This blog was contributed to Fat Girls in Fiction by Author Alexis Maness! See our interview with Alexis!
There’s a disturbing trend in the book art community that’s becoming more and more apparent—artists are insistent on skinny-washing canonically mid-size and fat characters. And not only that, but fans are encouraging them with praise, likes, and even coming to their defense when the plus-size community speaks up. So, what’s the deal? Why is everyone so desperate to portray every book character as skinny? There’s two main factors at play here—internalized and blatant fatphobia—and both need to be addressed.
As a fellow fat, you can probably easily guess which characters are the victims of skinny-washing since there are so few. But if you’re not familiar, the main three characters that I see people doing this over and over again with are Poppy from From Blood and Ash, Nina from Six of Crows, and Bryce from Crescent City. I’m sure there are others I’m not aware of, but since these books are such heavy hitters in the fantasy community, it’s easy to see when these constantly come up on my feed.
It sucks, but is it really that big of a deal? Personally, I’ve been asked this a few times by my non-reader friends when they see me get up in arms about this on my socials. And I’ll tell you what I tell them—YES, it really is that big of a deal.
When artists skinny-wash characters, they’re effectively saying that the only way they can be worthy of art and praise is if they fit the beauty standard. Which in turn, tells us fat readers that we’re not beautiful or worthy as we are. Not only that, but these characters are SO few and far between that when you erase them, you erase us from the space completely.
Plus, it’s actively going against the author’s wishes. If they wrote that character as mid-size or fat, it’s because they wanted that representation. And to the artists who insist on doing this, KNOWING the character is fat, I ask you, what gives you the right? Authors’ representation should be respected and preserved at all times. It’s extremely rude and dismissive to change their vision. There’s interpretation and then there’s erasure, plain and simple. Sure, interpret the design of their gown, but when it comes to marginalized bodies, it’s unacceptable to chalk that up to misinterpretation.
There are so many layers to how harmful the act itself is, but I think the worst part is how the artists and their fans respond when anyone speaks up.
Many book content creators, including myself, have been trying to call out artists—especially those with large accounts—asking them to please consider drawing the characters as they are supposed to be moving forward. And when we ask nicely, you know what we get?
That’s just my interpretation.
I wasn’t aware that character was supposed to be larger.
If you don’t like it, find another artist who draws her the way you want.
And to top it off, our comments are usually deleted.
All in all, it’s a mess and people refuse to take credibility. However, as long as fans keep supporting them and telling them how PERFECT these depictions are, it’ll keep happening. Especially, when authors don’t put their foot down to protect their character’s identity.
There are a few things we can do to try to improve the book art community and hold artists to higher standards:
If you wanna talk more about this topic and see more fat art rep, follow me on Instagram, I share a lot! @authoralexiscmaness
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic and look forward to seeing how we can all help push book art to be more inclusive, because we’re all worthy of being works of art!