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#WeNeedDiverseBooks in all different areas

Remember last year at BEA when things got pretty heated as people realized the panels held authors of all the same race?  The hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks was born and the discussion on why diversity in literature, not just the authors of the books, but the characters in them as well, is important.  I was so excited this was being discussed and taken seriously.  It felt like a giant leap forwards for the publishing industry.

A few weeks ago I was reading a YA contemporary novel and was metaphorically slapped by an ugly reality.  I quickly scrolled through my goodreads read shelf to see if I could debunk my theory.  Surely it couldn't be true.

I tried to find any books where the main character wasn't either:
1. specifically mentioned to be stick thin
2. portrayed as stick thin on the front cover.

(Disclaimer:  I'm nervous it will sound like I'm skinny shaming in this post, but I don't know how else to put this.  There is nothing wrong with being skinny.  I'm technically skinny myself so I clearly don't have an issue with it.  I do have an issue with society viewing skinny as the only acceptable body type though.  That's what this post is about.)

You guys, this was hard.  I only found a handful of books with other body types mentioned.  Most of the covers I saw looked like this...


It was then that I realized:

What if authors and publishers are missing a great opportunity to connect with readers of diverse body types?

And not just connect with them, but help them accept and embrace their own body type.  All books have themes, but many books have little messages hidden between the lines.  Even if it's not a central theme, simply having a main character who has a unique body shape and doesn't view it as a flaw would be a great start.

Because we all want to find that character that we can relate to.  As a kid I loved the Samantha Parkington American Girl Doll books because she looked just like me!  I took that doll around with me everywhere.  I remember feeling bad for the kids that didn't have a doll that looked like them.  But as I got older the company came out with a create your own doll option.  They realized that not everyone can fit into a category and maybe a little girl with short red hair, glasses, and a wheelchair deserves to have a doll that looks like her just as much as anyone else.

  Now I turn to YA and Adult books to find relatable characters and I'm realizing not everyone is being represented here either.  Unlike American Girl Dolls though, YA hasn't tried many combinations of looks.  What I've found is a lot of stick thin characters who eat a ton of junk and never exercise and are still 100 lbs with no curves.  They're all like:

  This shouldn't bother me as much as it does because I was one of those girls in high school.  The only difference was I did a lot of cardio every day because I was on a dance team so that's why I was thin.  My senior year I stopped dancing as much and continued to eat pizza and other junk food 24/7.  I woke up one day and was like wtf where did these hips and stomach come from?

And suddenly I was extremely self-conscious of how I looked because society had hammered into me that the more weight I gained the more my self worth should depreciate.  

Of course now I recognize that's a bunch of bulls***.  But when you're a teen consuming books and movies where all the main characters are stick thin it subliminally teaches you that if you're not like that there's something wrong with you.  It's techincally brain washing.  We see over and over again that these perfect looking main characters get to save the world or get the guy.  And it makes us think that we need to be a certain way in order to be able to be awesome like that.  Spoiler alert:

People over 100 lbs can save the world and get the guy too.

Certain characters like Katniss I can make an exception for because she's starving in district 12.  But other characters, mostly in contemporary books, are usually being fed regularly.  So why aren't there all different body types being represented there?

Maybe the publishers are nervous that a book with a curvier girl on the cover won't sell.  Maybe authors are only writing what they know.  Maybe it's become such a norm for main characters to be skinny and white that authors and publishers are nervous the book won't sell if they don't write that.  I don't know.  I'm not an expert.

But I do know that I'm a woman who wants to identify with a character.  I want to read a character that has hips and curves.  I want her to have to do a little dance when she puts on her jeans so that she can get them up over her butt.  I want her to not look amazing in everything she tries on, but instead know what type of clothes will accentuate her features best.  I want her wear a bikini and not think twice about her muffin tops or cellulite.  I want her to be "average" on the outside, but I want her mind and spirit to be the unique factor that drives the story forward (aka a guy hitting on her because she said something witty in class...not because she's the hot new girl).

I know some people are probably thinking Melissa, you're an adult you should stop comparing yourself to teens and go read an adult book instead.


That's a whole other topic for another day.  Basically, I know there are teens out there who are not stick thin.  You know how I know?  I've seen them in real life and for the last few years of my teens I was one.  So even though I'm in my twenties now writing about this I know there are teen girls out there who feel the exact same way.  

We need diverse characters so everyone can feel represented.  We need them so that everyone can feel less alone.  We need them so that people can learn empathy and acceptance of other body types other than their own.  

Do you want to see a change?  What are your thoughts on all this?
If you have any recommendations of YA books that do present different body types leave the titles below please!