At Bookish, we’re big believers that representation matters, and author Maggie Ann Martin is definitely on the same page. Martin is the author of To Be Honest, a young adult novel out this month about body image, family dynamics, and diet culture. Here, Martin shares with Bookish readers why she felt this book was an important one to write, and why representation matters so much–particularly in YA.
Growing up, I did not see myself in YA book characters. Or, when I did, they were the quirky, funny supporting character that cheered on the main character from the sidelines. Many of the storylines that had been told from a fat main character point of view focused solely on their quest to become thin and “desirable.” As a young reader, I started to believe that these were the only storylines that belonged to someone like me.
I was taught that romantic arcs belonged to thin main characters. That in order to have a romance in a fat character’s storyline, they needed to at least strive to be thin, to show that they were making an effort to fit into the societal norms that had been thrust upon them.
This notion needs to change, especially in YA lit. And I do believe that it is starting to with the recent publications of Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ and Puddin’, Becky Albertalli’s The Upside of Unrequited and Leah on the Offbeat, and Amy Spalding’s The Summer of Jordi Perez. Each of these stories features a fat main character (all of whom are different and complex, by the way) who does not enter into a diet storyline themselves. But we can continue to do better. Approximately 67% of the female population in the U.S. is over a size 14, but their stories are only reflected in one to two percent of the bodies portrayed in media currently.
One of my favorite fat activists, Virgie Tovar, wrote an interesting piece about how the remake of It missed the mark on fat representation. She talked about how film and TV represent a collective consciousness of society, and I want to argue that books should be included in that collective as well. She said, “I often think of movies and television as the modern-day fire pit around which humans in our society gather and learn about what’s expected from us. It is through film that we see cultural stories and it is through those stories that we make sense of our own lives. I have seen the same tropes of fat people for the entirety of my life. Personally, I am so ready for a remake on what fat people are capable of doing and being.”
Fat people are capable of so much in their bodies. We need to teach young readers that they are allowed to take up space. That they are allowed to come to the table just as they are and have a voice that is equal to that of anyone else in the room. That their physical appearance does not change how they should be treated on a human level. That they should never have to apologize for being themselves. That they are allowed to stand up for themselves or anyone else who is being mistreated.
Up until I read Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, I had never read a story featuring a fat main character in YA that did not go through a dieting storyline. Some novels even tried to flip the diet storyline on its head by saying the character was “happier when they were fat all along,” but these characters did not actually find their agency to come to that conclusion until they were thin.
This is why we need more books like Dumplin’, Leah on the Offbeat, and The Summer of Jordi Perez out there. We need more books that show fat kids everywhere that they have a valid story to tell that does not involve losing weight. This is why I will continue to be passionate about representing fat characters in the YA space that are real, complex, and not afraid to be happy in their own bodies. We need more characters who will advocate not only for themselves, but for people of all body sizes.
I wrote the character of Savannah in To Be Honest to stand up to those who make others feel inferior because of the body that they inhabit. I wrote this book to tell young readers that they are allowed to stick to their convictions about how they feel in their bodies, even when the loudest voices who oppose them might be their parents. I wrote this book to show a younger me that it is possible for a fat girl to have a romantic storyline, and that she deserves to have her own rom-com moments. I wrote this book for me, and I wrote this book for anyone who grew up believing that they had a specific storyline they were destined to follow.
Maggie Ann Martin hails from Des Moines, Iowa but moonlights as a New Yorker. She has a shiny new BA in English and Journalism from the University of Iowa, the most welcoming literary community in the world. When she is not writing, you can find her binge watching TV shows or passionately fangirling over fictional characters on the Internet. The Big F is her debut novel.