Wren Murphy: Body Positivity and Plus-Size Representation in Fantasy

Fat women in fantasy. Where the heck are they?

Diversity is the current buzzword of the writing community, and more than ever, we are seeing such variety in our heroes and heroines, especially within fantasy fiction. However, one population seems to be lacking representation: plus-sized characters.

Body positivity is important, especially for plus-sized individuals. In the US alone, it is estimated that 70% of women wear a size 14 or larger, which means there are a lot of women out there searching for a mid or plus-sized heroine who looks like them. We know as both writers and readers that books provide us with an opportunity to escape into a new adventure, but can you imagine picking up book after book and reading about characters who don’t look like you?

According to the statistics, many of us can, and for women, this is a battle we have been fighting in fantasy fiction for some time now. The fantasy genre has notoriously provided a plethora of misogynistic and sexist depictions of female characters. Countless books show plain women as bad, and exotic, beautiful women as good, as if appearance is the only thing that matters when assessing a person. Automatically, our brains become hardwired the same way, but that’s not where this stops. 

Let’s take a closer look at fat women in literature.

Our culture has made us view the word “fat” as a negative, implying many things such as unhealthy lifestyles and unattractiveness. But the problem with how society has morphed our perception of plus-sized individuals is that fat is a word that should be used to only describe appearance, not to draw associations of negativity to fatness as we have been made to believe it does. In fact, even when many authors attempt to write plus-sized women into their fiction novels, we only see a handful of common themes repeating themselves—the character’s story focuses on their weight, they struggle with self confidence, they only get the love interest when they lose weight, and they are often bullied for their appearance. Additionally, not many plus-sized characters are in the spotlight. Most are slotted as secondary characters, usually for comedic relief, a villain, or even a lady of the night. Terms such as voluptuous or curvy are used to describe them in an effort to take away the negative connotations of their fatness, making them seem more palatable to the general reader.

Ironically, I feel most of this padding pushes us deeper into the muck instead of helping us out of it.

Let it be clear: not every fat person struggles with acceptance of their weight, and size should not deem a character unworthy of saving the world. Isn’t it time that we do better with this and ask for more? 

To all of my fellow authors, this is a cry for help. Write us a story with a fat main character and give that character a story arc that does not center around their weight! Make them strong, confident, and fierce. Let them wield longswords and ride on the backs of dragons. Sweep us off our feet with an epic romance, but please do not fall into the trap of pulling the character’s size out as a central theme. You wouldn’t do that if your character was thin, would you? Again, fat is a word used to describe someone’s appearance. Why does it have to be such a bad thing?

I wanted to round out this piece by dropping a few books from our Romantic Fantasy Shelf Authors (and some others too!) which feature plus-size main characters who do not have a plot focusing on their weight or weight loss. 

First up is the ever popular From Blood and Ash by Jennifer L. Armentrout. This story features Poppy, who is described as mid- or plus-size by the author herself. Armentrout is quite vocal on this point, even posting in her reader group to remind people to remove the phrase “curvy but not fat” from their vocabulary. While there is some discussion around Poppy’s fatness not being obvious in the first book of the series, I still think this one is worth giving a shot.

Next is Crowning Courtship by Jaycee Jarvis. This is book 4 (and the finale) of The Hands of Destin, a romantic fantasy series. The story follows Aurelia, a jaded healer, as she is lured into a dangerous scheme by a runaway prince, and already I am intrigued. From Jarvis herself, Aurelia is plus-sized, and the hero talks lovingly about her soft rounded belly and lush thighs. Bonus points: her size is not a plot point. Be sure to add this one to your TBR.

 

Third is Nina Zenik from Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. Not only is Nina a total powerhouse and strong woman, her figure is quite obviously plus-size. She is described by another character as “built like the figurehead of a ship carved by a generous hand”. She has a love for sweets, and is known to be flirty, bold, and loud. If you haven’t read the duology yet (or started watching Shadow and Bone on Netflix), be sure to do so. It’s a solid YA/Adult fantasy read. 

If you like reverse harem and alien romance, check out Amanda’s Rescue by Paulina Woods. This is a standalone installment in Woods’s Nexella Others series. Amanda is a fierce black woman who is a size 24 and her weight is not the central plot of the story. In fact, according to Woods, there is more acceptance of the character’s size than anything. I have yet to read this one, but based on the reviews, it looks like a nice quick read.

I would like to note that creating this list was very difficult because of how little representation there is out there. However, I reassure you that this is a known issue within the fantasy and fantasy romance genres, and I expect more stories to pop up with plus-size characters very soon. In fact, a whole movement started on TikTok to incorporate plus-size characters in all genres of fiction, and it is gaining more and more traction every day. 

Do you have a fantasy or fantasy romance book recommendation featuring a plus-size character? If so, let us know in the comments below, and be sure to use #fatgirlsinfantasy when you post your plus-size fantasy or fantasy romance recommendations on social media. 

About the Author

When Wren was a little girl, she never wanted to be a writer. However, the spark for creating stories lit in the back row of a high school history class, and passing notes to her best friends led her to create her very first character. She has been weaving fantastical tales ever since.

Wren fondly calls the corn fields of north central Indiana home, but currently resides in Western New York with her four children – her daughter, her husband, and her two dogs. Pharmacist by day, author by night, she wears many hats, which also means she takes up most of the closet space. Obsessed with elephants, cute video games, and books, she is also addicted to social media, much to her husband’s chagrin.

Writer of romance, fantasy, and romantic fantasy, her stories feature strong, relatable heroines, swoon-worthy heroes, and nail biting escapades. Sometimes, if you look close enough, there’s even a dragon or two.

Reach her at:

 

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