Eleanor & Park

After recently reading the wonderful Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, I can’t help wondering, would things have been different for me if I’d read this, or something like it, when I was an adolescent? What would it have been like to be exposed to a love story where the heroine was an overweight sixteen-year-old?

I can’t know if it would have made any real change, but I’m sure it would have felt like a revelation, because that’s how it feels even now. And not only because of Eleanor’s age. I’m hard-pressed to think of any stories where heavy women are the love interest, regardless of age. Most of the ones I can think of that claim the woman is heavy end up having actresses who just looks like an average woman instead of a model. I’m thinking of people like Renee Zellweger in Bridget Jones’s Diary, Minnie Driver in Circle of Friends, the prime minister’s secretary in Love Actually, and Jewel Straite in Firefly (although she was asked to lose weight before filming Serenity, which is when she actually got the relationship she wanted).

I imagine there must be some other stories like this, but I can’t think of them, and it’s so refreshing to read about Eleanor. I don’t know quite how big she was, but I was amused by some of her thoughts, since I’ve had similar ones. Like wondering how skinny people have the interior space to hold all of a body’s organs.

I also loved how Park didn’t care for in Eleanor in spite of – or because of – her weight. He simply loved her for her, period. He was also very clearly attracted to her, enjoying everything about her physically as well as intellectually, from her springy red hair to her freckles to her white skin to her size.

And when they were together, Eleanor didn’t feel self-conscious about her weight around Park, except for when she met his diminutive Korean mom, which gave Eleanor the “bull in a China shop” feel. But even that didn’t last. Admittedly, Eleanor had more significant family issues to worry about than always focusing on her appearance, but still, it was so nice to read her story and have an example of weight not being a barrier to being loved.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we need someone else’s love to feel good about ourselves (although it doesn’t necessarily hurt). But as with so many things, to even have it presented as a possibility is so important. Too often, if anyone is fat in a story, it means either a) they’re a sidekick, b) they’re a loser, or c) they’re going to lose weight, gain self-confidence, and only then fall in love.

So – if you’re looking for something to remind you of the possibilities of young love, and particularly young love for those who don’t fall into traditional roles or consider themselves even worthy of love (Park also thought he wasn’t attractive because of being half-Korean), I’d highly recommend Eleanor & Park.

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