As a person who loves reading, it is always nice to find a story I haven’t read before and I can honestly say that I’ve never read about a character quite like Brenda Cankles of Big & Fabulous. In my experience, when fat women are included in fictional books they aren’t the main character and their story is often centered around their desire to lose weight. Brenda is not such a character and that alone made her story very compelling. As a plus size lead character she is given the agency to direct the story and narrate it. It is especially nice to read about a plus size woman who not only has no desire to diet but who also loves her body as it is and always has. Compared to many of our other current pop culture examples who are obsessed with weight loss or even contracted into losing a certain number of pounds, I’d say it is very refreshing and much more fat positive. In fact, I’ve got some specific and very timely comparisons for you below.
I have to be honest, though, I have some problems with the author’s choice in name the lead character Brenda Cankles. I don’t think it is cute or funny to give a fat character a name that has consistently been used as an insult to plus size people. I think the word itself is pretty triggering for many plus size women who have been bullied and that walking around with it on the cover of the book would be too much for some to handle. I think it paints her as a silly person instead of a complex character worthy of a common and inoffensive last name. I know the author writes comedic books and I like that but I don’t think taking this easy joke is necessary if the content is solid. And I do believe this content is funny, hilarious even at parts, and I think it would be emphasized not diminished if the character had a less stereotypical last name. It makes me take the book less seriously and yet I see Brenda of Big & Fabulous as a well-developed character worthy of paying attention too. As the author describes her she is a living out loud type of woman, someone that we can all aspire to be like in our own unique way.
“Big & Fabulous is about living outside of society’s censure and narrow standards.”
– Randi M. Sherman
As I mentioned above, Brenda loves her body the way it is and always has, she’s very explicit about that early on in the book when she makes comments like;
“Frankly, if the truth be told, I am made of far too much fabulousness to care about what other people think of me”.
“I’m ample, not stupid and not desperate for your approval. I know I have a pretty face and an incredible mind. And I have a gorgeous round, soft, and fleshy body too. I’d fuck me.”
“I’m soft, luscious, and curvy! I’m fucking beautiful.”
However, just a few pages later she engages in some unfortunate body shaming comments targetted at thin women, that prove Brenda may not be as body positive as we all hoped.
“It was clear to me. Today’s society has got it all wrong… Sexy is Sexy. During the Baroque period, rubenesque soft figures were considered a sensual luxury.”
“No one trusts a skinny grandma… we all run smiling widely knowing that we are about to be enveloped by our red-cheeked, plump mushy grandma who has pockets filled with cookies, crumpled tissues, and hard candies”.
As a person with a lovely grandmother who is not only thin but also has pockets, or rather sleeves, filled with crumpled tissues and a cupboard full of fresh baked goodies, I certainly beg to differ. In fact, no one feeds me as well as my grandma does; from turkey dinner with all the fixings to the world’s best butter tarts. So let’s not body shame any body type.
Earlier, I compared this book to the tv show “This Is Us” or at least I hinted at it. It is a show that prominently features a visibly plus-size woman who struggles with her body image and explores several ways she might want to lose weight. The show is pretty fatphobic, given the actress is contracted to lose weight, but it is still one of the only mainstream examples we have of a plus size woman on tv. The characters that do exist are cast within the framework of weight bias whereby the fuller figured woman is always cast with reference to her weight.
“While plus size women make up 67% of the population they only make up 1-2% of the character representation in the mainstream media.”
“In the past 10 years, just three plus-size women have won acting Oscars: Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, and Octavia Spencer (and those have all been for supporting roles — I’ve found that in over 30 years, no plus-size woman has taken home an Oscar for Best Actress)”.
Plus Size Actors Are Left Out of Awards Season via Bustle by Amen Oyiboke
Because of this I want to absolutely embrace any characters we do get to see but I also want to be allowed to provide feedback so these limited representations can continue to improve. I’m so glad to see Big & Fabulous led by a character who loves her fat body exactly as it is. I love that she is fat positive, but I do wish she was consistently body positive towards all other body types as well.
I’m giving away a free copy of this fabulous book and all you have to do to enter to win is comment on any Instagram post referencing the book (look for the images you see in this blog post) with the title of a tv show, movie, or book that features a plus size woman. I’m hoping that we will be able to create a list of fat positive fiction to share and if we come up with a great list I will be sure to archive it into a blog post for you all. If you aren’t on Instagram you can also comment on this blog post with the same criteria. I can’t wait to see what you all come up with. The contest opens when this blog post goes live and closes on February 25th. The winner will be announced on February 26th in my Instagram story and then posted here. The book will then be sent to the winner by the author herself. Best of luck to all who enter and please stay tuned to see who wins!
And the winner is… Meagan Kerr, congratulations! Thanks to all who entered!