The author blog of C. J. Ivory

Tinkerer with words. Dresser-Upper. Adorer of Steampunk and VictoriaNoir fiction. Occasional Lawgineer.

July 21, 2011

How Marie Claire improved me as an author (and it's not what you think)

Gentle Reader,

I was reading the blog Two Whole Cakes today, the blog formerly known as As you might guess from the name, it's written by Lesley Kinzel, a gal who is confirmedly overweight. (She's also gorgeous, smart and hilarious, and has recently decided to wear only dresses and skirts from now on, which is how I found her blog in the first place.)

So, I stumbled on one of her archived posts: "Who Wants To See Happy Fat People In Love? Not Marie Claire!" Basically it was an outraged reply to a Marie Claire blog article saying that fat people were gross, and they shouldn't be kissing one another in TV or - heaven forfend - real life. Go ahead and read it now, if you like - I'll wait.


Right, so you see what I mean. The Marie Claire lady was talking specifically about Mike & Molly, a sitcom about two overweight people who fall in love, etc. Apparently the blog article author found the whole thing a bit icky, because it was fat folks getting the action, and not thin people, like (one presumes) her.

It got me thinking about fair portrayals of fat people in the media, and then - of course - of fat people in novels, and finally - double of course - of fat people in my novels. How often are they there without being the token overweight perons? Going on dates, helping to solve crimes, volunteering at the Animal Shelter?

How do I, personally, treat overweight people in my novels? Could I look my overweight friends in the eye and say "In my novels I have never created characters that would annoy or offend you with cliches?"

Now, I know what you might say: "For dog's sake, Charlotte; we're novelists - we're here to offend people! If they don't make people uncomfortable, our novels are no better than a bowl of unsalted potato soup." 

And I agree with that. We can't expect to write something edgy if we don't offend someone. But to offend them with a cliche? That, to me, shows the cardinal sins of authors: laziness and lack of imagination.

I tend to have a variety of characters, but I think I could do better. And I think my novels would be richer for it. So, my resolution for my next novel is to write in what you might call "non-Hollywood" characters (overweight, transgender, or an unusual minority, for example) who are there Just Because: Just because there are Somalians living on my street. Just because the man who works at the mall always wears girls clothes (and looks pretty stylish, I might say). Just because fat people are happy, and in love, and snog one another like everyone else.

Charlotte xxx

PS Here's the link to the Marie Claire artcicle, too. You'll notice that the author took a hammering on her post, and has written an apology that I would say took some grace and guts.


Trisha said...

Ooh, I like the sound of the blog you pointed out. And I need to check out that Marie Claire article too. I'm just surprised the editors let it get through!

Toasty said...

Wow. I mean, seriously, wow. That original post is HORRIBLE. And the rage expressed by the follow-up-blogger is entirely justified. I haven't seen Mike and Molly yet - the UK is woefully behind on US programming - but I do love Melissa McCarthy (Sookie in GG is such a fab character and the fact that she - or indeed Babette and Miss Pattie - are bigger than the lead characters is never EVER an issue. It's never mentioned, they don't get excluded from 'normal' life; they don't seem to me, to be the 'token fatties'. A rare thing in US TV) Have you seen M&M? Is it a show a-kin to that god-awful one about the skinny hot lawyer who dies and is reincarnated in the body of a (slightly) overweight woman? (the premise here being that everyone desperately wants to be thin and gorgeous and that life without that isn't worth living) I mean, does M&M make an issue of their that the running 'joke' of the show? Because, if I'm honest, that would seem as much of a tired, lazy cliche as the 'token' fattie in shows would be.

Cat said...

So I have seen two or three episodes of Mike and Molly (before I got bored and they started collecting on the DVR). From what I remember, there were quite a bit of overeating and fat jokes. To me it seemed like it was a show about fat people in love, instead of a show about people in love who happened to be fat. Still, I wouldn't call the show bad. If I hadn't had so many other things to watch I probably wouldn't have given up on it.

One of the tropes I get tired of reading about is the cozy mystery or chick lit heroine who is slightly overweight and always obsessing about slimming down, but never gets there. I suppose the author is trying to make her relatable but I'd prefer it if the character was fine with herself and her few extra pounds.

Jes said...

What a good point! --I too need to write non-Hollywood characters. I've always assumed I modeled characters after "me," in a fashion, at least. Of course that couldn't be less true. I need to branch out, desperately.

Ingrid Harper said...

I completely agree! I think it's easy to slip into the cliche, "pretty" characters because that's what a majority of the readers want. There's a book by Gail Carson Levine called "Fairest" (which I love, by the way), but my sister didn't like any of it because "the main character was ugly." Oh no! Anything but an "ugly" heroine! Sometimes I think we live in a shallow society where people only want escapist fiction with cookie-cutter perfect characters so they can visualize themselves that way. But having those types of characters can make life dull. :/ I think the same can also apply to people of different races. In a lot of movies they have the token black or Asian person that just kind of lurks in the background instead of actually making them a flesh-and-blood character.

Charlotte Jane Ivory said...

Thnaks for your comments, everyone. As I mentioned in my last post, I've been having a hard time convincing Blogger to let me reply to comments.
I agree that Mike and Molly wasn't the greatest sitcom of all time. I also feel that, outside of comedy shows, Hollywood still doesn't seem able to handle "overweight" without making it comical.
@Ingrid, I must read Fairest - thanks for the recommendation. I love realistic heroines.
@ Cat - I know, right? If I wanted to read about a bunch of people angsting about their weight, I'd just check out... well, Marie Claire! :)