Good Fat People, Bad Fat People

This is a fashion blog, not a media analysis blog, but as a near-rabid Harry Potter fan, I’d like to take a moment, in honor of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, to take a few moments to discuss fatness in the world of Hogwarts.

On her website, J.K.Rowling, author of the series, has posted a rather long rant against the obsession, in most corners of “the media,” with “emaciated” women, and the way that, often, women judge each other based on weight rather than on smarts or other accomplishments. It is rather difficult to find the text – upon entering the site, click on the hairbrush for “Extra Stuff,” then on “Miscellaneous,” and then on “For Girls Only, Probably” – but here is an exerpt:

“Maybe all this seems funny, or trivial, but it’s really not. It’s about what girls want to be, what they are told they should be, and how they feel about who they are. I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin.’ And frankly, I’d rather they didn’t give a gust of stinking chihuahua flatulence whether the woman standing next to them has fleshier knees than they do. Let my girls be Hermiones, rather than Pansy Parkinsons . . . . “

After she posted this, a rather ill-informed reporter wrote an op-ed piece to the effect that Rowling has no right to complain about media images of thinness, since she makes Harry’s loathsome cousin Dudley fat – and therefore Rowling herself is part of the problem.

The good people at Mugglenet.com wrote a refutation, posted here, showing that in the Harry Potter books, being called fat is not a moral judgement. It is simply a statement of fact, and indeed there are several fat heroes and several fat loathsome characters (though the truly evil characters, Voldemort and the Death Eaters, all are apparently of regular size, as are the four main heroes: Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Dumbledore).

From their list:

Fat and Good:

HagridRubeus Hagrid: Not much needs to be said here. Hagrid is the Keeper of the Keys and Care of Magical Creatures teacher at Hogwarts, and the highest-profile good adult character in Book One. He is, despite a conspicuous lack of common sense, a genuine Gryffindor hero, and fat with it.

Pomona SproutPomona Sprout: The highly-skilled, respected and well-liked Herbology teacher at Hogwarts and Head of Hufflepuff house.

Horace Slughorn: An eminent potioneer who was held in such high regard by Dumbledore that he went to great lengths to persuade him to return to Hogwarts for a second spell as Potions teacher.

Molly WeasleyMolly Weasley: The lynchpin that holds the Weasley family together in times of crisis, the closest thing to a mother that Harry has got, and an active member of the Order of the Phoenix.

Neville LongbottomNeville Longbottom: Whilst unsure of his own magical ability and initially portrayed as a bumbler, Neville’s bravery and loyalty has since come very much to the fore. Far from being an incompetent buffoon, he has in fact twice been involved in deadly battles against Death Eaters, fighting courageously (if not always successfully) in each case.

Madame MaximeOlympe Maxime: The Headmistress of Beauxbatons. If you want to find a character in the books who is graceful, intelligent, handsome, and a fine dancer, whilst also being overweight, look no further.

The Fat Friar: The jovial Hufflepuff ghost.


While I notice that, at first glance, a few of the overweight characters are stereotypically written as “bumbling” or “jovial,” on the whole the overweight good guys blend seamlessly into the good-guy group. No one can deny that Molly Weasley is one of the most stable and trusted characters in Harry’s life, though she would never be chosen to grace the cover of Vogue. Madame Maxime has risen to a top academic position among the wizards of France, Pomona Sprout is one of the best-liked and senior teachers in the school, and though Hagrid is bumbling, he is also courageous and loyal. One more reason to love the Harry Potter franchise. Thank you, JK, for the inspiring stories and for producing heroes and villians of all shapes and sizes!

In the comments: No spoilers please!

9 Responses to “Good Fat People, Bad Fat People”

  1. Bridey July 25, 2007 at 11:46 am #

    I’m a passionate Potter-ite, and I’m delighted to see this here. I don’t have a problem with any particular fat character being evil (and Dudley isn’t even fat through all the books). In Rowling’s world, fat is just one of the things people are, rather than shorthand for “weak and stupid.” And anyway, every fat character in media doesn’t have to represent the entire State of Fatness!

    In passing, for a very different take on fatness, take a look at Reginald Hill’s Dalziel-Pascoe books. Dalziel’s overwhelming size is invested with many meanings — none of them having to do with weakness, stupidity or sloth. And they’re wonderful mysteries!

  2. gemdiva July 25, 2007 at 12:52 pm #

    Very well said. I have always thought that since all the Potter characters each seem to have a physical eccentricity (Dumbledore’s beard, Ron’s red hair, Harry’s glasses & scar, Hagrid’s size, etc.) their differences only serve to make each one more interesting and do not cause them to be type cast or out casts. How wonderful it would be to live in a world where the loss of an eye or various limbs (a la Mad Eye Moody) was seen as an opportunity to improve on nature (his revolving eye) rather than as a disability. Too bad more folks don’t think like J.K. Rowling.

  3. Kimmels July 25, 2007 at 2:46 pm #

    I think that Dudley’s being overweight is also meant to show how the Dursleys practically starved Harry – it isn’t meant to comment on Dudley’s moral character but how much they dislike and neglect Harry in favor of their own son, and what terrible parents they are, giving Dudley sugary sweets as pacifiers constantly, along with everything else he wants.

  4. daniel renzi July 25, 2007 at 3:43 pm #

    And there’s the Fat Lady in the Gryffindor Tower portrait. She’s difficult, but she’s on the good side.

  5. Glen August 6, 2007 at 9:57 am #

    I am not a Harry Potter fan so I can’t comment on the characters, but if a work of fiction can depict fat folks in a positive light then I an all for it.

  6. Sabusabu May 22, 2009 at 12:20 am #

    Truth is that there is prejudice about fat people, good reads with fat people in them… The never ending story by Michael Ende and Sodom’s x a song for the end by K.R.Columbus. The first can be found in any store…the later is a pretty rare find but is worth it, it has atleast 4 fat characters and they are unique i bought mine here

    http://www.lulu.com/content/paperback-book/sodoms-x–a-song-for-the-end-/7182389

    Any other books with fat characters?

  7. windfromthenorth December 13, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    What it all goes down with is can fat people be attractive or not – what people really are doing is saying that J.K.Rowling has purposefully depicted fat people as unattractive and “bad” and skinny people attractive and “good”.
    Dudley is a good argumentation point for that.
    However, there are a number of “bad” and unattractive characters that are depicted to be skinny – for example Snape (with his yellowish uneven teeth and oily hair)is very often mentioned to be skinny. Even though he didn’t turn out to be all that bad in the end, his charesteristics as a horrid teacher with an unpleasant personality hardly can be called attractive. And as someone already mentioned, Dudley turned out to not be so bad either.
    When it comes to obese but attractive and good characters Molly Weasley is a good example: even though she’s often mentioned to be heavy has she ever been depicted as unattractive by her looks or by her personality traits? If Rowling would think fat people can’t be attractive, surely she would have made a bigger point out of her unattractiveness. Even Neville, being fat, has never actually been called unattractive, and is one of the most well-liked characters. One other clearly good-looking character is Madame Rosmerta, who is called curvy. Obviously curvy can also mean thin but big hips and breasts, but her being middlle-aged it is likely that she isn’t all that skinny either.
    Fleur Delacour, being both thin and pretty, is actually not that likeable of a character. Even though she isn’t a bad character, she is very vain and belittles people who don’t care about their looks as much as she does. She seems to be overlooked in her opinions by the lead characters and actually ridiculed at, readers can’t really take her obsession over her looks seriously (such as in the fourth book her fussing over getting too fat for her yule dress because of the heavy food in Hogwarts – Hermione makes a joke about it. As well as Fleur saying in the seventh book that Tonks should’ve taken better care of herself and nobody really listens to her opinion). Clearly the lead characters don’t think of it as a big deal.
    The reason for my long rambling is that in my opinion Rowling has just used obesity as one physical trait characters might or might not have and uses it to her advantage – Snape is often called bat-like, for example. Dudley’s obesity is probably just meant to enhance the difference between his and Harry’s life situation; in other words Dudley getting whatever he wants without any control by a parent and Harry not getting even the normal amount of food and care-taking. Obesity isn’t clearly even the only trait that is meant to be unattractive: his hair is thin and flat, his eyes small and watery. Rowling continuously uses unusual traits to colour up her world, and whether it’s freckles that look like pimples (like in Ron’s case), or a magical glass eye in a face full of scars, or bony knees, it’s meant to make it easier for the reader to get into the books and enjoy the vivid language. If you really want to blame someone for unfavouring obese people, blame writers like Stephanie Meyer. How many characters in Twilight happen to be obese or even unattractive? Rowling has written a series of books that are truly accessible by a normal-looking reader and created a world where people are accepted because of their talents or good traits and not because of their looks, like in the real world sadly often happens.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks:

  1. Manolo's Shoe Blog: Shoes, Fashion, Celebrity, and Manolo! - July 27, 2007

    […] Francesca… While I notice that, at first glance, a few of the overweight characters are stereotypically written as “bumbling” or “jovial,” on the whole the overweight good guys blend seamlessly into the good-guy group. […]

  2. Big Fat Deal » Is Harry Potter Pro-Fat? - July 30, 2007

    […] to Manolo for the Big Girl, Harry Potter is pro-fat. (Although I have to say, I hardly think giants count.) (Also, since when is Neville Longbottom […]