Think back to the fat children characters in your books growing up. Really strain yourself to think.
Here are a few we could think of:
Dudley Dursely, whose greed for food is only matched by his greed for birthday gifts. (Harry Potter)
Bruce Bogtrotter, who stole cake from Mrs. Trunchbull. (Matilda)
August Gloop, whose mother proudly declares that eating is her son's only hobby. (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Eventually, Augustus Gloop is made slim by being squeezed through a pipe.
Frederick Algernon Trotteville, who is not only described to be chubby, but Enid Blyton ensured that the initials of his name spell FAT. Fatty is his nickname. (Five Find Outers of the Mystery Series fame)
There is not one fat character in Secret Sevens. Nor in the Famous Fives. There is not one girl in all of Mallory Towers who is fat. There is not one fat girl in all of St. Clares. Amelia Janes is not fat.
Not one of the Weasley's children is fat. Neville Longbottom is fat, but he is also a Grandma-raised loser. (His weight loss is simultaneous with his becoming badass. But of course.)
Fat characters in children's literature are frighteningly sparse. They are also terribly represented.
Most fictional fat kids are gluttons. They are thieves of food. They are caricatures. And their fat-ness is highlighted to ensure that it remains the most compelling aspect of their personality.
Fatness, in children's literature, is not treated like any body type. Fatness is the entirety of a character.
Just like Bruce Bogtrotter. Who, at his most winning moment, was only ever just fat.
I was once a fat kid. And in my experience, how one differentiates a fat kid from non-fact kids is in that fat kids have innovated ways of eating food that non-fat kids could never conceive.
A fat kid with sufficient access to cheese will make cheese fondue in his own kitchen. It will be bad fondue, but it will be better than no fondue at all. A fat kid will then pour leftover melted cheese lavishly over Maggi and subsequently eat that.
He or she will creep into the kitchen at night and add dark chocolate to gulab jamun, then add two scoops of chocolate ice-cream and then throw in some Nutella for taste. Or stuff bhujia inside aloo parathas. Or eat bhujia with papad. Or spoonfulls of Bournvita with the slightest hint of milk, you know, to give it texture.
A fat kid can eat a jar of peanut butter out of sheer boredom.
My poison of choice was Horlicks biscuit with strawberry jam. Every Horlicks biscuit was followed with a spoonful of jam and I wouldn't stop till either the bottle of jam or the packet of biscuits was finished.
And that's the weirdness of a fat kid. That they eat weird things in weird ways at weird times.
But that's also the fullest extent of the weirdness. They aren't caricatures. They don't demand birthday gifts the way they do calories. They aren't selfish.
The untold story of fat kids, one that neither J.K Rowling, nor Roald Dahl could conceive, is that they're otherwise pretty regular. They could be scholars, sitting at the front of class with pencil perennially in the air as an answer to a question the teacher hasn't yet asked. . They could be pensive writers, who write poems about mountains and the sea and the numerous metaphors that they both present.
They could also be great sportsmen, (the fastest swimmer in my year was an unabashed fat kid). They could be divas, who, at age eleven, could rattle off shades of liptick that look good on dusky skin. They're just regular kids, who happen to wear ordinary midnight cravings visibly on their skin.
Which is why its surprising, cruel even, that fat kids in children's literature are so unrepresented. And on the rare occasions that they are represented, we're never allowed to forget that they're fat.
The first movie I watched about a fat kid was called Real Women Have Curves. I watched the trailer on Star Movies and cheered the protagonist in the trailer on. If real women had curves then I was so a real woman. Yea. This was going to be awesome.
I called up all my other fat teenage girlfriends and told them about the film and when it was going to air. I told my mother to watch it with me, hoping that at some point during the film she would undergo a catharsis and forgive me for being fat.
Sadly, however, the film began with a fat girl making out with a skinny boy and my mom scoffed and walked out of the room. There was no weepy catharsis. No absolving of sins.
Movies, I figured, were just not going to cut it.
And thus began my quest for relatable fat characters in literature.
Bridgette Jones was one. But she also smoked cigarettes and had sex, and didn't feel like someone I could relate to. I needed someone younger, someone fat, someone who's mom berated him/her for her burgeoning waistline, someone who thought she had a chance with a hot guy, and someone who eventually did.
I never found that character when I needed her. But here's the good news - I've found her now.
Her name is Willowdean Dickson and her mother calls her Dumplin'.
Willowdean (Will) is a fat girl who starts to like a really hot guy, Bo. Who, interestingly, likes her back.
Will's also very confident in her fatness. She's learned not to cover her thighs up in sarongs when she goes swimming. And she's happy eating entire jars of peanut butter in front of her friends (not in hiding at night like the rest of us).
She describes making out with hot-guy. "I know that when he inches toward towards the short Dumpster with the lid and holds his hand around my waist that he wants to lift me up, So I always reach back and hoist myself up, because the thought of him trying to lift me and failing makes me cringe every time. When his fingers trail down my chest and across my stomach, I suck in. Which is stupid because it never makes any difference in pictures and I doubt it does now."
And this is what makes Julie Murphy's Dumplin', (releasing in India this month) so incredibly awesome. She's talking about fat kid sexuality. She's putting into words the quiet awkwardness of having flab touched by someone you like. And the worry that a strong enough hot-guy may not be able to lift you up.
Of course it's the age-old high school narrative involving a fall-out with a best friend, a hot-guy moving into your school, and every other derivative story-arc from the great American high school rom-com.
But this time it's from the perspective of an entirely normal, feisty and determined fat kid. And Will is out to claim for herself, not a smaller waist-line. But some self-love.
This is extraordinary tale, and it makes Dumplin' an important read. Not because it's great literature, which is isn't.
But it's important for former fat kids to retire with the knowledge that hey, the next line of fat kids - they're going to have someone worthwhile to root for.
And heaven knows, that's better than Bruce Bogtrotter could ever be.
Edited by Lamat R Hasan