Diversity in Libraries
A blog for exploring and discussing the topics of diversity and multiculturalism in libraries.

Comically Fat!

You have probably heard negative stereotyping examples towards African Americans, Hispanics, women, you name it, in literature. Little House on the Prairie for example carries a slew of negativity directed towards Native Americans. Don’t believe me? Just read Birchbark House in conjunction with it and look at the portrayals of Native Americans in both books. You have probably heard about the unfair portrayal of Native Americans in books so I’m not going to get into a debate over Little House on the Prairie. For now, I will let others try to get everyone’s attention for Native American rights in books. My question is: have you ever considered the negative portrayal of obese persons in books?

Shocking right? ‘Of course there isn’t any stereotyping of “fat” people because they are just fat and the author is merely describing that!’ Definitely not true. Elizabeth Blumie states that these stereotypes do exist and are prevalent in a large majority of books. Overweight people are either portrayed as villains or comical sidekicks with descriptions of ‘pig’ eyes and round faces. The media reflecting on U.S. culture has beaten this image into us so much that it is an inherent oversight. Have you ever seen the bad guy (Baron) in the 1984 Dune movie. Creepy! And society’s push for skinniness hasn’t changed much over the last 25 years, if anything being thin is more favored. This stereotype of fat bad guys is always more obvious in media but even then the image gets overlooked most of the time. Now imagine it in a book where words can be just as harmful as images.

As it stands, when an obese child reads a description of “fat” people, the only image that the child gets is of a disgusting being with only two options available to overweight people-either to be evil or comical. No one is that two dimensional.

Librarians need to be aware of such stereotyping in literature so that every person can be justly represented. We (those of us future or current librarians) may not be teachers per say; we aren’t teaching a book in depth to a class full of children and unintentionally bringing down a student who is overweight. But when we hand a book to a child in recommendation we are doing just that. Of course saying we should filter everything with such negative stereotypes is ridiculous. I am merely saying to be aware of the stereotypes towards overweight people and any other group, especially if a patron of the group typically stereotyped were to approach you.

For those of you who aren’t librarians or teachers, this still applies to you. After all, change ultimately comes from the public.



3 Responses to “Comically Fat!”

  1. Hey finally an article about us Fat Guys. Us Fat Guys never get the respect we deserve. But anyway….. back to the topic. As a fat guy I’m not offended when I see the penguin walking around in a batman comic book, or any fat guy villans. I understand that authors writing someone as fat lets the reader know that this person might be greedy and have no self control, not saying that all fat guys have these qualities. Authors could also be harking back to several years ago when villans were portrayed like the late 19th and early 20th century “robber barons.”

    Not that Im trying to put this article down at all, but it seems like people want to complain about everything. I understand that certain stereo types are used and I think its alright. I like the fact that if I’m reading a book and I see a cowboy, I can assume that he is an independent tough guy, or if I’m reading a book and I see a Preacher, I can assume that he is a sympathetic man who wants to help people.

    Stereotypes in literature are good, people just need to understand that the Indian trying to kill the cowboy in the western novel, is different from the Native American in real life.

  2. I’m a bit confused here. Since the parallel was brought up between obesity and race, are you suggesting that perhaps we should not recommend “To Kill a Mockingbird” to our African-American patrons because they might be offended by something in the book? Would you also suggest that we not recommend the Harry Potter series to a young, overweight male because of how Harry constantly talks about how disgusting his cousin is?

    If we’re doing our job correctly in Readers’ Advisory services, we should offer *all* suggestions to our patrons because we are ultimately not the judge of what they will or will not like (nor is our job in RA to simply push books at patrons).

  3. Thank you Monica for bringing this up. I am by no means in favor of censoring pretty much anything. I thought this topic was interesting to think about and bring to light because no one can ever know when such knowledge will be of use to patrons. After all, we acknowledge African Americans in literature where years ago they were either nonexistent or portrayed badly, we acknowledge LGBT in literature (well, America is getting there) where years ago they were seen in a similar light as African Americans were, we acknowledge that there is sexism towards women in literature. This ability to see such stereotypes helps librarians balance a collection that, hopefully, portrays as many sides of an issue as possible. That doesn’t mean we should get rid of every book that contains these negativities, but when doing programs or even for the librarians’ personal knowledge, being able to identify a stereotype of obese bad guys in a book would be as valuable as learning to see the other stereotypes I already mentioned. No one can predict how a book will affect a child. What if a little boy or girl, after reading a book, comes up to the librarian in the youth department and raises an issue about a certain character who is overweight and portrayed badly? What would that librarian be able to do if she/he was not able to see what the child was talking about and be able to reply? I would never refrain from recommending a book like Harry Potter to a child, but perhaps someday a library I work at could create a program dedicated to making people more aware of the subconscious ideal of thinness in America and this topic could be of use both for me and for the patrons who attend.

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