Author Calls Out Other Authors Over Fat Characters

Emma Copley Eisenberg lays out the issue in the New Republic
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 15, 2024 3:20 PM CDT
Weak Spot for American Novelists: Fat Characters
   (Getty / Jose Miguel Sanchez)

"I am a novelist and a fat person," writes Emma Copley Eisenberg in the New Republic. Both descriptors are relevant to the point of her essay: that American novelists do a lousy, irresponsible job handling overweight characters. "To read contemporary American fiction is to swim through a sea of fatphobia so normalized that it is almost never remarked upon in book reviews, and those who perpetuate it are awarded the National Book Award or become national bestsellers," writes Copley Eisenberg. She ticks off example after example in well-known works of fat characters described as pathetic lumps, their fatness used to depict them as "gross, weak, evil, cruel, stupid, unimportant, or mentally ill." Rarely do the slams serve any narrative purpose, she writes.

In exploring the issue, Copley Eisenberg notes that a majority of Americans meet the definition of being fat. She finds, however, that the stat is not true in the publishing industry, where fat people are "woefully underrepresented" at all levels. That might factor into the problem—she recounts the story of one agent telling an author that if an overweight character didn't lose weight by the end of the book, the author could find a new agent to sell it. "Fatphobia ... may be the supposedly liberal literary world's least discussed form of hate, oppression, and discrimination," she writes. Read the full essay, in which Copley Eisenberg calls attention to the relatively scant examples of books getting it right—with fat characters whose weight isn't the "central subject of the story." (More novels stories.)

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