I enjoy reading books by Sophie Kinsella. I started with the Shopaholic series when someone I know gave it to me for Christmas, and have only recently started reading her stand alone novels. I’m aware that they’re not the most academic of novels, and if I read them from a feminist perspective they’re probably hideous, but I enjoy them as a piece-of-fluff type of a read. When I spend my days reading psychology textbooks, browsing through feminist websites, and analyzing weight loss research articles there are moments when it’s nice to just have something light and airy to read.
When I was most recently reading the book Can You Keep a Secret? I was completely caught off guard. My inner feminist is still breeding and growing inside me, but my body image activist is already alive and well. A character was introduced, Fiona, and as a good author often does Kinsella gave a brief description of her so as to paint a mental picture for the reader. I was floored by the way that Kinsella chose to describe this character though.
“She weighs about 300 pounds and is always campaigning for bigger chairs and wider doorways.”
This is how she summed up this woman. Sophie Kinsella’s beliefs about a woman who weighs 300 pounds is that she has nothing better to do with her time than to campaign for bigger chairs and wider doorways. And that she is so large that she can’t fit into regular sized chairs and regular sized doorways. While I’ll maybe give her the bigger chairs comment, as someone who weighs less than 300lbs I myself sometimes still find there are chairs that don’t quite accommodate my hips, the doorways comment just seems absurd and hyperbolic. I’ve never met a 300 pound woman who couldn’t fit through a doorway. While I do agree that a workplace should be inclusive and accessible for all employees, it was clear in the manner this story was written that she was going for the humorous aspect of this characters size. Because fat shaming is always funny.
Fiona goes on in this paragraph to tell the main character (Emma) to “Never be ashamed of your body.” and to “Rejoice in it!” and later invites her to a body awareness workshop, which are messages that I would be happy to advocate being placed in all books, but having this message assigned to a character who has been so ridiculously described ensures that no one who reads this book is going to take it seriously. She could have just as easily described this character as 300lbs and someone who is happy and loves herself as she is, as all people should, or if she really wanted to have this message be taken seriously she could have just left it at the character being someone who advocates loving yourself regardless of their size, skipping the weight descriptor altogether. But Sophie Kinsella decided to take the fat-is-funny and hyperbole-makes-them-seem-ridiculous route, which has made me lose a lot of respect for her as an author. Kinsella’s books reach a wide audience and she needs to know that fat shaming is almost always hurtful and never funny.