Book: Fat Chance, Charlie Vega
Photo by Bill Cunningham
Author: Crystal Maldonado
1. How did your personal experience with body image, self-acceptance, culture, and difficult family dynamics differ from Charlie Vega?
Charlie and I definitely have some overlap, but the biggest difference is probably the way our families are structured! Charlie grew up in a home with her mom, whom she has a very strained and tense relationship with, and her father, who passes away. But I was raised by my very loving grandparents.
I would say another place Charlie and I differ is in how smart and fashionable she is at just 16 years old. At her age, I was still painfully quiet and had trouble speaking up for myself, and it took me a long time to be okay with my body. My hope is that by giving those traits to Charlie, it may help others who read the book and want to embark on their journey to self acceptance!
2. Do you still visit ‘Fatshionista’ and does it still exist? If so, in what ways have you seen the “fat acceptance movement” evolve?
The Fatshionista community is still there, but it’s like a time capsule. It hasn’t been updated regularly in years. At its peak, though, there were dozens of posts each day! The movement has certainly evolved to be more inclusive, and incorporate things like how the medical industry can be harmful toward fat patients, biases in the workplace fat folks experience, and more. I think these ideas are being talked about more, which is great.
At its core, the movement as I see it (and please know, I’m only one person, and certainly not a spokesperson for this movement!) is really striving to make it so that fat folks can live their lives free from judgment. I would love it if we as a society could start to examine our feelings towards fat folks, our bodies, food, and each other.
3. The book cover of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega has already garnered much attention due to its eye-catching colors and dynamic visual art. What made you design it this way and are you excited about the final product?
I wish I could take credit for this beautiful cover, but this was designed by an incredibly talented illustrator named Ericka Lugo, who is also Puerto Rican. It was really meaningful to me to have a Puerto Rican illustrator working on my book — I’m half Puerto Rican — about a Puerto Rican girl. Seriously thrilling! I’m also so pleased to feature a fat girl prominently on the cover. Charlie looks so happy, and we rarely get to see fat girls shown in such a light, so this feels like a real accomplishment.
4. What are some of the things that make coming of age as a "Fat brown girl in a white Connecticut suburb" so hard?
Being a Fat, brown girl means you’re already an “other” in many ways — you’re not thin, you’re not white, and you’re not a man. In a world that largely prioritizes those things, that can be a challenge. For Charlie, who doesn’t have a very supportive mom, and who feels like she’s living in the shadow of her beautiful best friend, that feeling is certainly amplified.
Even if everyone around you is kind to you, there is still something very lonely about being different or not feeling like you see yourself reflected back at you. Add all of that to the already stressful aspects of being a teenager and it’s a lot!
5. Do you have any advice for those readers who may be having a hard time fitting in, due to their identity, not being like the dominant culture around them?
Seek out and surround yourself by those who do love and appreciate you, whether that’s a community you can find at school, over social media, or wherever. Also, forgive yourself. Sometimes, you may do things that feel inauthentic just in order to fit in, and that’s okay. Do what you’ve got to do to survive.
6. How important is representation to you?
Representation is so important to me and that’s principally what inspired this book. I had never seen anyone that looked like me in the media, especially not portrayed as just a normal girl with wants, needs, and desires. I’m so heartened that we are seeing more stories told. Change is slow, but it’s coming, and I hope that it makes it so that young folks feel much more seen and validated and like they can do anything.
7. As an author, what does it mean to you to inspire the next generation?
It would be the highest compliment for my work to inspire others to write and share their story! For me, that’s why I wanted to create this book. I wanted to help make room for stories like Charlie’s and like mine and show that we are worthy, too.
8. What is one thing you are most excited about being a mom?
There are so many things I love about being a mom that it’s hard to choose just one thing! I love reading with my daughter, especially when she brings me a book and she snuggles right up in my lap. It’s so sweet. My heart is so full as I get to watch her grow into herself.
9. How much of an impact do parents play in the shaping of one’s body identity?
Children look to us for guidance and answers, and all of their first interactions, feelings, and thoughts about food and bodies come from their caretakers. We help set the stage for how they’ll feel about their bodies, so it’s important to keep that in mind as we talk to our kids. They’re so smart and intuitive that they can pick up on even off-handed comments. If we love ourselves and our bodies, I hope that means our kids will pick up on that, too.
10. What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?
Take a break and do something else! That usually helps me, whether that’s by going for a walk, reading someone else’s book, watching a movie, going to a museum, whatever it is. Once I give myself permission not to think about writing, that usually helps inspire me to get back at it.
If the writer’s block happens when I’m working on a project and it persists even after trying to take a break, I sometimes go back to my story and try to figure out if there’s something that feels off. Is there a plot hole? Is one of the characters causing me issues? Did I make something happen that doesn’t feel right? Usually, once I’m able to identify and fix that issue, I feel much more inspired.
11. What’s the best book you have read this year so far?
I have only finished reading one book this year, but I did love it! It was a book of poems by Kate Baer called “What Kind of Woman.” As a new mom myself, the poems on motherhood really spoke to me.
12. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
I don’t know if this is advice so much as perspective: Happiness is not a state you achieve, but rather a feeling you experience. Once I started realizing there wasn’t a perfect nirvana of joy I could eventually get to, I realized I experienced a lot more happiness in the big and little moments as they happened. It was oddly freeing!
13. Do you plan on writing more stories about body positivity?
I hope to have all of my stories feature girls with different body types because I think this representation is so deeply needed. If we can have countless books that feature the stories of white men, why not fat, brown girls, too?
Places To Find More From This Author:
Facebook: Crystal Maldondo
Get Your Copy of Fat Chance, Charlie Vega Today!