Fat Heroines in Chick-Lit
Gateway to Acceptance in the Mainstream?
There is one place in popular media where a fat woman gets a chance to star, and that is in novels of the Chick-Lit genre. Chick-Lit is defined by ChicklitBooks.com as a “genre comprised of books that are mainly written by women for women” (October 15, 2006). According to Chick Lit: The New Women's Fiction, edited by Suzanne Ferriss and Mallory Young (2006), the term was first used in 1995 in Chick-Lit: PostFeminist Fiction, edited by Cris Mazza (1996). Chick-Lit differs from the Romance genre by giving us female characters who consider finding love to be less important than finding themselves. It became famous with the 1999 novel Bridget Jones's Diary by British author Helen Fielding (later made into a hit movie), which features the slightly “chubby” and neurotic Bridget Jones, who is keeping a diary in the hopes of curing herself of all vices, losing weight, and getting a better life.
Among Chick-Lit novels there is a popular subgenre that Chick Lit Books refers to as “Bigger Girl Lit.” These novels feature a fat heroine not only looking for love and a better life but also peace with her body. In these books the fat girl is the leading lady and the thin girl plays the best friend. It was Jennifer Weiner's best seller Good in Bed (2001) that made it acceptable to have a fat lead character. The popularity of Good in Bed led to a string of similar books, including Conversations with the Fat Girl (Palmer, 2006), The Way It Is (Sanchez, 2003), and Alternative Beauty (Waggener, 2005). The protagonist of Good in Bed, Cannie, is fat, as opposed to Bridget Jones, who is closer to a socially acceptable weight. Both Bridget and Cannie suffer internal issues because they don't look like supermodels. For Cannie the pressure to conform is actually much worse. She has to deal with external issues linked to her weight, as evidenced through her receiving unwanted dieting advice, wading through poor family relationships, trouble finding clothes, dealing with frequent verbal abuse, and a trying to move up the ladder at her job.
Is the use of fatter characters in these novels positive or detrimental to the acceptance of fat bodies? Do the characters in the novels model acceptance or foster an obsession with weight? This chapter will examine five fat heroines in Chick-Lit novels: Cannie from Good in Bed, Ruby from The Way It Is, Ronnie from Alternative Beauty, Maggie from Conversations with the Fat Girl, and Serpentine from All of Me