Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lewis Barnavelt, Fat-Positive Role Model?

We stumbled upon a blog post recently that Rebecca Rabinowitz wrote for the Shapely Prose blog a few years ago about fat-positive children’s books (parts one and two). Her criteria was to find overweight main characters and those portrayed in a positive light. A comment on part one brings Bellairs into the mix, mentioning briefly Lewis’ weight issues:

In a few of the books, the heroes included a girl named (I think) Rose Rita and a boy named Lewis Barnavelt. I’m only now appreciating how remarkable those books are, especially considering when they were written. Rose Rita was a tomboy and was ridiculed by other kids for not being appropriately feminine and weak; Lewis was fat, and was tormented. They, too, were friends — but naturally got teased for being boyfriend/girlfriend. The troubles this causes in their relationship; at one point Rose Rita likes a boy and has to balance that with her longstanding friendship with Lewis. At another point Lewis is getting beat up and Rose Rita punches out his attackers, and Lewis feels diminished as a result, while Rose Rita feels boxed in and unappreciated. Lewis goes on a diet at some point, too; I can’t remember how that was treated. It may have been positive.
John mentions Lewis’ weight a handful of times:
  • Lewis recalls the chants of “Fatty, fatty, two by four…” from kids on the playground [House; 43].
  • Lewis is out of breath from hiking to the cemetery; Tarby notes it’s always hard climbing for fatsoes [House; 85].
  • Lewis’ Aunt Mattie called him a “balloon ascension” [Figure; 4].
  • Lewis tries to diet [14], talks with the gym coach about fitness [42], and sends off for the Charles Atlas muscle-builder kit [Figure; 44].
  • Kids on the schoolyard refer to him as fat guts [35], fatty, lard-ass, and tub of guts [Figure; 66-7].
  • Home from summer camp, he wears a swimming suit [Letter; 181].
John seems to be writing about his own youth in Figure, where taunts of "lard ass" and "fatty" could have once been directed toward him.  Do you think Lewis serves as a true fat-positive role model?   He seems to accept the way he is, though he’s not above trying to lose weight once in a while.  How many readers were overweight and found some solace through Lewis’ actions?  Do the taunts at Lewis harken back to your childhood, too?  Share some of your thoughts in our forum.

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