- Olivia Luchini
Harry Potter and the Big, Bad People
Before beginning today's topic, I have a confession to make: I didn't follow the Harry Potter series during my childhood. It seems that every other young English major was positively obsessed with these stories growing up, but I never managed to get my hands on a copy.
Flash forward to present day. I'm actively reading The Prisoner of Azkaban and I have watched the movies that correspond with the ones that I have already read (plus The Goblet of Fire because, for some reason, it's always on). I've ever explored Harry Potter world and adopted myself a Crookshanks from Diagon Alley. After taking the Pottermore quiz a multitude of times, I mostly got Gryffindor, though I occassionally got Ravenclaw.
Given these facts, I will obviously be approaching this with a humble heart. I was not attached to these characters in my youth, so my critiques may come across as ridiculous. However, I did a lot of research on the books and the films in order to make sure that I did right by the franchise that so many were shaped by.
Without further ado, let's discuss the books. Later, we can get into the movies (and why they actually acted better than the books with a certain character's form).
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was published on June 26, 1997. It came with a new wizarding world that was written to exist just beyond our day-to-day lives. Its main character begins his journey trapped in our very bland world, where he lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, better known as the Dursleys.
Though his aunt is thin, Vernon and Dudley (uncle and cousin, respectively) are quite wide. Their size has to do a lot with their gluttony and their spoiled natures, but we are shown a villainous image of fatter folks within the first few pages of this book. These characters tormented orphan Harry Potter for his entire childhood. We hate them immediately without question. Vernon's sister, Marjorie, is introduced in the third book. She is also fat, and even promotes a "good thrashing" on children and insults Harry's deceased mother. Her appearance is described in the most unflattering manner (large, beefy, purple-faced, and "with a moustache" like her brother's are som key examples). We don't like her.
So, our first villainous, big lady becomes Marjorie Dursley. We'd hope that the fatphobia might be left in the Muggle world, but it unfortunately permeates into Hogwarts. Characters described as heavy are usually villainous. On the topic of adults within Hogwarts that are WRITTEN as heavy (not necessarily cast as such), we run into Dolores Umbridge. Though the actress for Umbridge is actually quite beautiful, her description is not such. Harry describes her as a "large, pale toad" who is "rather quat with a broad, flabby face, as little neck as Uncle Vernon, and a very wide, slack mouth." Not exactly a poetic description. Unsuprisingly, Umbridge is an evil character who ruthless, cruel, and leads without strong morals.
Our next evil, adult woman who is fat is Alecto Carrow. Described as stocky with sloping shoulders and stubby fingers, Alecto gets a kick out of mistreating students and children while holding beliefs that non-pureblood wizards were lesser. Awesome.
Thus far, we have three villainous, fat women down. What about a villainous, fat girl? Meet Millicent Bulstrode. Her build is described as large and quare, and she has a jutting jaw. Ron Weasley, best friend of Harry Potter, straight-up calls her "ugly," while Harry has the decency to compare her to a hag from the book "Holidays with Hags." Of course, she's evil. Of course, she puts Hermione in a headlock. Of course, she joins Umbridge's Inquisitorial Squadan organization (bad news). She is the only female student who is described as heavyset.
When you search for plus-size characters from the Harry Potter series, you will find these four women and several villainous men. Though I am incredibly interested in heavier male characters (like Hagrid), this blog is dedicated to the discrimination toward female characters in children's entertainment, so we must move along.
Outside of evil, we can briefly look at the character "The Fat Lady," who is a painting that serves as guardian to the Gryffindor tower. Since she's a painting, there isn't much vigor or agency presented by this character, but she is known as indulgent and dutiful, until Sirius Black ruins her portrait and she is so sorrowful that they require additional security.
The fact that her character is called "Fat Lady" opposed to a name like, say, Elizabeth Burke or Valeria Myriadd or Mirabella Plunkett (these are all other portraits), implies not only disrespect and dehumanization, but also spectacle. Her fatness is her only characteristic and it defines her, literally.
So, Fat Lady is defined by her size and doesn't grow as a character past that during the series. We do have one savior when it comes to plus-size women: Mrs. Weasley. However, there seems to be a lot of debate on J.K. Rowling's use of "plump" versus her use of "fat." Plump people, like Mrs. Weasley, are good, while fat characters are typically villains, like the ones I've already listed and Crabbe/Goyle. It implies that fatness/roundness can be acceptable, if limited.
In the category of height, we have Madam Maxime as our only tall lady, and rightfully so. She IS half-giant. Though the actress who plays Maxime in the movies is only 5'7, she is presented as taller than Hagrid on screen and is described to be of his size in the books. This all sounds great because she's not evil, she's tall, and she's feminine, but get ready for disappointment. One of Maxime's key personality traits is her shame toward her giant heritage. She claims that she is just big boned, imitating a response often linked to plus-size individuals. Maxime would be like 200% cooler if she owned her height and size, but we ought to be ashamed of our size, right ladies? Has not that been proven time and time again?
Maxime also falls under the flaw that I pointed out in Disney movies: You can only be larger/taller/fatter if you are older. Maxime is old enough to be a headmistress, as are all of the "plump" women in the Harry Potter books.
With our heads cast down and our hearts all sad, we might be tempted to give up on Harry Potter's world. Just then, the film franchise throws a rogue DVD at us, hollering, "Not just yet!"
Alicia Spinnet dives into the scene. She is given NO physical description within the books (no hair color, eye color, or anything, just a lot of love for quidditch). However, in the movies she is cast as a heavy, strong, tall girl. She is characterized as good and friendly, and she's obsessed with athletics, being a chaser for Gryffindor's quidditch team. Though her love of sports might lead us to label her as more masculine, we know that Alicia lives life supported by a girl squad of her best buds, Katie and Angelina. She is heroic, fighting in the Battle of Hogwarts. She's dedicated and driven, being one of the best quidditch players around. She's got friends and she's protective of them. She's great.
Alicia Spinnet might not have earned any physical descriptors in the books, but her appearance in the movies, no matter how small, is important. While Millicent Bulstrode is the only heavier student in the books, Alicia shows us that good people can be tall, strong and chunky as well. She shows us that they can be winners and friends. She is very important, and it is a shame that she wasn't originally written this way.
Of course, Alicia Spinnet is the ULTIMATE background character. She is named and she's seen every now and again, but she is not a main character in the slightest. It would be amazing if we could see a TSC young woman within the wizarding world who we actually got to hear have thoughts and opinions. For now, Alicia is my savior.
J.K. Rowling has been criticized a lot recently for her lack of diversity in characters. There was a compilation made on Youtube that featured all clips of POC characters across all of the movies, and the clip came out to be less than ten minutes long. That's unacceptable in ways that go far past the argument that I am making, and I'd consider it more important to have ethnic diversity over size diversity any day, though it would be great to have both.
Villainizing sizes, making taller characters embarrassed of themselves and reserving "plump" positivity for mothers and older characters does not allow young witches to see themselves in characters within these books, but it certainly makes them dislike the bodies that they were given.
The Harry Potter book series is the epitome of the "Small is Good" trope. We watch a little, sad boy escape his fat abusers and then find new fat abusers who have wands, and we cheer him on as he calls them hags or ugly because they were acting ugly. It is one thing to have our main character criticize the personalities of his foes, but it is another thing to have him openly criticize their bodies and faces. Though these thoughts make Harry and Ron seem real, they also make young readers believe that this kind of talk is acceptable or that they are lesser for having similar qualities to villains (especially when that quality is reserved for villains).
There is far more Harry Potter content to look at but, for now, we shall stop here. Thank you for reading and I cannot wait to explore the world of Pokemon with you all tomorrow. After all, when it comes to perpetrators of size discrimination, I gotta catch 'em all.