I’ve been reading initial reviews/ opinions of Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven. Some people think it’s a great representation of being fat:
Others think it’s not:
I wasn’t impressed with the half of All the Bright Things I read (I get bored with too many pages) so I probably won’t read Holding Up the Universe.
Other people won’t read HUTU due to bad representation of being fat. Kelly Jensen wrote this tumblr post and it got me thinking about representation of being fat in YA vs the health impacts of obesity IRL. Being fat and obesity are very different things. One can lead to the other, and obesity can have catastrophic health implications. A bit like the possible catastrophic health implications of not treating mental illness. (Yes, I have to bring everything back to me.)
“They continue to perpetuate the idea, no matter how innocuous, that fat is a spectacle. A thing to look at, to judge, and to see around.” – Size Acceptance in YA
Like how I felt about the representation of schizophrenia in Made You Up by Francesca Zappia. Few people noticed the problems I found glaringly obvious or even realised there were inacurracies. I notice this because I experience it in my life and see how representation of mental illness in media affects me and people I know.
So when does writing about a character being fat become fat shaming? Becky Albertalli and Kelly Jensen have very different views. At what point does celebrating a protag whatever her weight, become there’s nothing wrong with obesity. For me this has parallels to an author writing a protag who refuses psychiatric treatment – bad rep in my field of experience.
Kelly Jensen discusses the story she’s writing with a fat protag and her own experience of being fat and the medical issues she’s had recently. I wanted to compare her interaction with doctors, to my interactions with doctors re: my medical condition (depression & anxiety).
Aftering seeing the first doc (who I assume is a GP) Jensen says,
“It made me realize my weight wasn’t in any way a failure.”
Good! No medical issue is ever a failure. Jensen went to see a specialist and the first thing the specialist said was she had to lose weight. I agree this isn’t a helpful way to start a consultation. Jensen continues:
“She didn’t want to treat me. She wanted to tell me my body was wrong and the way to fix it was to lose weight.”
This is the equivalent of me saying:
My psychiatrist didn’t want to treat me. He wanted to tell me my brain was wrong and the way to fix it was to xxxxxx.”
And yes, I’ve thought this numerous times over the years. I generally hate my psychiatrist (whether they are good or bad at their profession, and I’ve had both). He (I’ve only ever had male psychiatrists) tells me what I have to do to get well. This always involves medication in combination with talking therapy, exercise, healthy eating. Sounds simple, right? It’s not when my unhealthy coping strategies are ingrained habits, that are really hard to break. I imagine it’s a lot like trying to lose weight. Excruciatingly difficult and seemingly impossible.
And the amount of times I’ve cried uncontrollably in front of a doctor? Every time I hear, “This is what you have to do.”
I often see my unhelpful thoughts/ behaviours as a failure, but it doesn’t mean they are. They are the result of my anxiety/depression. Sometimes I don’t help myself in this regard, but it’s never my fault.
I hope this specialist didn’t make Kelly Jensen think her medical condition is a failure on her part, it’s not. A specialist knows more than a GP in their field of expertise and if losing weight will help improve a medical condition, that’s what a specialist will advise. Perhaps this specialist could improve her communication skills, I’ve met many who could, but treatment for medical conditions is rarely easy.