You know what I’ve noticed more in YA books as of the past ten years? Female characters who love to EAT.
As a teen, I grew up reading female characters who DIDN’T like food. They were skinny and flawless, and wouldn’t even touch their glass of milk, but hey! No worries. Their overweight friend who already emptied their own glass of milk will finish theirs off for them. (Yes, I took this straight from a book I actually read.) At 14 years old, I literally remember thinking, If I want to look like this character, then I can’t drink something as fattening as milk. Milk. MILK, guys. (As I write this, I am happily drinking a Caramel Machiatto loaded with milk and sugar, so take that teen years!)
There seemed to be a lot of subtle hints like this in the books I read in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Not anything obvious or preachy like “sugar will make you fat”, but more like the skinny AF heroine choosing to eat an apple for dinner. I just knew that if I wanted to look like that, I had to eat like that.
I’m not against healthy eating. It’s okay to want to live a healthy lifestyle, or to be skinny or want to be skinny. But it’s not okay to self-shame if you’re not. And it’s ESPECIALLY not okay to shame others.
And it’s not only the eating-nothing-but-lettuce mindset in those books that affect how people might feel in their bodies, but merely pointing out that the heroine was skinny and beautiful. Like those two descriptions have to go hand in hand for the heroine to have any worth. Also, how many books have you read where the heroine’s best friend is a little heavy and a little boy crazy? As if THOSE two things have to go hand in hand as well. Of course, the overweight friend drools after the boys, and the boys drool after the beautiful skinny heroine who is completely oblivious to her appearances and the fact that those boys are drooling after her.
Imagine what this did to me as a teen. How it made me feel when I was jus ta little flabby around the tummy and had a rounder face than the narrow-faced basketball players. And we wonder why eating disorders are so prevalent in our culture. (I’m not just blaming books; all forms of media are to blame.)
But I’ve noticed now, authors are adding to the voices that are saying it’s okay to be comfortable in your own body. It’s okay to like good, greasy food or have a sweet tooth. It’s okay to not have stick figure and to be a fluffy around the edges. You’re still beautiful. You’re still worthy. You still have so much to offer to your own story.
I’m so excited to see the more recent YA releases (as of the past decade at least) that aren’t afraid to have a heroine finish all her food on her plate, or delight in a piece of cake, or whose features aren’t completely flawless. I mean, I literally feel a sense of solidarity when I read about these characters. I’m not reading about someone else who eats like a bird and has perfect skin. I’m reading about me.
Again, I’m not against the skinny heroine, or the one who might not even have the option to eat well. (We all love Katniss!) In fact, I wrote a book with the classic thin and obliviously beautiful heroine. But it is. So. Refreshing. to find books that don’t make me set down a piece of toast and feel shame for that one bite I had.
These books make me feel like it’s okay to enjoy the rich flavors of food.
These books make me realize how ridiculous it is to worry about the shape of my body.
These books make me realize that we don’t have to have flawless skin, and we don’t have to hide behind layers of makeup.
So thank you, YA authors, that are showing teens indulging in cheese fries in front of their partners. Thank you for having characters who aren’t super thin or more beautiful than all their friends. Thank you for having heroes and heroines who are comfortable and confident in their “imperfect to society” bodies, and thank you for showing us that love and friendship extend so much deeper than mere looks.
Because of you, maybe eating disorders will go down, and self confidence in body image will boost. It is a much needed change. Because we’re all beautiful, and our bodies deserve to be treated with kindness and love, not shame.
If you want to read an excellent letter from Hillary McBride to her body “Dear Body, I’m Sorry, I Love You” you can read it here. It *might* make you tear up, but it will definitely make you realize how much value your body has. ❤