stop there? By including all kinds of body types and giving them positive representations in books, we can help a lot of people who feel lost or dismayed about what they look like. We don’t have to live up to unrealistic beauty standards instead, we can focus on our own happiness and what makes us our own kind of beautiful!
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