It’s 2023, and while fat representation has come a long way since Shallow Hal, it’s still a media minefield. If you’re looking for fat-positive or body-neutral reads, check out the YA books with fat protagonists I’ve picked out for you below.
Millennials remember the serious dearth of fat representation in children’s media back in the 1980s, ’90s, and ’00s. Mean Girls taught us that fat was the worst thing a girl could be. Stephen King and that one Scottish author depicted their fat characters as disgusting and unintelligent, worthy of ridicule, shame, and mockery. On the big screen, we saw actresses like America Ferrera, Martine McCutcheon, Amy Schumer, Mae Whitman, and Renée Zellweger portrayed as fat. All of this taught us that gaining weight was to be avoided at all costs, that being fat made a person undesirable and inhuman, and that a fat person was anyone who wore something larger than a size 6.
The truth is, there’s nothing wrong with being fat. Anti-fat bias is more likely to cause harm to a fat person than their weight is. Conditions commonly associated with fatness — such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease — are also associated with chronic stress. And there’s nothing more chronically stressful than just existing in the world as a fat person. You’re constantly thinking about whether you’ll be able to find adequate seating, how much you’ll have to pay for clothes that fit well, how you’ll look in pictures with your friends, what people will say about what you’re eating or wearing that day, and whether or not someone will take a photo of you to post online so that others can ridicule you as well.
Thankfully, things are getting better. Here are a few fantastic YA books with fat protagonists to prove it:
YA Books With Fat Protagonists
Off the Record by Camryn Garrett
Seventeen-year-old Josie’s journalistic aspirations become reality when she wins the chance to write a magazine profile of up-and-coming actor Marius Canet. The dazzle of her two-week press tour dims when an actress comes forward with accusations regarding a powerful Hollywood figure. As more and more women share their stories with Josie, she realizes she can’t ignore their story. But can she convince the magazine to let her expose an abusive man wielding massive power?
If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann
Winnie’s spending the weeks before her first semester of college working in her grandmother’s diner. She has plans to inherit the diner, but that’s looking less and less likely by the day; the business is hemorrhaging money. Winnie has a plan to make the restaurant a success, but putting it in motion means going directly against her grandmother’s wishes.
Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado
Charlie Vega’s adolescence isn’t exactly going according to plan. People in her majority-white hometown have specific ideas about what a teenage girl should look, sound, and act like — and Charlie doesn’t meet those standards. To make matters worse, her mom won’t stop pressuring her to lose weight. Things seem to be looking up when Charlie embarks on a budding relationship with her crush, but how’s she supposed to feel when she learns that he asked out her BFF first?
Here the Whole Time by Vitor Martins
Here the Whole Time centers on Felipe, a fat teenager looking forward to having a few weeks away from his bullies over winter break. He’s got his schedule all planned out…until his mom throws a wrench in the works. Felipe’s crush, Caio, needs a place to stay while his parents go out of town. He’ll be spending 15 days in Felipe’s apartment, which means it’s Felipe’s job to entertain him for the next two weeks. Can he get over his self-esteem issues and win Caio’s heart?
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Young poet Gabi Hernandez navigates complex relationships with her friends and family members in the weeks leading up to her high school graduation in Isabel Quintero’s lyrical debut. This coming-of-age novel shows readers the world through Gabi’s eyes, giving us an inside look at her creative process.
No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter
Emily Daly loves herself. She loves her body. She loves who she is as a person. What she doesn’t love is that other people treat her differently just because she’s fat. That won’t stop Emily from trying to find herself a boyfriend before the end of her senior year, however. But a lot can change in a few months, and soon Emily’s self-love will be put to the test in ways she never imagined.
Girls Like Me by Lola St. Vil
Things haven’t been easy for 15-year-old Shay. She’s reeling from the death of her father, navigating her fraught relationship with her stepmother, and dealing with bullies in her class. The one bright spot in her life is her relationship with Blake, a super-hot guy she met online. There’s just one problem: Blake has no idea who Shay really is.
Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson
Nala and Tye would never have met under normal circumstances; they have next to nothing in common. But Tye doesn’t know that, because Nala told a handful of little white lies to make herself seem like his perfect partner. Before long, she’s deeply in love with Tye…and deeply entrenched in her own web of half-truths. Can she figure out how to be honest with her boyfriend without losing him for good?
Want more books with fat protagonists? Check out these lists of YA books about fat girls kicking butt, comics with fat representation, and romance novels with fat representation on the cover!