You wouldn’t think that a “fat positive” romance novel would have to be its own Read Harder category, but it’s truly been a hard thing to find for so long. Western culture (and American culture in particular) has been so fatphobic for the majority of the modern era, and it’s been particularly hard for people who wanted to write a story where a fat person could fall in love, be deserving of that love, and not have to lose weight to do it. And let me take this moment to remind everyone: fat positivity is not glorifying obesity.
What makes something fat positive? Is it the way the characters are described by the author, especially when they’re naked? Is it the way the love interest sees the fat main character, not in spite of their fatness (and not because of it either—that’s called a fetish), but their fatness as simply a part of them? Is it the way the character moves through the world, not afraid of their fatness or of people’s perception of that fatness, even if they have to deal with people who aren’t fat-positive in the course of the story?
Or is it something intangible that just makes you know you’re in a safe place?
It’s all of those things, individually and put together.
Here are some great books that have fat protagonists and fat-positive protagonists who are not fat themselves (often love interests of the fat protagonists) for the 2021 Read Harder Challenge.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
This is probably one of the best books of 2020, and one of my favorite books, full stop. April is a geologist who moonlights as a Big Name Fan of blockbuster show Gods at the Gates. She and her online friend Book!AeneasWouldNever rule over a server for fans of the show and beta fan fiction for each other. When she gets a new job, she decides to be more open about her fandom, leading to her posting a photo of herself in cosplay. When the star of the show, Marcus Caster-Rupp, defends her from some fatphobic assholes, they find themselves going on a date—at which point Marcus (secretly Book!AeneasWouldNever) realizes April is his longtime online friend. But he can’t tell her, and that’s one of the impetuses of the question “Why can’t they be together?” Secrets, you know. But there are also issues with April and her toxic parents, neither of whom approaches her fatness in a good way. But April and Marcus (with a couple of misunderstanding-style hiccups) are both fat-positive and fat accepting.
Note: Olivia Dade’s older books show a bit of her own issues with fat acceptance, but her more recent books, including her self-published ones, are all great in their own ways.
If the Boot Fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon
This is one of the few books I’ve picked up where the female protagonist names a dress size for herself, and it sort of sets the tone for the rest of the book. Amanda is an aspiring screenwriter whose day job as a personal assistant has overwhelmed her dreams. After she’s invited by a friend to an Oscar party and spends the night with the most recent Best Actor, neither can stop thinking of the other. And when they run into each other at that same friend’s wedding on Sam Pleasant’s family ranch, he’s determined it’s fate. But she doesn’t think she’s in a place to date—mostly because of her job—and rebuffs him at every chance. But that won’t stop true love.
Note: Rebekah is overall an excellent author to pick up if you’re looking for fat and fat-positive characters.
Guarding Temptation by Talia Hibbert
Talia Hibbert writes fat-positive romances in every direction (including her first traditionally published series, starting with Get a Life, Chloe Brown), but this is one of only a few contemporary M/F romances I’ve come across with a fat male protagonist. In this novella, Nina is a young activist who has been receiving threats to her safety, and her brother’s best friend James is prepared to keep her safe. The two have an awkward relationship now, thanks to an attempt by Nina to have sex with him, only to be rebuffed. But the time they spend together might change things.
Note: Talia’s M/M romance Work For It also has a fat male protagonist.
From Scratch by Katrina Jackson
This was the first time I had ever seen a real fat woman on the cover of a book. Mary leaves life as an academic to start a new life in a new town as a baker. She catches the eye of both the fire chief and a local police officer, who are friends. After a bit of talking in circles, the three of them start a new kind of relationship for each of them—both sexual and emotional. There’s a lot of talk of food, but even when their relationship is contested by the people of the town, Mary’s fatness doesn’t come into it.
Note: Katrina Jackson is another author to pick up if you’re looking for fat characters of all types.
A Delicate Deception by Cat Sebastian
This is a bit of a cheat, since fatness (well, plumpness) was in fashion in the 19th century. But even then, many of the Regency and Victorian (and Edwardian and Georgian and Medieval) historical romances that we pick up include slender, svelte female protagonists and male protagonists that are maybe large or robust but rarely fat. The male protagonist in A Delicate Deception is also described with some girth, though he isn’t as self-conscious about his weight as the giant Scot in Sarah MacLean’s A Scot in the Dark.
Their Troublesome Crush by Xan West
We lost Xan, AKA Corey Alexander, this year, but their work both as a writer and as a book lover lives on. And the series that includes this one, sandwiched between Nine of Swords, Reversed and Eight Kinky Nights in release order, drops us into the lives of Ernest, a show tunes–loving submissive, and his metamour Nora. The two want to do something special for their shared dominant for his birthday, and find in their meetings they have romantic feelings for each other. This is a sweet, kinky story that clearly shows the range of kink, romance, and relationships.
Team Phison by Chace Verity
If you want something adorable to read, you can’t go wrong with good old Phison (both in Team Phison and Team Phison Forever). When Phil finds a new online gaming friend in Tyson, who is so bad at their game but so enthusiastic about…everything…he can’t help but form a connection with the younger man. As the two play together and learn more about each other through their headsets, they grow closer…at least in emotion. Then there’s the distance. This one has a pretty broad age gap (Phil is 55 and Tyson is 28), but it’s partly that difference of life experience and cultural references that makes their courtship so precious.
If the Dress Fits by Carla de Guzman
Start with the dedication and go on from there. (After you’ve wiped your tears.) Martha is a fat, capable woman with professional goals and the perfect wardrobe. But when her cousin announces her engagement to the man Martha has always loved, her best friend Max steps in to defend her—and is suddenly her fake boyfriend (LOL). The two are great together, but there’s always the issue of silly people in love. We continue to love them anyway.
If there’s one thing to say about romance by Black authors and Black romance in particular, it’s that those authors aren’t afraid to give us fat heroines. That’s how we get A Taste of Her Own Medicine by Tasha L. Harrison, or White Whiskey Bargain by Jodie Slaughter, Things Hoped For by Chencia Higgins, or I Think I Might Love You by Christina C. Jones. And overall, you’re more likely to find an array of fat-positive romances in self-publishing than in traditional publishing, at least until now. As we move into 2021, I look forward to seeing what else romance has in store. I know Olivia Dade has been talking about basing a character on much maligned (but wildly attractive) Fat Thor, and there were a few new releases at the end of the year like The Lady’s Champion by Marie Lipscomb with fat male protagonists. I’d also like to find more paranormal romance where the fat part of a fat character goes beyond a brief mention of a character’s body and then never mentioned again.
We’ve got a long way to go as a society when it comes to fat positivity for all types and all genders, but I hope we see more steps in the right direction soon.
To find more recommendations and to read more about considerations of fat representation, positivity, and acceptance, here are some great things to read:
- The Troubling Gap Between Fat Representation and Fat Acceptance
- 12 Must-Read Romances with Great Fat Representation (some titles cross over from this list)
- Corey’s favorite fat rep from 2019