Monday, March 24, 2014

Les Petites Sont Mauvais?

(Roughly translated: "The Small Are Bad?")

A discussion I saw crop up this last week was on the physique of many heroines in YA action books. And, to be honest, this is an argument that crops up everywhere. No matter where you go, you see a physically small girl or woman on posters for clothing, makeup, etc. Small waists and average height (5'6" - ish).

Now, this is something that hits kind of close to home. I'll admit to ya'll that I wear small/x-small clothing, I'm 5'6", and I weighed in this morning at 113 pounds. So with all of the arguments circulating about how characters in books aren't diversified enough, I feel like I can't honestly involve myself in the debate since, hey, my body type is being shown.

Then again, it feels like a personal insult when people say, "give her a hamburger" or "what about showing somebody with real beauty."

The entire conversation I'm leaning toward comes from this article written by Julianne Ross of The Atlantic, in which the leading sentence is:

"From Divergent's Tris to The Hunger Games' Katniss, the women of young-adult fiction can be strong, independent, and mature-as long as they're also scrawny."

Right there. The word "scrawny" really grinds my gears, and not in a good way. Why? Because it's insulting. To me, and to the authors who envisioned their main characters certain ways. The article later goes on to say:

"It seems literature only goes so far in its message of female empowerment, routinely granting its most kickass heroines classically masculine-levels of strength (physical or otherwise) only when cloaked within the trappings of a more delicate-and recognizable-femininity."

Looking at this critically, yes. There are many YA heroines who are just small, naturally. My own main characters, Moe and Ronnie, are the same way, but then again I'm not sure I actually point out their actual sizes. But here's where the tricky thing comes in:

Ask any author how they came up with their main characters. Most of them will tell you that they just appeared that way; they envisioned them with certain bodies and characteristics, and when they write them their voice just flows. You won't hear of many people who create the character, and then change their body types to conform to societal expectations.

Personally, I write from experience. I've already told you that I'm pretty dang slender (something nobody ever lets me forget about), so I can't accurately depict the struggles of a size six or even twelve. I don't know what it's like to be super tall, so my characters tend to not break the 5'7" mark. It's just the way I think, the way I write.

I have friends, however, who admit that, "Hey, I'm freakishly tall so my characters are freakishly tall," or "Hey, I'm a size eight, so why should my character be any smaller?"

Granted, I'm not speaking for everybody. But the discussion of body image in the media is one that's been growing exceedingly large, as are the insults thrown at those who aren't "curvy" or happen to be naturally smaller than others. When it shows up in our literature, it's another tally mark on the list of things where it's slowly becoming "not okay" to show a skinny person cast as the main character.

For a link to the article that spurred on these thoughts, look here:

Personally, I say to write the character however they show up. What do you say?


Thoughts or Questions? Let me know what you think!

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