We Are More Than Our Bodies | ‘Fat Chance, Charlie Vega’ & The Importance of Fat Rep in YA

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Content Warning: this blog contains discussions of the death of a parent, fatphobia, racism, and emotional abuse.

“I want to be Charlie—unapologetically Charlie. Shoulders back. Head held up high. Fat, beautiful body and all.” — Fat Chance, Charlie Vega by Crystal Maldonado

From the moment I saw the cover of Crystal Maldonado’s Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, I knew it was going to be a story for me. I’m instantly sold by a fat girl on the cover of a book, and am still patiently waiting for the day that we get fat boys in all their glory on book covers, too. However, my enjoyment of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega did not hinge solely on what Charlie herself looks like. Her character is complex in that her arc doesn’t entirely revolve around her body; instead, like a lot of young adult stories, readers get to follow her on a path toward self-love. As such, this novel explores various relationships between friends, family, and romantic partners. 

Charlie Vega is a Puerto Rican teen who loves to be creative, whether it be art or writing. She’s smart and loves love, and even though Charlie’s never really experienced it for herself, she likes writing about it. Charlie is also fat — a fact that some people get stuck on, especially her mother, who tries to get her to drink weight loss shakes despite her daughter’s wishes to connect beyond their appearances. Amelia, Charlie’s best friend, is fiercely loyal and defends Charlie and truly loves her. However, as Charlie begins a relationship with a boy named Brian, a rift begins to grow between the two. 

Fat Chance, Charlie Vega has a lot of romance and super sweet scenes, but it also has some very intense moments that I felt viscerally. I can relate word for word to instances where Charlie wants to crawl out her skin, where she pinches at herself and hates what she sees. These moments made me cry and feel so seen, especially when the complicated dynamic Charlie has with her mother develops throughout the book. The two had a strained relationship for years, but as her mother lost weight and her father died, the strain became too much to the point that Charlie’s mother began to be very harmful to her daughter. Franky, I’d consider it emotional abuse because of the way that Charlie feels throughout the novel. I could relate to her feeling as though she needed to hide what she ate and how much—it all really broke my heart. My current relationship with my mom reflects that of these characters, where a lot of our conversations are about my body and are rarely ever positive. As a person whose weight has fluctuated all my life, it is so apparent how the specifics of my body control how people treat me, so it meant a lot to see this on the page. I love how Maldonado allows Charlie and her mother to work through things, and it gives me a lot of hope for the future. 

When it comes to friendships, Charlie has a lot of jealousy toward her best friend, Amelia. I really appreciate this being included in Fat Chance, Charlie Vega because as the book states, it’s a very human feeling to have. The way that Charlie learns to set herself apart from Amelia and really champion herself, instead of yearning to be like others, is so fantastic. Charlie is such a fun character with so much personality and I really like how she realizes how much she has to offer. She loves fashion, art, and writing and really shines at her job. The ways that she is characterized were really relatable, especially because of how I was able to ‘find myself’ in high school through similar creative outlets. The scenes where she stands up against harmful opinions in class and embraces all she is in these spaces is lovely and made my heart so happy. 

Also, the presence of Ms. Williams was a nice addition because, more or less, we’ve all had a teacher that gave us direction and inspiration, and for Charlie that was in her English class. 

Noting Charlie, she is by no means a perfect character. She is flawed and I love that. As much as she is good and kind-hearted, she does become too self-invested, forgetting about Amelia. She becomes prideful and, in my opinion, she shares her own harmful opinions about bodies and how people should handle their own. I also think she could be more considerate about other people’s identities considering this is a diverse cast of characters. If Maldonado continues on with these characters (which I would die for) I would really like to see Amelia’s and Brian’s identities explored more, considering they also live in a predominantly white community as a dark-skinned Black girl and a Korean boy respectively. 

Identity is such a huge factor in this book and I think it’s interesting how Charlie identifies herself. She likes being fat and using the word doesn’t harm her. While it’s usually weaponized against her, she reclaims it for herself, which is great. Her being Puerto Rican and white (and living with her white mother) was also a notable choice that a lot of teens of mixed race can resonate with. Although I can’t relate entirely with the mixed parentage, I feel as though others like myself and Charlie straddle the line between our Latinx culture(s) and our American culture. I sometimes feel like I don’t spend enough time in spaces that cater my Latinx identity to the point that it feels like it’s been erased or overshadowed; so having Charlie celebrate her Puerto Rican identity, and reconnect in general with her father’s family, made for many heartwarming moments. 

Overall, as much as I love that Charlie has moments of self-doubt and reflections on body issues, I adore that Crystal Maldonado doesn’t make her whole existence as a character defined by her body. She’s a writer, she loves art, and she has a brightness about her that really pushes through all of the negativity spewed at her. Charlie reckons with a lot going on in her life and this story is so darn cute I can’t deal. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for fat representation and more, ‘cause this story is packed full of tender moments.

PRR Writer, Jackie Balbastro

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