Discussion: Body Positivity in YA - Where's the Love For Curvy Women?

Body positivity is a movement that has taken the internet and social media by storm. If you've been on Twitter and Tumblr, I'm almost certain you've seen at least one post with the hashtag #bodyposi - meant to present to the world the beauty in the diversity of our bodies. Scrolling through this tag and participating in this movement is a way to make yourself feel more empowered and in control of your body. You will see varying sizes, heights, skin tones, hair/eye colors  - you name it, you'll see it. It's a way of raising yours and others' self esteem, while spreading awareness for what society has come to belittle.

Throughout YA, I find it very common to discover main characters with the exact same body type as every other main character. Let's be honest, the main character (when a girl) is usually tall with sleek, long legs and a small waist. Now, I'm alright with having characters with these characteristics (they're beautiful, they're all beautiful), but it gets to a point where I can't open a book without getting sad over an underrepresentation of my body type. I'm neither tall, nor skinny, but I still find my thick thighs to be just as appealing as the latter.

I've been subjected to societal standards since the beginning of freshmen year when I realized there was such a thing as "the right look." There have always been standards/trends that imply how my body is supposed to be shaped, or at least, society's view on the term beauty, and if I didn't meet those measurements, I was pushed aside. It's been difficult to walk out in public and not constantly tug at my clothes or look at my reflection in the mirror. It's like the media has brainwashed me so much into thinking that I need to be a specific body type and dress a certain way to be considered beautiful.

While there is nothing wrong at all with being tall and skinny, with long legs that could set the streets on fire, I just wished there was a bigger representation of the curvier, thicker woman in YA novels. I catch myself picking up books all the time and hoping, begging on my knees, that the author describes her main character as having a wide set of hips that she can flaunt for days, and a behind that is the epitome of bootylicious. It would make female leads all the more relatable if they caught themselves staring at their stretch marks in the mirror, then claiming them as their own set of tiger stripes - a representation of the challenges they've conquered and the growth they've endured. Portray us just as strongly as you would write up a thinner female MC; I can just as fiercely defeat a bloodthirsty king with the power of my strong stride, thick thighs, and slick sword skills.

Where's the love for the elegant curves of an hourglass figure? Present us to be as delicate as a rose, yet as tough as a nail. Where's the love for the smooth bends of pear shaped figures? As sweet as can be, and yet still as sleek and sassy when need be. Where's the admiration for those girls who work (*cue rihanna*) diamond figures? They shine even brighter than diamonds and twinkle in their own extravagant light. Where's the love, and more importantly, the support, for the girls who aren't as body posi? I want to see the appreciation for the slopes and angles of all body types, not just the love for a certain look.

Unless it is specified in the book, I automatically assume the main character is of European decent - fair skin, tall, thin, blue/green eyes, with blonde hair. This shows how the lack of diversity in YA has affected my viewpoints. I've gotten so used to the same characteristics for different characters, that it's become routine for me to picture almost identical descriptions for each mc. Along with this, there's a bit of a problem I have with authors who use words such as overweight, and only overweight, to characterize their characters, as if their weight makes up their entire being. They don't spend their time describing their curly hair, pearly white teeth, or their 4.7 GPA. No, they use words like overweight, or chubby, or round as a representation to that character - to make them different by attaching an extremely negative connotation. But if anything, it only makes the receiving audience feel worse about themselves.

It's important to spread a positive and loving attitude towards all body types. I think if I had grown up surrounded by nothing but love for my curves, I wouldn't be as self conscious and lacking of the confidence I wish I had. I am working extremely hard on appreciating all I am, but it continues to be difficult when I find no support in the activities that makes me the happiest.

I've asked around for some books with MC's of varying body types from the usge, and I can tell you the list is incredibly small and limited:
  1. Dumplin' by Julie Murphy
  2. The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
  3. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
  4. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  5. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen 
  6. Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (as well as Winter, I believe)
I received Dumplin' and Eleanor and Park as suggestions over and over again - somewhat proving that lack of diversity in YA (since people could only think of these two books). This post is in no way meant to be seen as me bashing on thinner, slimmer, or taller girls; I am only speaking out about a missing love towards other body types. If I was able to read a book about a strong, curvy girl who gets the boy and saves the day, I'd feel all the more confident in myself as a person. If I was able to read a book about a strong, curvy girl who was loved in every way possible and appreciated for her looks, as well as her mind and voice, my self esteem would have blossomed in ways I wished it was developed. It's important to spread the love for each and every body type; I'm only hoping you all agree with me.