Who's Popular Now? Plus-Size Teen-Lit Heroes
More and more plus-size protagonists are popping up in teen literature, as girls and boys of all ages and sizes learn to accept their bodies.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1980, and more than 9 million American kids between the ages of 6 and 19 are overweight. That's a big audience for teen lit, and authors are taking notice, with titles like "This Book Isn't Fat, It's Fabulous" that feature teens who don't meet the stereotypical standard of beauty.
Elizabeth Sterling, an 18-year-old nursing student who writes the blog Diary of a Fat Teenager, told the Associated Press that she often struggled to find characters she could relate to when she was younger.
"The message that would come across to my young, insecure brain would be, `In order to do what they do, you need to look like them,'" she said.
The overweight boy is even more uncommon in teen lit, but that will end this fall when Allen Zadoff's new book, "Food, Girls and Other Things I Can't Have," hits the shelves.
Zadoff penned a tale about Andrew, an obese 15-year-old guy who longs to be a jock and fit in with the rest of the kids. When he gets his wish, he suddenly finds himself re-examining his priorities. The story is close to Zadoff's heart, because he, too, has struggled with body image.
"I was not just overweight. I was struggling with an eating disorder. I got larger and larger over time. No amount of dieting would fix the problem for me. I would lose weight and then gain it all back," Zadoff told the AP. The author shared his own story in a 2007 adult memoir, "Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Thin."
Kids seem to be responding to the heavier characters. Author Erin Dionne told the AP that she gets five or six letters a week from girls who connect with the protagonist in her novel, "Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies."
"Average-looking kids who don't have a weight problem can hide their issues behind a facade that is normal, whereas an overweight heroine is already dealing with other people's perception of her, whether that's the focus of a book or not," Dionne said. "It's something that the character has to deal with in some way."
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.