Fat Girl in a Strange Land: Why this theme for an anthology?

Yesterday, CGP announced that we’re open for submissions to a new anthology, titled Fat Girl in a Strange Land. From the description:

In line with our mission to publish progressive speculative fiction, we’re opening for submissions to our Fat Girl in a Strange Land anthology. For it, we’re seeking science fiction and fantasy short stories with fat female protagonists going places they’ve never been before.

Fat can’t just be a passing detail of the main character’s physical description. It should have an impact on the plot and character development. Just like in real life, fat should be an asset or a liability, or even more realistically, both over time.

Fat shouldn’t be the only thing the main character has going on. She has a life, responsibilities, and plans. Strange Land could be part of that, or it could interfere with that (or both), but either way, the consequences will affect her life globally.

Because Strange Land stories are adventures, there should be risk involved. The stakes should be high for her, just like they are for all adventurers. Also, the Strange Land may or may not be a physical location. It could take the form of a major shift in perspective, or some other dramatic alteration of her existing landscape.

Although speculative fiction is all about navigating uncharted territory, fat remains a relatively unexplored frontier. With Fat Girl in a Strange Land, we’re taking fat places it’s never been before.

There’s been some great reaction so far, with a lot of people expressing desire to submit stories. It’s been talked about a bit too, with some interesting conversations about fat, what it means to write fat characters, is it different than writing thin characters, can thin people write fat well, and so on. On Twitter, @BeritEllingsen asked me “What was the reason you wanted to do an anthology about this particular theme?”

The answer is a bit too complicated for 140 characters, hence the blog post. Normally CGP-related posts go on the CGP blog, but this is as much personal as it is business, so I decided to tackle it here.

First, the title actually comes from a series of stories Kay wrote some time ago. Those stories were all fiction, not science fiction. But it was exactly what we wanted as the theme for the anthology so we cheerfully appropriated it.

So: Why a fat-themed anthology? All you have to do is browse the science fiction/fantasy section at a bookstore to know. How many fat characters are on the covers? If you find any at all – and it’s very hard – they’re usually the villain, or the doddering grandmother, or the comic relief. Fat people are never protagonists. In fact, look at future-scifi books and you might get the impression that in the future fat doesn’t exist any more.

And there have been numerous discussions in the SFF community in recent years about the number of skinny, scantily-clad women on book/magazine covers. While those discussions tended to focus on the exploitation and objectification of women, the dearth of overweight women in those covers didn’t escape notice.

We’ve had a few discussions about this over the past couple years, as recently as a week ago. Last week Kay wrote a post about fat in SFF for the Science in MY Fiction blog that sums up the reasons for the anthology pretty well:

Authors, we’re not doing anyone favors by dodging the facts of life. Fiction’s greatest purpose is to address reality in a way that frees readers to relate to it without suffering it directly. We certainly don’t make our writing any better by preempting the fat (or dark skin, or women, or children). If anything, we sabotage our stories by depriving our characters of experiences that matter to real people living in the real world.

This is of course all rooted in the stigmas of being fat. Fat is almost always used as an insult. Examples of positive fat characters or role models in popular culture are few and far between – hell, popular culture is actually structured around the thin-is-more-attractive idea. The conversation of why our culture is the way it is about fat is a long one and it would take forever to get into it all, but the lack of positive fat role models excludes an enormous percentage of people and reinforces the fat-is-bad/fat-is-unattractive idea. People end up stuck with those unfair stigmas.

Yes, stuck. Being fat isn’t usually a choice. But we treat it like it is.

Whenever I think about fat, it makes me think of a friend I had in high school who was incredibly thin – she constantly weighed under 100 pounds. And she ate a ton – she ate as much as me and I was a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier than her. She did it because if she didn’t eat that much, she dropped to dangerously underweight. Her metabolism was weird like that. Being thin wasn’t my HS friend’s choice – in fact it irritated her. Similarly, there are lots of reasons that people are fat, but by choice is almost never the reason.

And you know what? Why does it matter what the reason is? Naming reasons is like pointing fingers and assigning blame – but being fat isn’t bad. Except for the potential health problems with being overweight (our understanding of which could use some updating), there’s nothing wrong with being fat. But we treat it like a disgusting habit that the person is to weak-willed to give up (which is bullshit). And that just feeds the cycle of self-hatred.

The entire thin-as-ideal concept is absurd, anyway. It wasn’t so long ago in human history that larger women were sought after as wives. It’s only relatively recently that skinny became more widely socially preferable. But the primary driving reasons behind that – superficial appearance rather than health – are foolish.

As is always the case with us, we want CGP to encourage and promote discussion. And more importantly, we hate seeing any group of people excluded, and the omission of fat people in SFF doesn’t get enough attention. We’re publishing Fat Girl in a Strange Land to address that.

10 thoughts on “Fat Girl in a Strange Land: Why this theme for an anthology?”

  1. This anthology is a fantastic idea! Its true that there are far too few positive fat role models and heroes out there. It seems like so many people have such a negative view of overweight people and it has always kind of baffled me. And the idea that its all about someone’s health is often completely inadequate. My sexagenarian mother has such a skewed outlook that she’s too afraid of gaining weight and so won’t quit smoking. Thanks for taking on a complicated issue and turning it toward the positive.

  2. I think this is a worthy subject for an anthology; however, it’s not the first. “Such a Pretty Face” edited by Lee Martindale ( http://www.amazon.com/Such-Pretty-Face-Gene-Wolfe/dp/1892065282 ) is a solid anthology where each protagonist is fat, though not all are female. There is still plenty that can be written on the subject.

    And you’re right, it doesn’t matter what your reason is for this anthology other than it hasn’t been overdone.

    1. Well we didn’t think it was the first, and I’m glad to see a good antho that preceded it! And yes, there’s plenty that can still be written about fat characters. Hopefully the discussion about the antho and its subject will continue!

  3. Thanks so much for taking the time to make an in-depth reply to my question!

    I had an inkling as to why you had this call, but I wanted to hear which reasons you deemed as the most important ones.

    It’s impossible to disagree with what you say in the post, including the lack of positive role models in media.

    One of the few characters I can think of is Penelope Garcia, played by Kirsten Vangsness, in the crime TV series Criminal Minds.

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1494536/

    Penelope is at times comic relief, but she’s also the most computer savvy of the team, and she has solid social skills. The rest of the team rely on her competence and personality to succeed.

    She may not be the main protagonist we’d like to see, but I do find her a positive female role model.

    Forest Whittaker in Criminal Minds Suspect Behavior and Laurence Fishburne in CSI are both large men and capable protagonists. But it’s definitely less negative for a male character to be large than for a female character to be large.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the stories with large female protagonists and hope I can contribute.

    Love,
    Berit.

    1. Yes, part of the reason we decided to dedicate the antho to women & girls is because there’s a much larger stigma for fat women than for men.

      One other I can think of is Camryn Manheim, who played attorney Ellenor Frutt on the show “The Practice”. Manheim had a period of high popularity; she won an Emmy for “The Practice” and in her acceptance speech she said “This is for all the fat girls!” She also wrote a bestselling biography called “Wake Up, I’m Fat“.

  4. I don’t know how well-known she is outside the UK, but comedian and actress Dawn French has always been a big lady: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawn_French

    I was wondering why you decided to make the stipulation that being fat had to be integral to the plot in some way. Why single it out for special treatment instead of having it normalized simply as part of the main character, and thus demonstrate that body shape doesn’t dictate your destiny?

    This isn’t meant as a criticism, I would like to add. I’m simply curious.

    1. Well, for one thing: If we didn’t say that, then we’d get tons of submissions in which there would be a brief physical description and then no further mention. People could take stories they wrote with thin (or undescribed, which readers would assume were thin) characters and add a line or two & send them.

      It’s just a part of good storytelling that every detail worth mentioning should forward the story in some way. If you’re going to mention that a character is fat, that should be because it influences the story: otherwise, you’d save yourself some wordcount by taking it out.

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