According to my Goodreads account, I’ve read approximately 240 books, most of which were young adult literature. One of the broadest genres, YA covers a lot of ground. So why is it so hard to find a plus-sized protagonist? I’ve been overweight most of my life, and I’ve searched through all the book racks for a character that was like me: a protagonist that wasn’t the comic relief secondary character or a nonessential character that everyone picked on. I’ve found characters that were “average” and kind of like me, but those characters always turn out to be in the category of “hot and doesn’t know it.” By the end of the book the most attractive and sought-after boy falls in love with the “average” girl and she realizes her potential.
For those in the younger generation who are plus-sized, who do they look up to? The only character I found when I was younger was Colie Sparks, Sarah Dessen’s protagonist in Keeping the Moon. If you haven’t read Keeping the Moon, it is about Colie losing weight and learning to deal with her insecurities with her appearance and boys. In the end, Colie learns to love herself and gets a boyfriend. The book taught me two lessons: first, that losing weight doesn’t automatically give you confidence, and second, I needed to lose weight to have a boyfriend and adventures. The second may be extreme, but after reading book after book featuring a thin protagonist who always gets a boyfriend at the end of the story, it felt true.
It’s not just teen romance; it’s other categories under the YA lit umbrella. I’ve never come across a plus-sized male protagonist. Having characters that aren’t diverse in appearance is harmful to the younger generation, especially considering the damage poor body image can have. Watching TV, flipping through magazines, and surfing social media sites, children and teens are bombarded with images of how they should look. Reading is supposed to take you out of the real world and away from those images, and yet they still intrude into what should be a safe haven. Having characters that don’t differ in size is shutting out a readership that could benefit from a positive outlook on the way they look.
I’ve always wondered who started and who could change this trend. Authors split the responsibility with society and publishers. I’m sure there are authors who write characters that are diverse in body image, but they’re not being published in any significant quantity. If society didn’t have extreme views of how people should look, maybe we would get more realistic novels; and if publishers acquired more books that had plus-sized protagonists, the younger generation who are plus-sized and read young adult literature would have someone to look up to.