Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Do Fat Kids Deserve Books?

I've been very lucky this week. Not only did I get to keep all my loved ones, I'm on sort of a roll when it comes to my writing life as well.

The editor's notes on my first short story to be published are turning out to be super easy fixes. I just got an e-mail letting me know that the proposal for another short story I submitted to a different anthology has been accepted. And because my entire college town being decimated gave me a case of life-is-short-itis, I decided to send of a query letter to one of my top choice agents before it had been critiqued by the site I sent it off too.

I expected to wait two weeks and receive a form rejection, but instead she responded an hour later asking me to send the full manuscript! Now the odds are still incredibly small that she'll actually sign me, but just getting the request is super encouraging.

Plus, it really took the sting out of the TERRIBLE review of my query that the critique site gave me. I mean, I expected to be made fun of because the letter was far from perfect and ridicule is kind of his shtick, (It's why there wasn't a very long line.) but it still smarts a little. I don't blame him though. Behind the barbs there were some helpful suggestions that I am grateful for and I'm only bringing it up here because he includes an attitude I'm likely to come up against a lot in his notes.

The bad news is that the only people who'll buy the book are fat high school kids. The good news is, pretty much all high school kids are fat these days.

Putting aside the fact that neither of those statements are accurate, I'm not sure why it would be bad to have a target audience. There are a lot of commercially successful ventures that cater almost exclusively to fat people, and I would count myself extremely fortunate to be the Lee Lee's Valise of publishing.

The only thing he could bet thinking is that I would be embarrassed or something for fat high school kids to want to read my books. But I definitely hold the belief that fat kids are a tragically under-served market, and it is absolutely my intention to put out more material that they can read and relate to.

As a fat teen (and while most teens are not fat, a hell of a lot of them feel fat in a negative way), I basically got shut out of YA reading specifically because there was nothing for me there.

Even though I could usually identify with the main character through universals, there was always so much fat shaming that it made it difficult to get to the end without feeling personally picked on. I couldn't really win. If there was a fat character, they usually hated themselves and either lost weight and became an amazing person or didn't lose weight and remained an object of hate or pity. I suppose there was also the wild card fat character who lost weight as part of a dramatic bitter revenge plot, but that's not someone you really want to be either. So I could chase the carrot, or be ashamed. Mostly, I just ended up feeling erased.

My entire family is supportive but thin, so they didn't really get it. I mean they tried, but they still bought into the notion that thin is just empirically better and would tell me that I could do and be anything while at the same time talking about how they couldn't do this or that until they lose five pounds (which never got easier to listen to) so there wasn't really anyone around to show me. I would have given anything for a Mercedes Jones or a Lauren Zizes* as a teen. Any possible glimpse of the notion that I could just be the person I wanted to be instead of putting life on hold so I could lose "the weight" and then become that person.

And the thing is that at one point I actually did lose a lot of weight and got the opportunity to test out my very own Fantasy of Being Thin, and it is just that. I was still exactly the same person, save for I was slightly less self-conscious in public situations. And it wasn't until I realized how truly boring it is to obsess about everything that goes into your mouth and exercise for four hours a day that I could see what a ridiculous Sisyphean climb it all really is.

I mean, by the time I lost weight I had already lived on three different continents and visited lots of other countries. I spoke three languages and had personally made a difference in a number of peoples' lives. I had already met the love of my life. And somehow I kept telling myself that as long as I was fat, I wasn't living up to my potential and I just never should have felt that way.**

So yeah, if I can have a career where a bunch of fat kids (or fat adults for that matter) read my books and it helps them feel less alone or more powerful or like maybe they can be fat and exactly who they want to be all at the same time, I'll never consider that "the bad news."

* I freely admit Glee often misses the mark on fat issues, but I love them anyway because those characters are awesome and at least they're trying.

** I'm not actually as in love with myself as that makes me sound, but I have had the opportunity to do some cool things and I spent the first twenty-three years of my life not appreciating that at all because I was bummed about my jeans size. I don't want that for anyone else.

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