Here's the good news: Things are changing, and we're moving toward a society that's filled with more self-love and acceptance than ever before. Body diversity is (finally) being represented through television shows like Orange Is the New Black, celebs like Melissa McCarthy who refuse to squeeze into a vision of Hollywood perfection, and plus-size clothing lines embracing high fashion.
That being said, eradicating body image issues entirely would be largely dependent on zapping human tendencies to body shame or hate or be generally horrible to one another. And although that's not exactly realistic, what can help is surrounding oneself with feelings of empowerment. We talk about body pos bloggers and inspiring celebrities as being outlets for this frame of mind, but a less discussed, yet totally awesome option is body positive literature.
I was 14 when someone first handed me a copy of Bridget Jones’s Diary and told me it would help me gain a more positive outlook on my own body. A plus-size heroine? Could it be? My friend said the novel was all about proving women of any size can be intelligent, successful, loved, and sexy, and I was immediately drawn to the idea. This was almost 10 years ago, but in the time since (and even before) many of authors have worked with similar notions.
Body pos books are out there — even in unexpected genres and eras. And when everyone’s talking about kale cleanses, thigh gaps, and “5 easy steps to lose 50 pounds,” these books can be the most wonderful antidote.
BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY by Helen Fielding
Upon first opening Helen Fielding’s beloved novel turned film and musical, I hated this supposed emblem of size acceptance. Bridget Jones was something like 140 pounds (albeit quite short). She compulsively took to the scale every morning. She was rampantly insecure. In other words, she was just like me … and far too many others. But as the novel progressed and she underwent some amazing character development, her quirks and insecurities added to her charm. She loved, laughed, had two wonderful suitors, gained confidence in every aspect of her life — from work to fashion to sex — and was a great voice for girl power.
LOOK AT ME by Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan’s story about Charlotte, a fashion model who suffers a car accident that leaves her in need of severe plastic surgery, may sound a bit obvious. But it is raw and vulnerable and taps into some of our scariest fears about beauty, self-love, and identity. Charlotte’s beauty framed her life, and when it’s gone she has to explore, for the first time, who she actually is. It’s a notion we all struggle with at times, but one made approachable and introspection-inducing in this novel.
THE EARTH, MY BUTT, & OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS by Carolyn Mackler
This young adult novel introduced us to Virginia “Ginny” Shreves — a high school sophomore at a Manhattan private school struggling with her size. She’s the girl who won’t let her makeout buddy put his hand up her shirt for fear of him touching her belly (which is usually hidden in baggy clothes), and her insecurities are so relatable you can’t help but love her. After a spontaneous and somewhat rebellious trip to Seattle to see her best friend, Ginny starts evolving from the shy and painfully awkward teen to a kickboxing babe, proud of her curves and of the mindset that it’s OK to change the way you look if it’s for you, but not if the choice is being dictated by anyone else.
IN HER SHOES by Jennifer Weiner
Who could resist falling in love with In Her Shoes when the film adaptation starring Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette was released? But Jennifer Weiner’s novel revealed even more character vulnerability, and was even more profound in its ability to show the things that haunt us all — no matter our size, shape or background. Through sisters Rose and Maggie Feller (who are opposites in everything, including looks) we learn about the beauty of our individuality, “flaws” included.
SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS by Ann Brashares
The adventures (and misadventures) of Lena Kaligaris, Tibby Rollins, Bee Vreeland, and Carmen Lowell were a staple of adolescence for so many girls growing up in the early 2000s. Ann Brashares' perfect group of best friends was so unique that you couldn’t help identifying with a part of each of them (like Girls before Girls). Each was so aesthetically different — some quite “traditionally” attractive — but all had their personal demons. And weirdly, those demons made us as readers feel less alone.
THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin’s classic 1899 novel is a landmark in early feminism. Through protagonist Edna Pontellier, we are presented with notions of female oppression and the self-hatred it can breed. As a progressive woman in the 19th century, Edna wanted a life far different from her own — a freer existence, knowledge and a sense of independence quite impossible for women at the times. But in defying norms — no matter the consequence — she experiences adventure, passion and a sense of self-love. Ultimately, we’re inspired to aspire to the same.
ALL ABOUT VEE by C. Leigh Purtill
C. Leigh Purtill (author of the Fat Girls in LA series) brings an air of fantastical dreaming to the body pos scene. It takes a small town girl from Arizona, filled with dreams of acting on the big screen, and put her straight into Hollywood. It’s not necessarily a unique narrative, but that Vee is a plus-size woman throwing herself into the unchartered waters of California adds a special element. It's one that ultimately makes us think we should all dream big, too.
THE DUFF: DESIGNATED UGLY FAT FRIEND by Kody Keplinger
There are few plus-size women I’ve met who haven’t at some point felt like the “friend but never girlfriend.” Kody Keplinger captures this perfectly, and the fact that she was 17 years old when she wrote the novel (the same age as protagonist Bianca Piper) adds to the story’s magic. The overall strand through the book is that attraction defies looks — or, at least, that we all have our individual notions and perceptions of what attraction is.
SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT by Meg Cabot
Meg Cabot’s novel is different in that it’s a mystery — not a drama or a comedy. Protagonist Heather Wells goes from beloved pop star to assistant dorm director at a university, where she grows to be happy with her size-12 shape. But add to the mix an unexplained murder and a killer on the loose, and a whole number of other insecurities begin to factor in. Some, of which, we can relate to immediately.
JUDE’S LAW by Lori Foster
If you’re a plus-size woman, you have probably at some point been told you are only worthy of (and should thus only seek) a partner who is larger and subsequently makes you look smaller. Lori Foster’s Jude’s Law taps into the beauty of love at every size through characters Jude and May, and the reality that no matter our size or physical traits, each person deserves romance.
FAT KID RULES THE WORLD by K.L. Going
K.L. Going’s young adult novel brings an air of fantasy to body pos lit. It’s about Troy Billings, a suicidal 296-pound teen who through a dose of luck meets a guitar legend who insists they form a band together. The unrealistic nature of the book makes it no less inspiring, and as Troy learns of Curt’s life and struggles with drug addiction, he garners some perspective on his own battles, and teaches us about priorities along the way.
THE WIFE’S TALE by Lori Lansens
In a lot of ways, Lori Lansens’ novel is about discovering the life we want to lead vs. the life we think we must lead. Protagonist Mary Gooch is medically characterized as “morbidly obese” and that fact (among others) has caused her husband to leave her. The story begins as a woman’s quest to try to “win back her man,” but results in the same woman’s journey to loving herself — and realizing that sometimes, the latter is more important.
THE PERFECTLY TRUE TALES OF A PERFECT SIZE 12 by Robin Gold
What Robin Gold does best is identify the problem of women pitting themselves against one another — of competition and jealousy and comparative tendencies that cause nothing but grief. Delilah — a usually confident and semi-famous TV person — learns about these things firsthand when rivaling a fellow TV gal for a hot job. But the importance of spirit, kindness and self-respect prove stronger than hatred and bullying.
SHE'S COME UNDONE by Wally Lamb
Wally Lamb's best-seller isn't necessarily a feel-good kind of novel, it taps into a lot of the realities of the world in which we live. Protagonist Dolores Price's body image issues don't disappear. She doesn't discover that people are kinder after high school, or the world a more accepting place once you're an adult. Through the obstacles she overcomes, though, Dolores realizes life can be beautiful, regardless of its imperfections.
THE CORSET DIARIES by Katie MacAlister
Katie MacAlister’s novel is a seemingly silly, light read about Tessa, a woman who agrees to star on a reality television show called “A Month in the Life of a Victorian Duke” (for which she has to constantly wear a corset). But, really, the novel analyzes changing notions of beauty and femininity and the struggle to love yourself when the world and the people you know seem to constantly criticize.
Image: Miramax Films