I wrote this piece almost two weeks back but didn’t publish it right away because this seemed too trivial to rant about when the world is on fire. But I woke up this morning to this update that J.K. Rowling is still a giant turd. A vile, transphobic turd.
Who logs on to Twitter in the middle of an effing pandemic and widespread protests due to racial injustice and decides…”hmm, let’s invalidate some Trans men today”.
NOT COOL. You deserve no points.
But despite all this, a small corner of my heart still liked the series. Like many people online right this moment, I used to claim Death of the Author and say the series belonged to the fandom now.
Maybe it’s the way she keeps coming back with worse takes each day, but recently, I’ve started scrutinising her writing in Harry Potter (and her other works — more on that later) and I do not like what I see.
- The naming of the one Chinese character Cho Chang.
- House elves are slaves who don’t want to be freed
- Goblins are hook-nosed and greedy bankers (anti-Semitic much?)
Or how I recently realised exactly how fatphobic the entire series is.
Harry Potter and all the fatphobia.
Let’s start with Dursleys. Vernon and Dudley are fat. They’re greedy, lazy, gluttonous abusers. And don’t get me wrong, fat people can be horrible too but these are literally stereotypes fat people are always given in books and movies. Fatness is always conflated with either badness or laziness and it’s almost always met with derision.
And look at the language Rowling uses.
Right off the bat, Vernon Dursley is described as “a big, beefy man with hardly any neck” and Dudley, “a large pink beach ball wearing different-colored bonnets”. The latter also grows up to be a manipulative, brutish bully, a fat stereotype if I ever saw one.
In The Philospher’s Stone, Hagrid curses Dudley to turn into a pig but is not entirely successful. Dudley only grows a tail but doesn’t turn into an actual pig. And Hagrid’s response? “He was so much like a pig anyway there wasn’t much left ter do”.
If you didn’t already know this, diet talk is actually harmful for fat people and those recovering from eating disorders. I don’t want to hear how hard you’re tying not to look like me, Susan.
Also, 1 in 4 people can develop an eating disorder after hearing diet talk. But Darling Joanne really decided she can normalise eating disorders in The Goblet of Fire with a lot of diet talk.
And it starts with Dudley being described as “roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale”. He’s put on a school-sanctioned diet and in one scene, everyone eats a quarter of a grapefruit for breakfast.
Clearly this book is not for fat people and those with a history of disordered eating.
Even how Harry immediately begs his friends to send food over is problematic because it just proves society’s thinking that going on a diet is harmful for a thin person but is completely expected of fat people.
The problematic portrayal of fat people.
“Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley was very fat and hated exercise.”
Joanne Kathleen is really out there thinking fat people shouldn’t bike. Like ma’am. MA’AM. Sit the fuck down.
Throughout the series, the way Dudley is described is problematic. Your book can definitely have a fat evil character, but if you keep describing their fatness each time you describe their meanness, you are the problem.
Here are actual phrases used to describe Dudley:
- “porky shoulder”
- “piggy eyes”
- “many chins”
- “fat wrist”
And it’s not just Dudley.
Dolores Umbridge, evil incarnate, is described as “squat with a broad, flabby face” when she’s first introduced.
Aunt Marge is also described as “large, beefy, and purple-faced”. When she riles Harry up, his magic makes her swell like a balloon. Would a thin counterpart ever have received this reaction in the books?
Harry Potter and Even More Fat Stereotypes.
There are other stereotypes that are not as glaring as with the Dursleys, but they’re harmful nonetheless. Neville, Hagrid, and Molly are good people and I love all three of them in the books, but you have to agree that there are subtle stereotypes with them too.
While the books didn’t describe Neville as fat — he was just described as “round-faced boy” in The Philosopher’s Stone — Matthew Lewis had to wear a fat suit for the first few movies. Fat suits are really harmful a device to use in movies, but this is not about that.
This is about how in the earlier books (and movies), Neville is portrayed as inept, forgetful, and unlucky. Neville may not be as fat as the Dursley’s but he’s given enough fat stereotypes just the same.
He’s often the cause for plans to blow up — his Remembrall is stolen by the bully Malfoy and the hero has to swoop in and save him, he’s the guy who loses the password to the Gryffindor common room leading to a presumed mass murderer entering it, and more. He’s also clumsy and most often the butt of all jokes.
And by the end of the series, Neville loses his pudge and grows to be confident in his abilities, which in itself is a harmful stereotype.
Ya know, because life is not something that happens after you reach a target weight or size.
When I first pointed out the fat stereotypes in Harry Potter to my friends, their immediate counter-argument was “Hagrid is a giant and he’s the kindest character in the series”.
But here’s the thing. Hagrid is also described as not being intelligent or particularly clever. He’s gullible and his vocabulary is not as great. He may be kind, but kindness doesn’t negate making a big character a literal giant and saying giants aren’t particularly clever. But I’ll still set aside Hagrid mainly for the reason that he’s inherently good.
Another non-evil fat character in the book, Molly falls into the mothering stereotype fat characters often go through. She’s middle-aged and doesn’t need to be attractive, so why not make her fat? It’s only in the last book that we see her being particularly talented in magic. Until then, much of her screen time is devoted to cooking for and feeding others.
Maybe I’m reaching, maybe I’m not. But I know for sure that if I were to re-read the series, I would not be able to get past the Dursleys’ description to even get reintroduced to these characters.
And it’s not just Harry Potter.
You ever think ya girl Joanne may have been fatphobic in the series only because Harry Potter is pretty old and times were different then?
HAHAHAHA, think again.
Jacob Kowalski has entered the chat.
Kowalski is my favourite character in the Fantastic Beasts movie. But I also have to agree that he’s been given all the fat stereotypes.
His size is the butt of most of the jokes. He’s clumsy and has a stereotypical job — baker. He’s naive enough to believe that a bank can loan him money with no collateral except the taste of his croissants.
But you know what gets me every time?
When Newt urges Jacob to follow him into the suitcase — you know, the one enormous animals like the Thunderbird can get into it — he doesn’t fit. A human fat man cannot fit into a suitcase hugeass animals can. Were we supposed to laugh at that?
Casual fatphobia in The Casual Vacancy
Oh honey, it wasn’t just in the Potterverse. I don’t remember much about The Casual Vacancy (I read it the day it released and never bothered re-reading) but I do remember this:
“Though Pagford’s delicatessen would not open until nine thirty, Howard Mollison had arrived early. He was an extravagantly obese man of sixty-four. A great apron of a stomach fell so far down in front of his thighs that most people instantly thought of his penis when they first clapped eyes on him, wondering when he had last seen it, how he washed it, how he managed to perform any of the acts for which a penis is designed.
Partly because his physique set off these trains of thought, and partly because of his fine line in banter, Howard managed to discomfort and disarm in almost equal measure, so that customers almost always bought more than they meant to on a visit to the shop.”
“A great apron of stomach”? What kind of a vile, hateful person would consistently demean fat people in the books they write?
Oh no, I wouldn’t spare The Ickabog either.
Last one, I swear! At least that I know of. Who knows what other fatphobic BS I totally missed in
Karen’s JKR’s writings.
Even in her most recent work, The Ickabog, she doesn’t spare fat people. And this one is a study in fatphobia because look how the thin person gets a description beyond their size while the fat person’s main description IS their size.
“Lord Spittleworth was very thin, cunning, and clever. His friend Flapoon was ruddy-faced, and so enormous that it required six men to heave him onto his massive chestnut horse. Though not as clever as Spittleworth, Flapoon was still far sharper than the king.”
So, in conclusion…
If I had read Harry Potter for the first time now in 2020, I definitely would not have liked it as much as I did back in 2004. A lot of these stereotypes definitely went over my head back then, but not anymore.
And it’s not just the fatphobia — there are several other highly problematic issues with HP including anti-Semitism through goblins, the naming of Cho Chang, Nagini being Asian, including diversity as an afterthought, and more. It’s a shame a series I grew up with went up in flames but I’d rather ruin my own childhood now than support a book that goes against a lot of things I stand for as an adult.
Shut it down.
An academic paper, Harry Potter and the Fat Stereotypes, helped me in articulating some parts of this post. Check it out for a much more nuanced perspective on common fat stereotypes and how they’re used in Harry Potter. This paper has also looked at characters beyond the ones I’ve mentioned in this post.