The (Re)presentation of Fat Female Protagonists and Food Addiction in Young Adult Literature

  • Linda T. Parsons The Ohio State University, Marion


The goal of this study was to determine how fat female protagonists are (re)presented in young adult literature. A purposeful sample of eight young adult novels was selected based on inclusion of a fat female protagonist, a targeted readership of grades 6-8, and recognized literary quality. Working with a co-analyst, I employed a critical analysis approach to determine how these fat female protagonists are embodied. Three a priori thematic categories guided the initial analysis: 1) the language the protagonist and others use in reference to her body, 2) how those in her immediate community respond to her, and 3) if/how the sociocultural structures that “other” fat women are accepted, interrogated, or challenged. Final analysis entailed creating thematic charts as visual aids to interpret the latent content across novels. This revealed that the dramatic arc creates a trajectory of obsession with and/or addiction to food characterized by self-loathing, binge eating, hoarding food, eating in secret, interventions, a turning point, and a transformation. This construction of addiction perpetuates the stigmatization of fat females and the myth of the ideal body, so I offer critical questions to encourage adolescent readers to critique this (re)presentations of fat female protagonists.


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