More fat-shaming in Harry Potter: the inflating of Aunt Marge

Yesterday, I posted about the fat-shaming of Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter series, specifically quoting from the opening of Chapter 2, Prisoner of Azkaban which I’d just read. I have since finished the chapter. So this what happens: Unable to contain his anger when the evil, annoying, and fat Marge constantly puts his parents down, Harry uses magic illegally to inflate her, making her even fatter. To readers, this punishment comes off as humorous and deserved.

I have not seen “The Prisoner of Azkaban” yet, but looking at the image from the movie pasted below, and after reading J.K. Rowling’s prose, I am wondering if there is a child who could watch (or read about) the fate of wicked Aunt Marge and not burst into laughter. Can you even look at these images and not smile? And again, if this fat-evil-stupid-comic imagery happened once in a while, it would be no big deal, but its ubiquity in kids’ media trains kids that it’s normal to laugh at fat people.

Reading¬† into night, I was also fascinated that Harry’s act– so far– remains unpunished. Underage wizards are not permitted to practice magic in the Muggle world, and Harry assumes he will be expelled for his act.¬† Yet, when Cornelius Fudge , the Minister of Magic, meets Harry on Daigon Alley, he assures Harry that he took care of the infraction, deflating Aunt Marge and erasing her memory. Harry wonders why this reaction is so different from the time when he was wrongly blamed for the magic done by Dobby, the house elf, in Book 2. At that time, Harry received a letter of warning from the Ministry threatening expulsion.

Obviously, there is some reason in the plot why Harry is forgiven, given a cozy room in the Leaky Cauldron instead of a letter of expulsion. But the subdued reaction thus far underscores the deserved punishment for Aunt Marge.

I have been trying to think if there are any fat protagonists in kidlit. Please tell me if you know of any: not sidekicks, main characters. So far I’ve thought of one: Wilbur. I just blogged about how Charlotte’s Web may be the best book ever. without even thinking about that. Could E. B. White get any more original?

17 thoughts on “More fat-shaming in Harry Potter: the inflating of Aunt Marge

  1. I know this is over a year later, but Holes by Louis Sachar has a fat protagonist who is awesome. It’s a shame they used a thin actor in the movie, but in the book, he’s definitely identified as heavy.

  2. Eleanor from Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowles, is described as pudgy. And she’s cool with it.
    You should read this book, it’s absolutely beautiful even if it plays into a few stereotypes. Eleanor is a fantastic character.

  3. Just discovered your blog. I remember reading Trixie Beldon in my youth and for some reason I remember she was discribed as ‘sturdy.’ Not slim and beautiful like her friend Honey.

  4. Of course it’s fat shaming. I don’t know why so many people feel the need to mitigate it or explain it away. I love the books too and still love them in spite of the sexism & fat hatred.
    I do remember reading a series about a fat girl called Panky who loved horses but her mum was always putting her on a diet. Does anyone else remember those? It was probably positive in the end but I do wish I’d read a book where there was a fat kid who was awesome and just happened to be pudgy. Perhaps you could write one, Margot?

  5. John Bellairs! I haven’t read his books in a while — they’re spooky; I read them in about 4th grade or so — but I seem to remember fat kid protagonists and fat grown-ups saving the world from all sorts of spookiness. Unfortunately, they were often fat BOYS: I think he only had one book with a girl protagonist, and I honestly don’t remember much about how she was described physically.

  6. I have to disagree about the “fat is evil” them you see in HP. Yes, Dudley and his father, Vernon, are heavy, and they are nasty to Harry. But his Aunt Petunia has been described in various ways as exceedingly skinny (I seem to recall “stick-like”, although I could be wrong), and she is *just* as nasty to Harry as the others. Truly, in later installments of the book, she is upbraided for her less-than-stellar treatment of Harry. And the “blowing up of Marge”, to me, related more to her being ‘full of hot air’, as opposed to fat. And, as has been pointed out, Harry was trying hard to control his temper after repeated abuses at her hands, which was one of the reasons he got off stock-free. The other being that he was (they thought) being stalked by a mass-murderer, hence the shelter in Leaky Cauldron/Diagon Alley.

    Dudley, in later books (and trying to avoid spoilers), turns to a life of fitness, and still remains very large (although bulky, rather than ‘fat’), but also remains nasty, until…

    Madame Maxime, the Headmistress of Beauxbatons (HP 4: Goblet of Fire), is described as very large, as well, and enjoys descriptions like, “elegant”, “handsome woman”, and “graceful”.

    “Plump” Molly Weasley is a force in herself – loved to distraction by her children and her besotted husband, and not one to cross, as we discover in later books. She is a mother-figure to Harry, and never once described in ‘shaming’ terms.

    Even Neville, who begins as a ‘pudgy’ kid, is never shamed by his classmates. Even when turned into a canary by the Weasley Brothers – that was because he took the wrong candy, not because he was targeted. He evolves, showing us/children that you CAN grow out of that awkward phase and end up a true hero.

    I don’t remember Crabbe and Goyle being described as particularly fat (although I could be wrong), as much as the dim-witted sidekicks of Malfoy. Yes, they took the cakes, but that’s more because of their overall stupidity than any perceived fatness. I think their weight/size was more emphasized in the movies than it was in the books. Truly, in later episodes of the movies, one of the characters was replaced by a different actor because of drug problems of the first. And if I recall correctly, that actor was tall and thin. And still exceedingly stupid and nasty.

    I agree with you that in a LOT of kid lit, YA lit, there is a LOT of fat stereotyping and shaming. But I don’t see it as much with Rowling. She has rounded her characters so well that they are not defined simply by one attribute.

      • I thought Mrs Dursley’s opening description was something about her having a long, thin neck, ideal for peering over fences into neighbours’ gardens? She’s highly restrictive, and it’s not hard to imagine this being reflected in her eating habits. Her thinness arguably represents her tightly-controlled, critical personality as much as Dudley’s fat represents his greed.

        True, fat-shaming happens on a wider scale than skinny-shaming in a lot of fiction, but it’s not uncommon for people, particularly women and girls, to be criticised for being “too skinny”, which is just as harmful to a naturally-thin teenage girl as fat-shaming is to a heavy one.

        IOW, I don’t think it’s specifically fat-shaming so much as the use of stereotyped appearance to intimate character traits, not that that’s any better.

  7. Well, it seems pretty clear that Harry didn’t intentionally inflate Aunt Marge; he describes it later as having “lost control”. It’s also clear that he was trying very hard NOT to lose his temper while she was insulting him and his parents. I agree that punishing her by making her fatter is nasty and mean-spirited on Rowling’s part, but it doesn’t seem to have been pre-meditated by Harry.

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