Writer Wednesday: Guest Post- Alys Murray
Fat Princesses: Searching For Myself in Fairy Tales
Everyone has their ways of dealing with the frustrations of everyday life. For some people, that’s a tub of cookie dough ice cream and a Schitts Creek binge watch. For other people, that’s running marathons. For others, there’s knitting or yoga or baking or kickboxing or birdwatching.
For me? That’s always been fantasy. Like Belle says in Beauty and the Beast, “It’s my favorite! Far off places, daring swordfights, a prince in disguise!” In a world that seems messy and confusing, sometimes hopeless and beyond help, fantasy has always been a place of escape for me. In a fantasy story, there are rules. Rules of magic, rules of Court, rules of dragon taming. In a fantasy story, there is adventure. There is romance. There is humor and magic and beauty.
And, maybe most importantly, in fantasy, there is hope. Hope that the scrappy nobody can become a Queen. Hope that the evil wizard can be dethroned. Hope that, through the work and determination of good people, the world can be set to rights.
However, the more I turned to these books for escape, the more I realized that my favorite kind of story wasn’t really written for me. Most of the heroines I read were always small and slender enough to disguise themselves as a boy. They were slender enough to be tossed carelessly across a brute’s back or pulled easily up onto a hero’s horse. Their smallness was a narrative utility. It made them useful. Desirable.
Plus-sized characters did occasionally make appearances, but almost never as sympathetic characters. There were villainous tavern-ladies and shrewd market women, always described by their double chins or the breadth of their bellies; evil Kings display their largeness and their gluttony while their people starve. The odd, kindly nursemaid made her plump appearance, usually before nobly giving her life so the thin heroine could make her narrow escape.
The more I read these books, the ones that had given me so much well-needed rest from the real world, the more I realized that while I loved these books, they didn’t seem to love me back. Every fairy tale kingdom seemed to have a big sign out front reading, “No fat chicks,” and that broke my heart.
However, one of the things I love most about the fantasy genre is that it comes out of the oral tradition. We have stories about fairy godmothers and dragons and sea monsters and good overcoming evil because of a generations-long game of telephone. A story about a large bird turns into a story about a great sky monster becomes a story about a dragon lurking in the forest. A tale about an Octopus becomes the legend of The Kraken. Through the ages, our stories grow and change and alter based on our cultures, our beliefs, and most importantly, who is doing the telling.
In the spirit of that oral tradition, one that’s helped to give us everything from Cinderella to Game of Thrones to Star Wars, I decided that if I couldn’t find many stories with characters like mine, I would just have to write one. After all, the characters who’d inspired me in the past were revolutionaries, fighting for the change they wanted to see in their fantasy worlds. Why couldn’t I do the same in my own?
I’ve been very open in my writing about my struggles with bulimia. Around the time of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding, a resounding refrain in the ED community was something along the lines of “fat girls don’t get to be princesses.” And if you look around at the shelves of my fantasy collection, you might be forgiven for thinking that is true.
But these fairy tales belong to those who love them enough to keep telling them, over and over again, through time. And as long as I’m writing and telling stories, there will be fat princesses.
Fat representation, of course, is not the only area in which fantasy needs major improvement. While we’ve seen some books starring characters of color, queer characters, or disabled characters, if we are truly to embrace the wonderful qualities that fantasy offers us as a genre, then it must become a more welcoming genre.
All my life, fantasy has always proclaimed itself a place where justice was done, where wrongs were made right, and where anyone can be the hero and save the day. Here’s to the books that actually keep that promise, and here’s to the readers who keep those stories alive.