{overweight & invisible}

Bets continues the conversation at the School Library Journal Blog.

Most of the time authors have little or no say in reference to covers — while I had the pleasure with HAPPY FAMILIES in seeing a cover concept I worked on with the book designer come to life in the hands of professionals, this is rare indeed. We have zero control, and can only say, “Yes, we like!” or “No, I don’t…” and neither matters, if marketing has had their say.

I always wanted Lainey to be a little more rounded. I hoped that for the paperback cover, we’d have another shot at that. There are so many beautiful round and curvacious girls — surely that was not the worry, of not finding a teen model pretty enough for the traditional YA Female Half Face cover? Thinking about it, Flavor of the Week, by Tucker Shaw was the first book I read about a heavier boy — and the cover copped out and showed a chocolate dipped strawberry. Fat Boy Swim depicts a swimming pool and the top half of a swim-cap wearing, goggled face, and K.L. Going’s most excellent Fat Kid Rules the World shows us a muddy sketch with half of body and a bunch of drumming equipment. So far, we can say the word — about boys, at least. But we still can’t bear to look.

In Middle Grade fiction, I think the last book I saw with an overweight character on the cover was … Judy Blume’s Blubber… and really, her unattractiveness stemmed from the aggressively ugly covers of the 70’s. Even then, through a series of at least six covers that Dell and Scholastic used, before settling on a whale motif, Blubber is never depicted as truly heavy, thus confusing the reader into the thinking mean girl Jill and her fellow hectoring classmates are either blind or of limited intelligence.

Post-Blubber, there seems to be nothing in terms of well-adjusted curvy girls and big guys in cover art. If the character is larger sized and happy, they seem to be either slimmed down so that they can star on the cover, or something like a car, a mirror, an article of clothing or equipment, or a piece of food stands in for them.


We believe strongly that teens and young adults should be reflected in their literature. No, we do.

In YA and children’s lit, plus equals minus. Book designers can and will erase anyone outside of the dominant culture size “norm.” Please read Betsy’s piece and keep thinking about this. I believe it’s important.

2 Replies to “{overweight & invisible}”

  1. I perked up when I read some quotes from author Jennifer Weiner, who said in her Twitter feed, “Entertainment Weekly notices women on book covers w/ plus-sized heroines aren’t very big. Hey, you know who else noticed that? Authors.” Also, “If I had a dime for every time I begged my publisher, ‘Please make her bigger’ and got them to digitally add five lbs…sigh.” And then I realized, wait, this does not bode well when an author who makes a lot of money for her publishing house doesn’t have much of a say in her book covers.

  2. I often feel like I want to bring the marketing teams of various publishers to my library to spend a week observing kids and teens looking at books and talking to them about why they choose what they choose and how they feel about the covers after they read the books. First, the wrong cover can KILL a book. Just kill it. Second, kids and especially teens who read are WAY more savvy than marketers give them credit for. They know enough to be disgusted when a cover inaccurately represents what’s inside the book; I’ve heard SO MANY young readers complain about this kind of thing. They know darned well why publishers put a thin girl on the cover of a book about a heavier girl. And this not only says that everyone worth looking at should be thin. It also in a slanty way says that the only people you readers should care about are thin ones (or beautiful ones or sexy ones or blond-haired-blue-eyed ones or whatever the case may be–insert your unrealistic picture of humanity).

    I say this all the time, but serious readers–who are the ones fueling a lot of purchasing–want to read a wide variety of books, about a lot of different people and places and things. That’s not why everyone reads, but it’s why most people with large personal libraries read.

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