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Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

I rushed to the library to pick up this book after reading How Finding A Fat YA Heroine Changed My Life on BuzzFeed. 

Here’s the thing: I’m not fat. But I’m not thin. I am short and I have a lot of boobs and a lot of hips, and sometimes (e.g. now) my body just likes to chill with an extra 20-30 lbs on it. I do not shop in plus-sized stores, but I almost can. I am not the kind of fat that gets you real discrimination. I’ve only suffered through a handful of nasty remarks about my weight, and I don’t think it’s ever kept me from getting a job or a promotion. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a position where I thought someone would be embarrassed to be seen with me. I am an outlier in yoga class, but I am not a distraction. Those things are real for actual fat people, who can’t qualify it with “but not that kind of fat.” 

One of the real stand-out parts of this book for me was not just that Eleanor is fat but not demonized by the author – a seriously common trope that Kaye Toal so beautifully unpacks in her essay –  it’s that Eleanor’s weight is also not ignored, and the social impact of her weight is not ignored. Park is sometimes embarrassed by her, for her weight and her sense of style (did I mention that there is an underlying theme of poverty and abuse? Yeah, that matters, too) and sometimes her bright red, unstyled hair. But he likes her anyway, and he can’t deny it. He is not a bully, but he is not a saint. The struggle with his feelings is about genuinely and truly liking her, but being afraid of the social impact that will have for him. 

And I think that is so smart, so on-point. Many smart people are past the “fat is bad” stage, but too many of us went for the polar opposite and have tried to pretend that fat doesn’t matter. “Don’t care what other people think! They’re idiots!” And it’s true, but those idiots can make your life hell, they can limit your income, they can make it hard and expensive to find clothes that flatter your body, they can make it hard to let another person love you. That’s what I found so perfect about this book. The social currency of being fat is not invisible, even when somebody loves you. But you can get past it and it’s worth it. I don’t know if there’s a better message out there.

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