The subtle case of “body-shaming” in books

Almost every time Lucy Hutton – the heroine of “ The Hating Game” un-robes herself or is teased by the male lead- she is called “little”, “shortcake” etc etc.



“Well, well. Lucinda Hutton. One flexible little gal.” He is reclining in his chair again. 




“He walks into the building lobby with me under his arm like a rolled-up newspaper”



And god forbids if the male lead is scrawny ! No, he has to be the embodiment of Khal Drogo without dreadlocks and a better sense of personal hygiene, like: 


“Josh watches ER and yawns, not at all suspecting I’m trying to estimate how big his rib cage is like a meat-eating predator.”


This is not my hate-reviewing of Sally Thorne’s “The Hating Game– though I’m tempted enough to do so.


This is addressing “petite-heroin” trope have been sweeping across the world of fiction for quite some time now (read: eons) – but mostly YA fantasy and chick-lit. Oh, and cults like “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, too.


Remember, how the otherwise spectacular Stieg Larsson had reiterated how thin, boy-like, flat-chested Lisbeth Salander is.


"body-shaming" of women by books

Now, once upon a time most of our classics (I’m looking at you Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Georgette Heyer, and the ilk)- heroines tended to be petite, feisty, rosy-cheeked, having golden-locks blah blah.


But it’s pretty disturbing to see the same trend keeping its head afloat in 2014… and 2019, and (I’m sure) for the coming years too. On the sly, I’d like to think that this “petite” heroine trope is established to portray-

a woman who came out victorious/ smashing patriarchy/ carpet-bombing glass-ceiling at the end, despite her “short height” and “scrawny” figure.


(Hello, Alina of Grishaverse or Feyre of ACOMAF…).

This is almost symbolic of the story of David and Goliath. While the emaciated David knocks down “the” Goliath and makes “size-zero” cool since the Biblical era.

However, most of the times (okay, all the time)- the male lead has to have the opposite bodily characteristics. He needs to flaunt-

  • great height,
  • bulky muscle,
  • flat stomach, and
  • oozing masculinity to make the “opposite attracts” cliche more vivid.


Or might be all the authors (irrespective of gender) furtively suffer from “size-fetish”?

The problem is – tall readers like me do exist. And because of our height- especially in cultures where delicate women = epitome of femininity– we more or less get stared at- a lot.

I’m 5 ft 7” and while this is not at all jaw-breaking sum total of my horizontal existence, I’d been the subject of not-so-complimenting jibes since childhood.

The number one would be-

the impossibility of me scoring a boyfriend ever who would match with my height.


Now thanks to leggy Indian models winning international beauty pageants since the 90s and some very pretty Bollywood sirens with enviable heights gracing silver-screen (where else would we get our salvation from, if not cinema), the hee-haw around “big” women lessened a bit.


However,  it’s really pisses me off to see the same tropes repeated, especially by some of emancipated “female” authors in their books.  

I won’t even count the male-gaze by male authors in here- at all.


Shockingly they are from the West (in its broader term)- the land which supposedly would show the women from conservative society like India- “to embrace our bodies“.


If there’s one thing I’d like to read less (I’m not an optimist and won’t ever hope for “zilch”) is the words “petite” and “feisty” strung together.

The "body-shaming" fictions do to women



What do you think about the “pint-sized” heroine trope in books? Do you think that it perpetuates “small is beautiful” (only for women, obviously) cliche? Let me know your thoughts.


9 thoughts on “The subtle case of “body-shaming” in books

  1. Gemma says:

    And on the rare occasions that we do get a character that’s not a petite woman like Brienne of Tarth- it’s presented as an oddity. But hopefully petite stops being the standard the more we get new and diverse authors!

  2. Becky Ginther says:

    This is especially a problem in romance novels. Luckily I do see more progressive novels being written but we need more of them!

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