Rick Riordan began writing the Percy Jackson series for his son, who had been diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia, as a way to show him a main character with traits just like his and a sense of strength in his diagnoses. Since Haley Riordan was obsessed with Greek mythology, Rick Riordan created a series that revolved around children who were demigods, with one human parent and one Greek god/goddess parent. Through these characters, readers learn about mythology and about embracing who they are and what makes them special. The series was born out of this idea of positive representation, which is why I immediately feel the need to say that it is a necessary and well-written series for children to read because it shows people who are often ignored by entertainment and society, and gives these people leading roles and beautiful stories.
When it comes to female characters within the series, I would say that they're treated far better than most in children's books. Annabeth Chase, the second of the three main characters, has complexity to her character, being incredibly smart, but suffering from her "fatal flaw" of excessive pride. Additionally, she's very caring and loyal toward her friends (to the point of anxiety in their absence), but she has trouble expressing her true feelings, often hiding them behind anger or witty comments. She feels a lot of pressure to be perfect, and this leads her to stress over not having the answer to every problem she faces. We'll notice this complexity in a lot of the child characters throughout the franchise, and it's beautiful because it makes them more human (even though they're all demigods).
Knowing these details, let's get into appearance and body representation within the series.
First of all, if you read the novels in middle school like I did and then closed the last book and considered that the end of the world of Percy Jackson, you would be very wrong. There exists SO much content across the series' universe, including five supplementary works (like graphic novels), two sequel series, two related series, films and a dang musical. Because of this, there is much to critique! Let's roll on, starting with characters from the original book series.
Annabeth Chase's appearance is immediately better for TSCs (tall, strong, chunky ladies) than a lot of young girl characters in children's literature. She is taller than the male protagonist and is described as having an athletic build, which makes sense with all the fighting and exploring she is doing. In these two traits alone, she's already a TS, tall and strong, opposed to the more common trope of being tall and slender for female characters. In the end of the series, when all of the characters are full-grown, Annabeth comes out as shorter than Percy, who also becomes her boyfriend. Though I think it would have been the ultimate power move to keep her taller than her significant other and break that stereotype about couples and heights, I am satisfied with her height being notable, along with her athleticism. It is canonical that Annabeth is about 179 cm, or 5'10, according to The Demigod Files.
Thalia Grace is noted to be tall, though not much detail is given about how tall within any of the books or supplementary works. She is atheltic, but not muscular in a bulky or curvacious way since she is portrayed as very slender.
Calypso is stated to be the ultimate beauty, though it seems that most of that comes from her facial features, hair and clothing, based on what is heavily described. I mention her because there is a comment in The Hidden Oracle in which, even after becoming a full mortal, Calypso still didn't have any flab or acne, which meant that her beauty was still kicking as strong as ever. This sounds kind of "uh-oh," because it sort of is, but we'll move on.
Rachel Elizabeth Dare is described as being tall and slim, which is interesting because she's human, so she really could have been any height, but the author chose tall (woohoo).
Hylla and Reyna Ramírez-Arellano are both described as very tall, as they are associated with the Amazons.
Zoë Nightshade is described as tall AND graceful/gorgeous, so that was a smidge of representation, though it feels more like a comparison to a runway model than an embrace toward tall women outside of the model stereotype.
One of my favorite characters that I found during this search was Meg McCaffrey. No, she's no TSC, but she's small and pudgy, and the daughter of Demeter, who (if you recall) was the only TSC I found in Disney movies (talk about full circle). She first appears in The Hidden Oracle, so she's not in the original series. She's tough, brash and playful, and I like her for that matched with her "pudginess," but I will say that being tubby and tough seems to be a bit of a stereotype. Brashness and chunkiness are often associated, for some reason, while grace and slenderness are a foil to that.
Another thing to commend Riordan for is that none of his female bullies are described negatively due to their shape or size. Whereas other works of children's fiction largely like to paint the taller or chunkier or more muscular girl of the class as some maniacal bully, Riordan uses phrases like "an owl with a makeup addiction" or freckles that looked like they were "sprayed on with liquid Cheetos" to give us images of the mean girls. Riordan, instead of going for a cheap insult, goes for a creative and peculiar description to show the narrator's aggression or frustration toward a certain individual.
However, there is one character that is a bit of a conundrum for me in terms of TSCs and body positivity. Clarisse La Rue. So, while pretty much all of the leading ladies of the series are described as tall to some extent (probably commonly due to their demigod bodies), there is no character with more focus on sheer size than Clarisse. She is described as having the height of a basketball player and the build of a rugby player, muscular with some heft to her. This is awesome, and it definitely makes her a TSC body. However, since my overarching search is for a TSC who is a protagonist and doesn't become immediately masculine due to her size, I have some qualms with the character of Clarisse.
Clarisse is the daughter of Ares, so she loves a good fight. This is where we see that brashness commonly associated with bigger women that I mentioend with Meg. On top of this, while Annabeth is described as having the hair of "a princess," Clarisse's features make her seem sub-human. She has "pig eyes" and a "vicious sneer." We picture an animal, a beast, more than a human. Her character traits often deal with aggression, and she shoves Percy's head into a toilet in the first book. She begins as a bully, though she is redeemed through friendship with the main characters and her heroism in battle. Her character is also "saved" when she gets a love interest, Chris Rodriguez, and is able to show her caring side toward him.
A lot of Clarisse just doesn't sit right with me, but I do understand that most of her characteristics are meant to reflect Ares more than big women. However, it is still disheartening to read a physical description of a character and be like, "There I am!" and then read on to realize that you probably look like some sort of beast, if this is the character you most closely resemble. However, I'm still going to give Clarisse the offical TSC stamp because she ultimately becomes a protagonist and has depth to her character.
Though Clarisse's description is a bit of a disappointment, the area of the franchise that I find most problematic for TSC women is the film universe. I think a lot of people feel this way, as the movies were greatly disappointing to fans everywhere. They were short-lived and, frankly, wrong. Whereas Percy is 12 years old in the first book, he is 16 in the first movie, as are Annabeth and Grover. All of them look far too old for Camp Half-Blood, and this immediately makes them unrelatable to the kids who read the series thinking, "A tween? Like MOI???" In Annabeth, the movies erase all of the complexity in her character aforementioned, and just make sure that you know that EVEN THOUGH SHE'S A GIRL, SHE CAN STILL DO THE FIGHTING AND THINKIN'.
Yet, the area that frustrated me the most that no one seems to be talking about is the casting of Clarisse. Even though I gave you that long talk about how Clarisse was a TSC, the movie makers were not going to roll with that. Everyone knows that tall women who aren't of supermodel physique and glam are unworthy of the screen! So, instead of casting a woman (who should have been twelve, mind you) who was tall, strong or, at the very least, sort of chunky, they cast Leven Rambin (pictured below). She's 5'7 (you now, the height of basketball players EVERYWHERE), very slender and has big, blue, certainly-not-pig eyes. You might recognize Leven from The Hunger Games, in which she plays Glimmer, the super conventionally beautiful tribute from District 1.
This annoyed me so much because, for a lot of people, the release of a movie encourages them to pursue more of a franchise. If a TSC child watched the film adaption of Percy Jackson, she would believe the series had nothing to offer for girls who looked like her, even though there are so many characters within it who are heroic while also being tall, strong and/or chunky.
So, that's my scoop on the demigod universe of Percy Jackson. Thank you for learning with me. I hope you learned something, no matter how small (like that Demeter is always a TSC legend and her kids follow in her footsteps?). Tonight, I'll be looking into the universe of Barbie.
Our Recent Posts
She-Ra reboot earns a lukewarm pat on the back for body positivity
September 7, 2019
Loving Less and Loving More Are Uneven Sides of a Two-Person War