‘She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.’ –Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park
Eleanor is fat.
Eleanor also thinks she’s fat.
She probably isn’t as fat as she thinks she is …
And she definitely isn’t as disgusting as she thinks she is. She isn’t disgusting at all.
This question — Eleanor isn’t really fat, is she? — comes up fairly regularly for me. And sometimes (not always!), I feel like people expect me to reassure them:
“Don’t worry. Eleanor isn’t really fat. You weren’t imagining a fat person making out in the back of a car; that would be gross. She’s actually just curvy. Like Marilyn Monroe. Or Jennifer Love Hewitt.”
I don’t say in the book (Eleanor & Park) with any narrative authority exactly how fat Eleanor is, though many of the characters say what they think …
Eleanor sees herself as huge and repulsive. The kids in the neighborhood call her “Big Red,” which makes Park’s dad expect her to be bigger. Park is embarrassed by Eleanor for all sorts of reasons, and gives us the clearest physical description of her body:
Why hadn’t he expected her to be so beautiful? To have so much negative space? He closed his eyes and saw her again. A stack of freckled heart-shapes, a perfectly made Dairy Queen ice cream cone. Like Betty Boop drawn with a heavy hand.
But none of that answers the how fat question.
And that’s because I don’t think it’s important. I know how I picture Eleanor — but I don’t care how you picture Eleanor. And I think drawing a line between “sort of fat, but only by 21st-Century American standards” and “really, really fat” is depressing.
I mean, who I am to draw that line? Who are you? And where do we start?
Park thinks Eleanor is beautiful. He loves her for who she is on the inside, and he loves her for who she is on the outside. He wants to kiss her. He wants to have sex with her. And it isn’t because he’s brave and deep — it’s because he’s attracted to her.
This is how attraction works.
Is Eleanor fat? Yes.
How fat? That’s up to you.
Does it matter?