Recent Comments


    Writing About Plus-Sized Characters

    By Michele Karlsberg–

    Michele Karlsberg: Author Cindy Rizzo is featured in this issue of the San Francisco Bay Times. I recently attended the Golden Crown Literary Society (GCLS) Virtual Conference, where Cindy was a panelist. I asked her to share her thoughts on writing about plus-sized characters. Her panel discussed addressing the needs of our diverse community, and participants explored the necessity for more books that feature plus-size women protagonists. Though authors are making progress, the market segment is still vastly underserved, as it is for other marginalized communities.

    Cindy Rizzo: In the early days of the internet, many of us flocked to fan fiction sites and riffed off the then popular Xena: Warrior Princess tv show, adding our own stories of love and adventure between Xena and Gabrielle.  Soon, some of those writers became authors of book-length novels, and others started their own publishing companies. All of this accelerated with the advent of ebooks, where anyone could become both author and publisher.

    Most of these books, dubbed lesfic, were concentrated in a few genres, with romance becoming the most popular. Readers wanted to see women pairing off together and having their happily ever afters. So, the books proliferated and the choices were many. Except when it came to diversity.

    Maybe it was because the origin story of these romances, namely Xena, involved two beautiful, feminine women, one blonde and one brunette, both white. The books tended to keep to that path, allowing only small variations from it.

    Up until recently, almost all of the books featured white, beautiful (usually feminine), able-bodied women in their 20s or 30s, most of whom had idealized figures: tall, thin, and (my personal pet peeve) “toned.”  

    In the same way it takes a long time for an ocean liner to change direction, the books are slowly changing. Many of us, both authors and readers, are speaking up; and those of us who write are beginning to include characters, especially main characters, whose weight does not conform to what insurance company charts tell us we have to weigh.

    Change can take time, but it can happen. When I contacted indie author Harper Bliss after reading her romance Everything Between Us, which features a plus-size main character, I asked her how the book was being received, and was thrilled to hear that it was her best seller. This prompted me to write my short story, “Big Girl McG Goes to the Con,” about a big lesbian teen attending her first literary conference and finding herself the object of affection of her adorable roommate. That story was published in the anthology Conference Call (Bella Books).

    Recently, I participated on a panel called Size Matters that was part of the virtual conference being held by the Golden Crown Literary Society, the membership organization that promotes and educates about lesbian and queer women’s literature. The authors on the panel talked about our efforts to increase diversity in our books, especially with regard to body size.  

    We lifted up indigenous and African American cultures, where plus-sized women are revered and celebrated, underscoring the connections between marginalized identities. Over 100 people attended this virtual panel, and in the chat area, attendees had their own lively discussion about the topics, sharing lists of books with curvy or plus-sized characters who are healthy, happy, and loved, and who are not focused on losing weight.

    I take great reassurance from discussions like these, along with the hope that in addition to Xena and Gabrielle look-a-likes, our books might soon include a wide range of characters who are more like Lizzo, Beanie Feldstein, Melissa McCarthy, and Queen Latifah.

    Cindy Rizzo is an award-winning NYC-based writer of three novels who has also published short stories and essays. Her upcoming book, “The Papercutter,” is a young adult speculative fiction novel set in a future where the USA has split into two countries.

    Michele Karlsberg Marketing and Management specializes in publicity for the LGBTQ+ community. This year, Karlsberg celebrates 32 years of successful book campaigns. For more information:

    Published on July 16, 2020