Fat Representation in Romance: Counter-Programming with Fat Romances

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January is my least favorite month.

Every January, the steady stream of people hating their bodies intensifies into a deluge. Nonstop weight loss ads fill my tv screen and social media feed, promising dramatic, if unlikely, results. At gatherings, the delicious holiday cookies from December have been replaced with tasteless grain-free hockey pucks. Inevitably at least one family member will talk incessantly about their diet, while looking askance at my body. And I’m grumpy because my usual exercise spots are suddenly packed with new people loudly complaining about their “bad” and “ugly” bodies. By St. Patrick’s Day, I know diet culture will have melted down to its usual toxic hum, and I can drink my Guinness in relative peace.

In times of trouble, I turn to books. Instead of silently stewing all January, this year I decided to focus on books with positive representations of fat bodies, and most importantly, zero dieting.

This is surprisingly difficult. Diet culture is ever present in romance and characters reflexively police their eating. I read a lesbian romance recently where the heroine ordered a piece of lamb pie, and then spent two paragraphs explaining why she was allowed to eat pie. You see, she hadn’t eaten all day. She usually wouldn’t order anything this heavy. She was required to sample the pub menu as part of her job. The pie wasn’t that tasty anyway. And she immediately thought afterwards that it wasn’t the sort of thing she’d ever want to eat outside of winter, that magical season when one is allowed to eat pie.

This is what happens when we assign moral value to a basic human function, eating. Just eat your damn pie.

Many romance novels with fat main characters have plus-sized heroines who are deeply uncomfortable with their bodies, and feel unworthy of love. In these stories, the heroine’s self-acceptance relies on her thin lover to convince her that she’s beautiful. There’s nothing wrong with these books, and I have often enjoyed them. But I’m tired of only reading stories where a character’s fatness is central to the plot, as though it’s a character flaw they have to overcome. Just like I celebrated when queer romances moved beyond only coming out stories, I’m so glad we have plenty of romance novels with resilient fat characters, and narrative conflicts unrelated to their size.

My fat-positive books party has been the perfect antidote to my January blues. I’ve been tweeting about it all month, and wanted to share a few of my favorite contemporary romances with the Bitchery. In the future, I’ll be sharing fat-positive books in other sub-genres, so let me know if there’s something you’re looking for!

 


A | BN | K | AB

If the Boot Fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon

I have yet to read a Weatherspoon novel that isn’t diet-free. She’s a national treasure, and this contemporary Cinderella retelling is one of my favorites.

A mistreated celebrity assistant scores a ticket to a swanky Hollywood party, and ends up falling for a famous actor who has no idea who she is. If you are looking for a fat heroine who loves her body, and has zero baggage about her size, this is your book. The heroine is confident about her appeal, even as she’s embarrassed by her job.

 


A | BN | K | AB

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

Olivia Dade excels at writing fat characters, and Teach Me has one of my favorite heroines, a guarded middle-aged teacher who fiercely advocates for her students. Rose has plenty of obstacles to trusting Martin, the new teacher in school who keeps accidentally making her life more difficult. But none of them are about her hating her body. Rose knows her worth and I loved that she initially pursues Martin.

I also adored the way Teach Me gently showed Rose conquering fatphobic microaggressions at work. And Rose and Martin’s emotional intelligence is off the charts! There is much magical adult communication. I’m hopelessly inept at office politics, so I loved seeing these two navigate a bullying situation with ease.

 


A | K

Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly

This low-conflict novella is set in a super-queer karaoke club, where a chubby non-binary professor falls for a fat vet admin assistant who can belt out tunes. I read it TWICE, that’s how cute these two are. I wouldn’t change a single word.

There’s mutual crush that sparks over tipsy late night flirting. And many karaoke love songs. Sam, the professor, is shy and extremely kissable, and I loved watching Lily bring them out of their shell. Lily is an aspiring fashion designer, and my favorite part of the story was how she helps Sam find clothing that fits their gender dreams.

 


A | BN | K

Role Model by Rachel Reid

I cannot emphasize how hard it is to find m/m romances with fat characters who aren’t self loathing. So I’m very grateful for this grumpy/sunshine story about a chubby former apple farmer and a hockey star in need of redemption.

The Game Changers series has been one of my faves since I devoured Heated Rivalry, but there’s been very little size diversity until this installment. Role Model has plenty of angst and an epic coming out scene that made me cry like a baby! Yes, I know I said I’m over coming out stories, but I’m nothing if not inconsistent.

 


A | BN | K | AB

Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

It’s hard to decide which Hibbert book is the most fat positive. But I’ve loved Get A Life, Chloe Brown since I saw Chloe’s cankles on the cover, and the Brown Sisters trilogy is one of my most frequent rereads.

This is the book equivalent of receiving an orgasmic foot rub while wearing a Snuggie and drinking hot cocoa with extra marshmallows. It’s a witty rom-com with a prickly heroine who is worried about her chronic illness, not her size, being pursued by Red, a mushball hero prone to rescuing little old ladies. There’s lots of extremely sexy caretaking: He cooks, he cleans, he pleasures! However, there were a couple of points where Red picks Chloe up and carries her, which is something I tend to side-eye with fat characters.

 


A | BN | K | AB

Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory

This and While We Were Dating are my favorite Guillory books. This celebrity romance has a lawyer who’s new to town, being pursued by California’s heartthrob Senator.

The heroine is closer to curvy than fat, but I struggle to think of a more anti-dieting book. The couple eat their way across Los Angeles, and much of their courtship happens over food. There’s not one, but two, grand gestures involving pastry. However, I feel honor bound to warn you that the sex scenes are lackluster.

 


A | K

Their Troublesome Crush by Xan West (Z”l)

There’s no sex in this book, but there’s plenty of swoony romance and mutual pining.

In this queer polyamorous novella, an autistic trans man and a disabled cisgender woman are in a dominant/submissive relationship with the same person, when they realize they’re also attracted to one another. Both main characters are fat, and the descriptions of their bodies are vivid and appreciative. The tone of this low-conflict story is earnest and sweet, with plenty of careful communication about kink.

 

As I’ve been reading this month, I’ve noticed that by consistently pairing fat heroines with thin partners, many m/f romances are unwilling to diverge from the expectation that heroes must be thin, muscular and able-bodied. I guess this is supposed to give me, as a fat reader, an opportunity to experience the fantasy of secondary social approval, of being accepted because you have a privileged partner. This is partly why I love the subversion of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Xeni, which has a fat hero.

January isn’t over, and I’m still looking for more fat positive books to read.

Bitchery, what are your faves? And does anyone know where I can get a copy of the sadly out of print Soft on Soft?

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