Season 2 Episode 2 Transcript: “Where Are All The Fat People In Picture Books?”

Picture Bookstagang Podcast

Transcript Season 2 Episode 2

“Where Are All The Fat People In Picturebooks?”  

0:36 C: Hello and welcome back to the picture bookstagang podcast where we are now in  Episode Two of season two, I am one of your hosts, and my name is Corrie.

 0:47 K: Kelly, my pronouns are she her.

0:52 A: I am Ale  and my pronouns are she they.

 0:54 C: Mine are she they too. Now that we all know who all of us are let’s hop into the very large topic. All the puns intended of today’s episode which is fat phobia and picture books, and where all the fat people in picture books?

 Luckily you may have seen Ale’s beautiful post. A few days ago about this very topic and I know she has some great stats to throw at you. So without any further ado, let’s figure this out.

1:28 A” So yeah, so if you follow us on Instagram, which I hope you do, if not hit that follow

 Yeah, I do something called #LIBRARIANFIGHTCLUB about once a week. and this past week. Now, I did Where are all the fat people in picture books, and this was something that the three of us were just kind of talking about last week and we were like, whoa, hold on a second. Where are all the fat people? And, you know, So then I went into this bigger dive in trying to find them. And, and learning more about fat phobia in our society and everything is connected it is blowing my mind, especially considering like two out of three American adults are considered overweight by the medical system. So, given that most people are fat. Why can’t we find any of them in picture books and what does that mean?

2:37 k: So, this is something that, you know, as, as a fat person as a plus size human being. For my whole life I’ve always noticed. And it’s something I’ve made an effort to point out in my reviews and if you are paying close attention, very close attention because it’s few and far between when I’m even able to point out, I do pointed out even when it is not the central focus of the book that there is a fat character. But there is just, there’s so few. And, you know, I understand that, as a person who grew up fat that there’s just no mirror, and most children. That would be made fun of at school for being fat because I think one of the things that we’re going to delineate here is the fact that BMI as an indicator of being overweight is a bunch of baloney.

But, you know, when you’re actually a child who’s made fun of for being fat actually appears fat.

Rather than being medically overweight, you, you have a lot of shame that’s carried with that and then there’s absolutely no media at all that exists that has a positive representation of your body back, the only representation you get is, as comic relief, or as these very serious mature old with it. That’s about it.

4:04 It’s all it very, very few books, and when we do find them, they’re always grandmotherly type characters as we will point out to you and one of the reasons that this seems to be the case is.  And we have to do a little bit of, like, extrapolating on what we already know because there is no research on this at all. even when people are looking for diversity in picture books so there are a few studies that track diversity of representation in picture books, and one of them is, by the cooperative children’s book center, and they look at disability representation LGBT q representation, you know, black indigenous Asian Pacific Islander, but one thing they aren’t tracking is fat people, and it’s it’s really puzzling to me why that wouldn’t be on anyone’s radar, considering when we’re looking at black folks. Technically, 59% of non Hispanic black women are considered obese. So, how can you have black representation and be saying, Okay, this is Black representation when you’re only going to be drawing thin people. It doesn’t make sense. There’s just just whole blind spot when we’re talking about fat representation, and the fact that it’s visible.  And part of that problem I think might be this whole idea of glorifying obesity, which is is definitely something that gets said a lot.

 5:36 C: I totally agree with you i think it does get said a lot and I also think we, of course don’t have time to fully unpack this but let’s just start with some truths that the BMI is rooted in anti Blackness and it also does not signify somebody’s health status whatsoever. And in fact, fat phobia in general is rooted in anti-Blackness. And if you’re interested, you can read the book, “Fearing the Black Body”, which will be in the notes down below, and that discusses more about that.

6:10 K:  And I’ll just pull it the factory that I know that that Corrie loves which is that the BMI was invented by an astronomer. So it’s not a health indicator, it was invented around the time of phrenology and a bunch of weird pseudosciences that were created by white men in the name of separating whiteness for blackness.  And, and glorifying a standard of a white male body. So, there are multiple layers to that issue in that it completely disregard so anybody that is not white it completely disregard anyone that is not assigned male at birth. Which means that women are almost always weighted as being a higher BMI, due to the fact that we’re not as tall as men, as a rule.

So there’s like so many issues when you actually break it down that it’s actually criminal that any healthcare systems use BMI as any kind of an indicator. 

 So then you get into the levels of BMI and the words that they use to associate with it. Which, you know we’re all familiar with obese and morbidly obese, but then you get into super morbidly obese and things like that like the words are designed to make you think that that person is going to drop dead at any moment.  So, All that can possibly do is create negative connotations with anybody.  That is not hyper thin.

7:45 C: So, and there is of course also the conflation with a hyper thin body structure as a pillar of health as somebody that needs to be. I don’t quite know if sanctified is the right word but you know they need to be rewarded for this because clearly they’re doing something right.   So, if we have all of this nonsense swirling all around in our cultural soup. It’s sort of no wonder that we don’t see this reflected positively in picture books.

8:19 K: And then we get into the culture around children and healthiness so and I think that’ll lead Ale into the next part.

8:22 A: Well, that actually one of the big things with this is his back to the whole idea of case so people believe the BMI is like a legitimate thing people believe that how, like, low weight equals good health. And part of this also then becomes Okay, anybody who is has a high, you know, their BMI is not good that anyone who is fat they’re unhealthy.  There is a certain association of morality that now comes into it and choice. There’s this belief that people who are fat. This is like a lifestyle choice that you know they you know they know what they should be doing and they’ve made choices to stay fat to become fatter.  And so, unlike a lot of other things that we look at when we’re talking about diversity. When it comes to being fat, people are seeing this as a morality as a lifestyle choice, and there is a lot of dispute around fat positivity and the body acceptance movement because people who are who are very into the BMI is everything are saying, No, you shouldn’t accept that your fatness, it is wrong, and to accept it is essentially, you know, glorifying obesity anything that could be saying that ‘oh it’s okay to be fat’ is often attacked as glorifying obesity and that is when we get into children’s media.

 And this strange invisibility of fatness and I think part of it is this avoidance of that whole issue.

10:15 K: Yeah, so you know, I get into things like healthy food choices and and and putting this morality on children on if they should be allowed to have a piece of cake after dinner, or if they should stick with their salad and things like that and the obesity

 crisis and children and ba ba ba ba ba above all these sensational headlines that I think we’re all used to seeing and hearing, and the problem is it doesn’t take into account how resourced the community that child lives in his or their family income levels

food deserts. I’m not even, that’s a whole other episode that we could get into, but access to food and and resources and money is a huge portion of that genetics is a whole other piece that can’t be ignored and, and at the end of the day, more and more, actual medical professional professionals, not astronomers are saying that we can all be healthy at any size and this is actual science. not Instagrammers  And, and that’s, that’s something really important to remember that doesn’t mean that fat people are not discriminated against to the doctor because certainly I have been many times. And it doesn’t mean that we as fat humans don’t have all kinds of internalized fat phobia that we have to work through on a daily basis.  And then society isn’t completely filled with fat phobia absolutely every single turn. But what can we do as people who are raising small humans. What can we do to combat that societal expectation that idealized thinness and and how can we bring more positive representation into children’s media particularly picture books because that’s, that’s our favorite thing.  And, you know, one of the things I think we noticed very quickly is that there’s no representation, but when there is representation it’s one particular type of book.

12:24 A:  Yeah. So, we with all of the books that we’ve looked through and a lot of suggestions that people have given us there seem to be too well really two types of books so number one is the ‘please don’t develop an eating disorder type book’ or body books, where it’s basically like, here are a bunch of bodies. They’re all good bodies. Okay. Good night. There’s not really a story that’s, that is what it is

12:50 K:  Special topic books, their special time very good thing. A very special episode of. Yeah, Yeah, bodies.

13:00 A: So like the bare naked book which actually my toddler really likes this book, it’s really well done.

13:05 K: It’s the Bare Naked book is a beautiful book and it came out in the 80s and it’s been redone and they’ve updated the illustrations and I think, you know, when I reviewed it one of the most remarkable things me was that it had people of all ages into all sizes, and not just all sizes but with actual lumps and rolls and stretch marks and like bodies that actually look like mine scars and disabilities and hair of every color like you know and and every race and sexuality and and trans humans and all of it. There’s I’ve never seen a book that has such thoughtful inclusions, not just tokenism it’s like really truly concrete thoughtful inclusions. And, you know, that’s when I want to buy a book that’s about bodies and body parts and all of that and gender and those sort of things. That’s what I want to see when I see naked kids in a book, rather than the stick figure humans. Here is a boy who has short brown hair and here’s a girl who has two blonde pigtails. That’s not human beings to me

14:16 C: And eyelashes.  All the girls need eyelashes boys don’t have eyelashes we should always remember that

14:20 K: That’s what their actual gender binary is girls have eyelashes. And boy’s don’t,

 So, um, but there, but they’re these like straight thin figured, two bodies right beside each other a boy and a girl there’s no in between the The Barenaked book brings in so much more nuance and one of the most important things to me is seeing this family representation of, you know, parents that actually look like me in a book that I can then share with my child. It’s like revolutionary. So I do really care about that in that book because that is a book that isn’t about fat bodies, it’s just about bodies and includes fat bodies, then you get into some books that are like all about body diversity. And so the point of that book is then to show, then bodies and fat bodies and disable bodies and just, these are a bunch of bodies it’s not about body parts

 learning about the body or anything like that.

 They fall in my heart a little bit more into that tokenism category.

And so, I still have a little bit like I love them because there’s nothing else.

 But I also don’t, don’t thrill me the same way.

15:37 A: I’m going to be honest I don’t really do it for me. 

15:39 K: I know they don’t do it for you because they’re not about dragons.

15:42 A: Hey, you know, it’s just that I need a story, I do. And I want, I want to see fat kids in a story.

K: Me too!  That’s what I want and I know you want as well, 

A: But it’s just it’s this is not enough for me a bunch of naked people lined up in a role is not going to be enough for me. And, and also, but however what I was researching these kinds of books, I found that there’s actually a whole bunch of them, just that we haven’t read a lot of them. And I looked into it and I could see why. And most of them have bodies and good in the title, and they all look exactly the same except they’ve added some wheelchairs 

16:26 K :This isn’t tokenism 

A: Bodies and then a wheelchair, and the same body 

16:33 K:  there’s only one disability and it’s having a wheelchair, that I have to be clear because this is a podcast that’s absolute sarcasm because people who use wheelchairs have a variety of different disabilities. But, like, its prime tokenism and people who have disabilities are only a small percentage wheel chair users and have all kinds of different bodies and mobility aids, 

A: and they’re not all girls, 

K: and they’re not all girls!

17:04 A:  But for some reason, in the picture books they are always really pretty girls, 

K: I know 

C: They heard the word intersectionality once, and that’s what they chose. they were like, oh, intersecting identities,

K: part of the issue with this is that we know that book publishers are trying to build marketable books. So they it’s more to their benefit to have an attractive person on the cover when you’re talking about body.. So, you know, so we were into this whole issue of marketability and then, and then we get into the morality issue of fat people, which I’m going to add that we didn’t say at the top of the show, but just say fat, saying fluffy and curvy just say fat, fats the right word.

 Fine. I think that there’s a secondary issue which the three of us have talked about before, and it’s that I don’t think a lot of illustrators are taught to illustrate fat bodies, especially not in realistic thoughtful, non comical ways.

18:08 A: I think actually, you know, looking at these at these illustrations I think that it might be partly because a lot of these illustrator styles are very cartoony, and how does that translate onto a fat body like is there an immediate like connotations associated with that sort of style whereas with something like, Jessica Love’s style with Julián is a Mermaid and who Julián at the wedding.  The grandmother and that story so that’s one of the books where there is some great fat representation with his grandmother who’s the stylish beautiful older woman like very dignified big presence and, but her style of art is very realistic, but also almost like an impressionist painting, like there’s something very beautiful like a halo around all of it.  And would that would that story have translated in like a really cartoony style with the same like feeling. Just wondering.

19:26 K: think one of the things that stands out to me about Julián books, is that even though one of our issues, as a rule is that the only fat representation tends to be old matronly women cooking or eating one or the other.  And that is a difference with the Julian books, and she is very beautiful and she carries herself with a lot of grace, and there’s just, and she’s stylish like she’s not dowdy she’s just a fat woman who’s beautiful like just stunning and stunning in in aura and personality and everything. And that speaks to the writing it speaks to the illustration style giving her expression in her face, and it speaks to the fact that she’s not written as being like comedic relief right so.

 And that, to me, even as we went through all the books that people commented on your post.  Some of them are amazing books, but I still think a lot of them were really playing into this old woman cooking food, no matter the art style some of the art styles are very beautiful like “Thank you Omu”  yeah absolutely gorgeous art style it’s not overly

cartoony It is a very expressionists sort of, but it is still an older woman cooking food and providing food to everyone in the neighborhood, I adore that book.  It’s just not the same thing.

21:08 A: Yeah pretty much all of the books that anyone could come up with that had a fat person and like we said they’re all older ladies, they’re all about food and even have food in the title so like FREEDOM SOUP

FRY BREAD, WHAT”S COOKING AT 10 GARDEN STREET, which has a whole selection of people were kind of quibbling over this because I was like, some of them aren’t that old, but they’re pretty old so 

21:32 K: there’s no children I think would be the major point.

21:34 A:  There’s no children and some and all of these are actually beautiful books, they’re all beautifully done. And, you know, the dignified the representation is dignified, but there’s no children for sure.  Now there are a couple of examples where there are fat children in books so A GIRL LIKE YOU is one example, by Frank Murphy, Carla Murphy and illustrated by Kayla Harren, and that one isn’t a body book, but it is about, like it’s not a story either it’s

21:40 K: It’s like about. It’s a, it’s affirmations, and they’re beautiful books and they’re incredibly well done and I think Corey will agree with me that.

22:40 C:  Kayla Harren has a very real. She has a very realistic style. Yeah, so every I think every character in that book just has like a lot of life to them and there are actually fat girls in that book which is wonderful.  I love Kayla Harren style. So I have only read the books that she’s done like A BOY LIKE YOU, A TEACHER LIKE YOU. But every time I open one of those books.  I always see people that I have never seen in books before, which I think is, even though it’s not like a narrative story I think what she’s doing with the illustrations is pretty revolutionary because it’s a huge array of just human bodies, and none of them are mentioned, like what the bodies look like it’s you know the affirmation sort of that almost poetry, I guess. I know she’s done a handful of other books. I just haven’t read any of the other ones.  But I can’t imagine that her art style would shift dramatically from what she draws in that series versus any of our other books.

23:36 C: I think when I open those books I see more of a representation of like a classroom that actually looks like a real classroom of kids are like you know an actual Girl Scout troop that has all kinds of different kids like, you know, a group of kids that

I would actually see in my city playing in a school yard.  So, you know that they, they have a diverse representation of their gender presentation of their body size of their race of their ethnic ethnicity, and so on and so forth.

24:10 A Well that actually brings  me think of the new release Lakshmi’s mooch which is by Shelley Anand and now Nabi H. Ali le, and it came out just I think last month.

 It’s just a beautiful story, and it includes bodies of all sizes, and it’s about normalizing body hair, but it is an actual narrative story. 

24:40 K: Yeah, and I think what I find remarkable about that book is it is a story about body to body positivity in that like normalizing body here. But I think the kind of message can be applied to many different types of body positivity. Not only that, but I think what stands out to me is that the illustrator does have more of that cartoony illustrative style, rather than the more realistic style that Kayla Harren has but he, he has given everyone, a very distinct body. So there’s three main characters and they all have different body shapes one of them’s thinner, you know, they’re all different.

 And I think what I see far too often in that more cartoony illustrated style is that every child in the book has the same body with a different head on top,

25:25 A: a different color shirt right 

K: Yeah, definitely.

25:32 A: It definitely that is the case and one is I think the really the limitations of that kind of style is that it’s really hard to do. Diverse representation, when every single person actually is really just the same in slightly different color on every like element, you know, 

K: but I think Nabi has proven that that doesn’t have to be the case 

A: that is true, but you know what I think that there is something very special about.

But the illustrations in Lakshmi’s Mooch, and I think it really the style goes beyond cartoony for me. I think it’s.  There’s a lot of detail that you don’t often see there’s a lot of movement in the lines, it’s very organic, it’s honestly just it’s just beautiful and I can’t recommend that book enough so please go buy it.

26:21 K: Everyone should buy that book, everyone, including Corey, 

26.29 C: you know I haven’t read it yet but I should. There’s so many good books to read. 

26:33 K: So one that’s coming out next year and I think that kind of sparked a lot of this conversation is, or it’s coming out in the fall, I should say, is BEAUTIFULLY ME by Nabila Noor , and also by the same illustrator as LAXMI’S MOOCH, by the way.

C: NABI! Nabi’s crushing it

27:10 K: Nabi’s crushing it, he’s gonna have three or four books coming out this year total. So, um, so again, that is, I’m going to say, in my opinion, the first Own Voices fat protectiveness book out there.

C: I’m super excited for this book, it’s being published by Simon and Schuster.  It’s coming out soon.

K: September yeah so I’m like, if I could say that I was just about a book this year.

I had a long list in the winter, that’s my one for the fall. That’s like my one for the fall but I’m just about. 

27:50 A: Well, it’s interesting too because one of the things. Is it this one is about, you know, accepting her body right it’s a it’s a body acceptance type story, 

K: We think so, but yeah, I believe so, there is a confidently fat child on the front cover, which is unheard of.

28:00 A: One of the things that has come up to me, come up.  I think that one of the things that has come up while discussing this the last couple of weeks.  In my conversations with @storybookcook. So, if you’re not already following at storybook cook she is wonderful Karly-Lynne is a PhD candidate, and she is also a bookstagrammar she focuses on sort of middle readers and YA, especially around eating disorders, and this whole account has been part of her own healing process, as she recovers from her own eating disorder, so she is very well versed in this whole topic, and there really is a lot more around fatness and body diversity and and the culture  around it and dealing with it and everything like that in slightly older books but with picture books like we can sit here and be like yeah that one book that’s coming out this September yeah and that is it. It’s, it’s, honestly, very odd, 

29:04 K: It’s it’s tough and I know this is something that Karly-Lynne could speak to with much more authority.  I’m speaking from a place of, like, existing in a fat body on a day to day basis, and and longing for that representation. I think it’s coming, but I think part of that is that the body positivity movement has gained a lot of speed in the last two years like very short period of time.  But part of the reason that it has gained a lot of speed is that it’s been co opted by a lot of thin white women. And that is tough to see because that is again taking the spotlight away from fat humans, when all of these than women have kind of CO opted the body positivity movement so now it’s like okay well let’s get a few fat kids out there, in, in some media but I don’t I don’t know that that’s enough. And one of the points that I know that Ale will drive home until the last day of her life, is that she wants more fat characters going on adventure requests with Dragons.

30:06 A: Yeah, like come on, especially like for me. I’m not a big nonfiction person. I like a good fiction fantasy type narrative I like a story, and it’s just sad. It’s sad because it. That is the one kind of like the whole, the whole lot like what we, what do you call it the siege against against, you know, diversity diversifying representation and kid it.

 And I feel like we’re getting a lot of these issue type stories that are that are, you know, having more diverse representation, but that kind of like classic fiction bedtime story, it is still really dominated by like animals, and white people, that’s, that’s like yeah, the nut to crack. And actually I was just as you were talking I just remembered, two more books that are not about food, but they do have some body diversity in terms of size, “My Hair” by Hannah Lee, and Alan Fatimaharen

C: that book is super cute.

31:30 A:   Not the child, but everybody else, not everybody but quite a lot of people and it’s not about food, which is why that one stands out.

31:39 K:  I have some anxiety about the food Association, always be with these more mature women that are cooking in the kitchen, because I think it’s very anti feminist, and I think that it is very much feeding into a narrative of the choice and morality narrative around fatness, which, if you are a fat person I think you understand that it’s really not a choice.  And it’s just the way that your body is and I could starve myself and I would still be a fat person and. 4 And in fact probably better because that’s a whole other thing. So, so I really have trouble with those and I sometimes it’s the reason that I sometimes have trouble with food books to be totally honest, and I. Yeah, there I have some feelings around that and I’m not even sure I can, particularly articulate every single one of them but I think it plays into that narrative of choosing to be fat because you enjoy food.  I think it plays into a narrative of food being a guilty pleasure that you should not enjoy. But the reality is we all need food to survive on a daily basis. And we should enjoy it while we’re eating it. There’s no reason not to enjoy food.

32:43 A: Well that was mind blowing.

32:50C: like can we do better than that?

33:05 K: Yeah I know you 

33:07 A: honestly, I had never really thought of you know that I love food books, more than I do know that you love food.  And well, I keep saying I love this I love that, I love a lot of things. One of them is food books, and I had never before, thought about that relationship between fatness morality and food before now, because to me food books have always just been purely  like what I associate with joy. And so it’s really interesting to me to see that.  Totally different frame on it of the, of that, it’s just processing it,

33:36 K: I think, I think for me and I mean, I’ll clarify because I mean this is an audio format as a podcast, but we’re all big ladies.

A: Yeah.

33:53 K: Yeah, I think I am the only one of the three of us, that is that is all the way plus size and many clothing blends. Do not make my size. So, so I think my, my lens there is like, I won’t let somebody take a picture of me eating and you’ll never find a picture of me eating on the internet because I have way too many feelings about how I feel that I will be perceived.  Because the only images and media that I’m used to have found people are associated with like eating cake. So like I just, I can’t, I can’t disassociate those feelings when I read food books and I understand that a central character is always this older fat woman.  I’ve never blown alleys by in the middle of recording a podcast. Well, no.

A: You did blow my mind, because it just now I see these books in a completely different light. And I’m like, just re thinking about them completely.

34:51 K: I think that’s one of the amazing things about recording this is that we’ve gone back and listened to some of our older episodes and even I’ve changed my mind since we’ve recorded them because information changes over time and perspectives change over time and, you know, I think one of the gifts of social media is getting a chance to hear other perspectives and, I think, perhaps, that might be a good place to end this episode before we talked for four hours because I know that we could talk

for four hours.

C: We could. I don’t know if my poor computer could handle that audio file. But we absolutely could. So, thank you so much for listening to the picture bookstagang podcast. I’m Corey, 

K: I’m Kelly.

A: I’m Ale

C:And all of our minds are blown. So we’re going to go to bed.

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