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From the Writer’s Desk

Weighing In on Weight

by Rae Carson

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked for a technology company as an inside sales rep. I’d already experienced the “glass ceiling” and wage inequality, but working at—let’s call it Misogyny, Inc.—was my first encounter with that special brand of endemic discrimination that borders on harassment.

A few quick examples:

1. I had an idea that I felt would save our company tens of thousands of dollars per month. So for our weekly company meeting, I prepared all my data, dressed in my best suit, and confidently proposed a new inventory system.

I wasn’t even halfway done with my spiel before everyone started laughing. They told me it would never work. But, they said, I did look very cute in my suit.

At the next weekly meeting, our manufacturing manager presented the exact same proposal. He was lauded as a genius. We implemented it right away, and he got a big bonus for saving the company so much money.

2. After two years, I got a raise and a tiny promotion. My sales numbers were the highest in the company. Not by much, and not all the time, but it was an impressive feat, considering the other reps were seven-year-plus veterans. After the news got around, one of my female co-workers said, in a biting tone, “I’m sick to death of people thinking you do a good job just because you’re hot.”

She worked hard to promote this perception among our co-workers. In no time, I had a reputation as “the lazy one who gets away with stuff because she’s cute.”

3. I got very sick with food poisoning or a stomach bug or . . . something. I’ll spare you the details. But after two miserable days, I clawed my way back to work. I still couldn’t eat, so I brought a large supply of Pedialyte to keep me on my feet. Naturally, I lost a ton of weight very quickly.

The rumor quickly got back to me that I was bulimic. Another female co-worker had told everyone that for months, I had been eating meals on the company dime and throwing them up to lose weight.

Looking back, a couple of things stand out to me. In all three of these instances, 1) my body was tied to my performance, and 2) women were involved.

My experience is not unusual. Thousands, maybe millions of women have their accomplishments waved away or ignored daily, even as their bodies suffer devastating scrutiny—from both men and women.

These experiences were very much on my mind when I sat down to write The Girl of Fire and Thorns. The protagonist, you see, is fat. Elisa has an unhealthy relationship with food. No one believes she’ll accomplish anything, and her lifelong social conditioning has caused her to believe this harmful perception.

She begins to change right away. In chapter two, she stands up for herself and takes control of her wedding night. In chapter three, she saves a man’s life by grabbing the weapon of a dead enemy and stabbing with it. In chapter four, she has an epiphany about her own self-absorption and makes a point to focus on others—and on and on through the end of the book. My goal was to show Elisa gaining confidence through a gradual process of taking control of her own life and destiny.

But with Misogyny, Inc. so fresh in my mind, it occurred to me that some people in Elisa’s world might be unable to see past her body to her accomplishments and personal growth. So, for instance, without knowing Elisa at all, her maid finds her unworthy of being the chosen one, and despises her. And later, when (minor spoiler . . . ) Elisa loses some weight, a certain man finds her attractive for the first time—but is unable to acknowledge that she has become a great leader in her own right.

One sees her as fat. One sees her as beautiful. Neither can see beyond her outward appearance to the truth of who Elisa really is.

I know how easy it is to look at a woman and see nothing but a body. I’m guilty of it, too. How many times do we look at a beautiful, blond woman in a short skirt and think airhead or bimbo or shallow? Maybe she’s a rocket scientist with multiple PhDs. Maybe a battered paperback of her favorite Coetzee is shoved inside that Prada bag.

We just don’t know.

You can’t tell by looking at a woman’s body how much she exercises, how much she eats, whether or not she’s lazy, whether she is confident or depressed or accomplished.

When I drafted The Girl of Fire and Thorns, I was an athletic size 6. I felt beautiful then. I’m sixty pounds heavier now, and aside from my wardrobe, little has changed. I’m still smart. I’m still writing books. I’m still in love with my life. I still feel beautiful.

I grant that there have been some gradual shifts in maturity and confidence. But like Elisa, I’ve earned the heck out of these changes through life experience and introspection—not through changing the way I look.

A woman has a right to have and enjoy whatever body her choices or circumstances give her. But Misogyny, Inc. showed me how crushing it is to feel that the sum whole of your worth is wrapped up in your flesh.

So, to my fellow women I make this New Year’s resolution: I will commit to seeing beyond your breasts or fat or beauty to the essence of who you are. And I will vociferously defend your right to have your accomplishments acknowledged and lauded—no matter what you look like.

 

Rae Carson‘s debut novel The Girl of Fire and Thorns is a finalist for YALSA’s William C. Morris YA Debut Award and a finalist on the Cybils Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult) list. Rae was also recently named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start.

48 Comments

  1. Excellent post, Rae. Thanks for being so honest and open about your story.

  2. Sara McClung says:

    Rae, you are truly beautiful. Inside and out. In every way. What an amazing post.

    Looking into the core of who a person (woman OR man) truly is, is the way to build real relationships, whether personal or business.

    <3

  3. Thank you so much sharing, and I totally applaud you for that resolution. I think it’s a good one to have, and I will definitely keep it in mind. I also find it sick that women judge each other so harshly. Isn’t it bad enough to already be seen as the weaker sex in so many ways? The last thing we need is to tear each other down as well.

  4. Ems says:

    *stands up and cheers*

    Fantastic post on an issue that shouldn’t be an issue. It really is what’s inside that counts, and the sooner we can realize that, the better off we’ll all be.

  5. Jodi Meadows says:

    Fantastic post. Thank you, Rae!

  6. Rae. Rae. Rae. The truth you’re telling is so important. I’m the father of two young women (one who’s happened to’ve read A Girl of Fire and Thorns, and loved it) and I just have to say that the myths you’re debunking here, and in the novel, are universally undermining the rights of young women everywhere to be who they are. Weight/body-identity/complexion and all that other BS is only part of it. Girls are not expected to be smart, well-read, overly athletic, or essentially anything that isn’t flat-out pretty.

    It’s wrong, and we must not stand for it. Thank you so much for leading the charge.

  7. You know, when I heard the news your book was being published, I was thrilled for you. I put it on my reading list and recommended it to my library. When I heard the news it’s been nominated for Morris and Cybils awards, I was doubly thrilled for you. But your book stayed right where it was: on my reading list. Funny, then you mention that the protagonist is fat, and guess where the book is now? On my Kindle! Thank you for this post, for your resolution, for writing a fat protagonist, and for reminding everybody that women are more than just our bodies, boobs, and beauty. The only reason why I’m writing this and not reading your book right now is because I’m waiting for my Kindle to recharge.

  8. Proud and honored to know you. <3

  9. I want to clap you on the back, shake hands with you, fangirl a ton, and hug you fiercely right now. Just not at the same time. That could be awkward.

    Rae, I read your book a while back and loved it, and I just read your post (obv.) and I love it. You are truly strong, and I applaud you for your strength and wisdom. Thank you.

    Thank you.

  10. Kate Coombs says:

    Rae, I read your book last fall and loved it (as I said in my blog review), but now I love it even more! Thanks for sharing this. I struggle with my weight, and I really appreciate what you’ve said. Of course, you left me with a burning disdain for Misogyny, Inc.!

  11. Kate says:

    What a fantastic post, Rae. Thank you.

  12. Alice says:

    Amazing post Rae, thank you.

  13. Wendy Wagner says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Rae! Body image issues have been with me my whole life. I wish I’d had THE GIRL OF FIRE & THORNS to read when I was 13 or so!

  14. Pam says:

    That was one of my favorite parts of your story and I got where you were going with it. Brave words from a brave woman. <3

  15. Jeff Petersen says:

    I love that your protagonist isn’t a Disney Princess, but a regular person who faces real-world struggles with how people view her and how she views herself.

  16. C.J. Redwine says:

    I <3 you, and this is but one of the many reasons why.

  17. Deb Marshall says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Doesn’t seem enough to say just that. Powerful, powerful stuff. Your book has been in my to read pile for a bit now. Too long I’d say. And what a fantastic tie in/discussion for a teen reading group, or adult!

  18. Colleen Ryckert Cook says:

    Writing a nonfiction book for hire right now about teen girls and body image. Thanks for the insight.

    my best,
    Colleen Ryckert Cook

  19. Standing, applauding, and ignoring the strange looks my 3yo is throwing me.

    Thank you for your wisdom.

  20. Wow, Rae. Words escape me. This is powerful stuff.

  21. Jen Klein says:

    Bumbled over here from Twitter and am now putting this book in my TBR pile. It sounds wonderful and I love what you have to say about how we women view and treat each other. I’m a skinny chick. I don’t diet, I don’t exercise (although I’m striving to change that this year). I’m a waif — it’s just my body type and if you met my family, you’d see that it’s genetic. I know I’m in the minority here, but it IS annoying to have your skinniness such a large part of how people view you. When you’re thin, others think it’s perfectly all right to comment on your weight, make jokes about how you should order an extra dessert, question aloud why you’re eating salad, etc. Really love your post… and am kinda hoping you’ll out Misogyny so they can be shamed. :)

  22. […] it pertains both to my own life and to The Girl of Fire and Thorns–is up on the Greenwillow blog. I admit, I was nervous to write this, and it’s possible I have overshared! But thanks to […]

  23. Rae Carson says:

    You all are amazing. Thanks so much for your wonderful, kind comments. I admit to being a bit nervous about this post, so your support means a lot to me. Happy New Year! <3

  24. Robin Reul says:

    WOW. That was such a powerful post. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal and important, and underscoring the idea that all we experience, good and bad, can help us write deeper, truer characters. I look forward to reading your book! I sincerely hope you send autographed copies to your female ex-co-workers. :)

  25. sarah says:

    Awesome post. I will be tracking down your book and reading it on the strength of this post alone.

  26. Brandi says:

    I can’t praise this post enough. Tying up my self worth with my physical appearance is something I’ve been struggling with a lot lately and everything you wrote here really resonated with me.

  27. What an achingly honest post. In my imaginary bubble, I had imagined we were past all this. I had thought I could shed my feminist–no–humanist mantle and exist knowing my equality. Much how I thought that gay men and women are no longer persecuted. Our culture hasn’t evolved as much as I had hoped.

    Whether it is outward, or simply undermining, this kind of demeaning behavior is abhorrent. I can’t wait to read your book.

    There is strength in honesty and sharing. Thanks!

  28. Myrna Foster says:

    Thank you for this post. Weight is such an emotional button BECAUSE almost everyone sees it as defining. Girls and women can be so nasty when they’re jealous. Have you read Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine?

    I really enjoyed Girl of Fire and Thorns – looking forward to the next one!

  29. Danny Adams says:

    Is it wrong of me to hope that you somehow worked Misogyny’s real name into the book somehow? Maybe as a misogynistic character? :)

  30. Karen Hooper says:

    Well said, Rae. I know some of these labels and hurtful/insulting/incorrect assumptions all too well. I’ll take that vow with you and look at essence instead of appearance.

  31. Lissa Price says:

    Rae, you were so welcoming to me, a newbie, at WFC. I thought you were great then. Now I think you’re magnificent.

    Terrific post.

  32. This is so excellent, I sent a link to my daughter. She is a Pilates instructor who recently started fining her clients a quarter every time they make a disparaging remark about their appearance. She’d decided that women were their own worst enemies, looking for fault in themselves or other women and talking about those failings all the time. I had to put one quarter in her jar before I became more cognizant.
    I loved what you did with Elisa’s awareness of herself and how others reacted to her. It was authentic and thought-provoking.

  33. Julia Karr says:

    What a great post, Rae! It doesn’t matter what end of the scale (any kind of scale) you’re on, if you’re a woman you’re probably being judged on how you look – not who you are. And – that is just not right! Kudos for writing an honest book with a tough subject (and, from what I’ve heard – a fabulous read!) I’m looking forward to reading it!

  34. This is an awesome post, Rae. A friend posted it to our writing loop and said she bought your book because of it. I came here out of curiosity – and now I’m following in her footsteps. I, too am off to buy your book.

    Thanks for your courage, your honesty, and your words.

  35. Rae-Everything you said is SO true and I was so happy when I came across a character that wasn’t a size 6. And THANKS for not judging me by my boobs or my body. You’re Awesome.

  36. LOVE. Thank you for writing this.

  37. Jen says:

    Your post really hit me in the gut. I have gone backward on this issue in the last few years instead of forward. I used to feel like my size didn’t matter and it was what was inside that counted, until my significant other pounded it into my head that I wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t skinny. Now, I find myself judging other women, like the skinny, gorgeous moms at my daughter’s dance class, because I’m jealous and it hurts me to think of what my husband would be thinking if he were there. :( Thinking that way isn’t going to help me, though! Your post reminded me that nobody is benefiting from me projecting my negative feelings on other people. I definitely need to work on that. And if I could find a way to feel good about the person in the mirror again, that would be great too! I just don’t feel like I can right now.

  38. NicoleL says:

    Wow, Rae, I am SO mad on your behalf because of Misogynist Inc! I knew this stuff still happened, but I hadn’t heard it directly from anyone before, just secondhand accounts or in books. You are lucky and strong that you were able to walk away and that you were able to do so with your sense of self intact. Thanks for sharing.

    And thank you for posting this, because I finally get to ask my question: Has anyone gotten mad at you because Elisa lost weight? In other words, have you heard from anyone saying they wanted her to stay fat and succeed as a fat woman?

  39. Amazing and inspiring post. I am definitely going to read The Girl of Fire and Thorns.

    Judging by body type is so ingrained in culture, and in my own life, that sometimes I forget it’s there. It’s so subconscious. That’s en excellent resolution to make and I vow to be more aware of how I judge people by looks and try to avoid it.

  40. MelanieS says:

    Thank you for this amazing post and for sharing.

    It’s very sad how much we judge others based upon appearance. The man with the badly broken and rotting teeth is disgusting, probably a loser who doesn’t have good hygiene (instead of perhaps a hard working father who is trying so hard to just support his family and cannot afford a dentist despite the fact that he works 60+ hours a week.)

    Some of the most interesting people I’ve ever known have been people that most of society overlooks, avoids looking at, or snubs because of their looks.

  41. […] weigh in on weight. Could also be titled: “Rae takes a risk and possibly overshares.” http://greenwillowblog.com/?p=4757 #girloffireandthorns – @raecarson (Rae Carson – Girl of Fire and […]

  42. Claire Dawn says:

    Hear, hear! I’m fat. I’ve been fat my whole life. I’ve always been active and I’ve never been an overeater. I’m just genetically predisposed to be fat. Could I be skinnier with some work? Of course. But I kind of hate that every fat chick story is about a sedentary overeater, or comfort eater.

    I guess that’s another story I need to write. Thanks!

  43. Katie says:

    Thank you for this. This post alone made me add The Girl of Fire and Thorns to my To Be Read list :)

    I admit, I have been guilty of “stereotyping” before, and have been a victim of it, too. Your post is a much-needed reminder to all of us to look beyond the skin and into the soul.

  44. […] Speaking of weight, and this is just an aside: Carson wrote a fantastic blog post about women’s beauty and how women are perceived not just in the workplace, but in society, and how we’re judged by men and OTHER WOMEN based on how big or little we are. It’s a fantastic post that references The Girl of Fire and Thorns, so if you haven’t had a chance to read it, please do. I’ve even provided the link here. […]

  45. Ammy Belle says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing – I am a part of the corporate work machine right now, and all I get is dismissed – I think being young, female and professional is generally something looked down on. My male colleagues with less experience and education are the go-tos for things that are in my jurisdiction – I don’t need my contributions baby sat I need them implemented, tyvm.

    Thanks for the honesty! And good luck with your career – wherever it takes you :)

  46. Lily Cate says:

    This post is fantastic.
    I could jump off from here and go on for miles. The lack of respect goes so far beyond the overt discrimination in the workplace. The reason it still happens in the workplace might be that we are so used to a general level of misogyny that we don’t recognize because it’s just part of the background noise.
    We see the same messages over and over
    – women are decoration, accessories, toys, if a woman isn’t physically perfect, she’s worthless. Conversely, even if she is physically perfect by some completely artificial standard, she has nothing else to offer. The worst thing a man can be is feminine or female in any way. Men who treat women with respect are wimps or idiots or losers. Men are fun and lively, women are shrill, joyless nags, etc.
    We know better. We should expect better.

  47. […] moved it from my reading list to my Kindle? This post at the Greenwillow Books blog, where she talked about misogyny, and how a woman’s worth is […]

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