chapter  7
“Voracious Appetites”: The Construction of “Fatness” in the Boy Hero in English Children’s Literature
Pages 18

Obesity is an escalating problem in Western culture and is a particularly worrying phenomenon in childhood, as it leads to associated diseases, limited projected life span, and a poor quality of life for children who are overweight. Being overweight impacts on child subjects not only physically but also psychologically, because the children may well be teased, bullied, and marginalized as being different and perceived as ineffectual members of their peer group who do not conform to the cultural norm. Negative characteristics are popularly associated with being overweight, such as being lazy, slovenly, cowardly, untrustworthy, self-indulgent, and unintelligent. As Marcia Glessner, John Hoover, and Lisa Hazlett point out, body image is an integral factor in contemporary media-driven Western culture (Glessner, et al. 116). Adolescent culture has a strong desire to conform to the idealized peer group model and body shape. Those who do not achieve this aspiration suffer both from the maltreatment executed on them by their peers and also from that which they infl ict upon themselves through poor self-image and low self-esteem. Overweight children therefore become the victims of others and of themselves. The intention of this discussion is to trace the roots of the negative representation of the overweight child, to go back beyond contemporary media representation and to trace the literary depictions in English texts of the overweight child. The position taken here is that the negative representation of the fat child is a cultural construction which has been unchallenged and unquestioned and has thus permeated and become embedded in the consciousness of Western society.