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Context: I'm writing a short story that serves as some background for a roleplaying character who is a fantasy dwarf called Fin, and as such I'm not expecting it to ever be published in its current state. I might end up taking concepts or ideas from here, and I'd like to practice good writing even if this story won't be widely read. The group I roleplay with are super chill, so don't let any RPG considerations affect your answer.

The character whose background story I'm writing has spent most of the first part of the story trying to convince their mother to let them wear their heirloom field armour as part of a cultural ceremony. The only snag is that the daughter is plus size, and much broader in the hips and with a larger belly than their mother (at least, when she wore the armour last).

This is quite deliberate on my part, as until now the character is expecting to follow in their mother's footsteps exactly, not really thinking for themselves. Not being able wear the armour will act as part of the inciting incident, and will kick them into leaving home and starting adventuring by themselves. It's also to foil the mother's concerns - she stole the armour from her mother (the main characters grandmother), and is worried that if her daughter follows her footsteps in wearing it, she may do the same. Running away regardless (i.e. without the armour), feels like a nice way of showing the difference between the two characters and seeing how the mother acts when surprised.

I'm about to write the scene where the main characters finds out the armour is too small and just how badly it fits, but I want to do so respectfully. I want them to be upset at the revelation that she doesn't fit into the armour (she knows she's fat) without belittling them. Part of my conflict is the character, as written, lacks a lot of self-awareness/over-confidence which I've played on humourously before.

Here is an excerpt where she tried to use her weight to an advantage in convincing her friend, who is a Gnome she can hold her drink against a 8' tall person:

Ostensibly her gnomish companion was here to celebrate Fin "finally becoming a warrior", or so the dwarf had claimed, so it was no surprise the little gnome was looking put upon at the idea of a drinking challenge with such a colossal brute.

Even though she was not directly involved, Fin watched the gnome shrink back to the shadows, trying to put Fin between them and the mountain of an opponent.

"Come on!”

"...sorry... he's huge..." came the whimper.

Baulking at the lack of confidence in her drinking prowess, Fin grabbed a handful of her belly rolls as she boasted "And I'm not?! Where do you think I got this?”
Mamma's cooking Fin thought, that's where. The gnome didn't need to know.

In this scene the character doesn't think her weight or size of belly mean she can drink, she's just trying to use it to her advantage in convincing the gnome.

How can I write the armour fitting scene respectfully though? I'm not plus size myself, but I have loved ones who are. I've not been able to use that second hand experience however, because I've not seen them experience this exact situation.

I'm mainly conscious that this is a situation plus-size and larger people experience regularly and I don't want to dismiss their difficulties nor make them feel uncomfortable in my descriptions.

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    I presume this is not just one scene. You need to address development of a plus-sized character in its entirety, addressing all aspects like interaction with peers, possible romantic interests, strangers etc. as well as her own self esteem.
    – Alexander
    Mar 24, 2022 at 21:43
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    I hadn't guessed from the question that the character was plus-sized. On first reading I'd just assumed she was taller (and thus correspondingly bigger in general). If it weren't for a roleplaying game, I'd just ignore that aspect, because there's no particular reason for a society have a hangup about it (in some cultures famine-resistance is quite revered, in fact). But in roleplaying, it's harder to ignore the out-of-game culture.
    – user54131
    Mar 29, 2022 at 7:05
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    Yes, it's clearer this way. -- I don't really have any ideas for the scene though. If the issue is to avoid people being able to read disrespect into a scene where none is intended, then that will be quite difficult, because people excel at misinterpreting things. And otherwise, isn't it just a matter of making clear she's upset that the armor doesn't fit her, rather than upset with her body not fitting the armor?
    – user54131
    Mar 29, 2022 at 14:46
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    As a fat person myself, please don't make her totally delirious. She should know she is overweight. If she thinks she's fit, it looks like you encourage people to yell at fat people we are so ("They don't know it") or smart commments like "Eat less food, duh!". Not knowing her actual size is realistic, though. I thought my father was almost as big as me until one day when I was doing laundry and I compared two pair of trousers, one mine, the other his, and I saw the differences at our waists. Turns out we have both broad shoulders and barrel chests but my belly is huge compared to his. Mar 30, 2022 at 5:48
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    @ProseFerret It's fine, as long as she knows she is big, I don't think anybody would feel offended. You don't need to make all her lines about being big, though ;-) Mar 30, 2022 at 13:16

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Is this a topic that's going to come up over and over again? Are other characters going to tease her? Is she going to have a crush on someone who "could never think of her that way"? Is there going to be a time when she can't run up a hill or climb a wall or something because of her size? If so, you need to spend a lot more time thinking about what it's like to be fat in this society here, and then what it would be like in that society you're writing, than one question and one answer could possibly tackle.

But. Maybe in your world being fat is no big deal, or a good thing, and she really doesn't have any issues with fitness, she's just bigger around than her mother was at that age. Fine. Write it with her arms and legs being way too short or way too long for the armour. Write and polish until it's perfect, and then at the last minute make it that her waist is too big around, her thighs are too thick, or whatever, to get the armour on. By starting with bodily properties our culture is pretty neutral on, you will write it pretty neutrally.

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    I really like this answer, yes I need to do a lot more work on this and probably end up asking a lot more questions. I've added more details to my question but I'm hoping it doesn't change the core of your answer! Mar 30, 2022 at 10:30
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I don't think your goal as a storyteller ought to be writing about a POV character's personal challenge respectfully, but to portray them as real with genuine consequences for the character.

Say your POV character meets the legal definitions of intellectually disabled. It is that character's struggles with the world — in both complexity and bigotry — that makes those stories really engaging — Forest Gump, Flowers for Algernon, Sling Blade.

Similarly, if your character is obese and that quality interferes with achieving what they think they want, then avoiding the character's disappointment because their internal thoughts might reflect a negative perception of obesity seems silly to me. Rather, show the character's negative self-view in all its glory. It is axiomatic, that we are hardest and cruelest to ourselves — otherwise we couldn't be our own worst enemy.

Then, the character can mature and learn self acceptance through their experiences.

There is a ton of psychology discussion on body image and obesity that finding genuine details about how this character might react should be very straightforward. Similarly, how to overcome powerful self negative images is also well documented, while still being difficult to actually achieve.

Also, show the world in both its kindness and pettiness. Don't shy away from her peers teasing her or people displaying scorn. It's real.

What makes a story element like this compelling in the end is its believability and the grace and fortitude the character gains in coming to terms with it.

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    "I don't think your goal as a storyteller ought to be writing about a POV character's personal challenges respectfully, but to portray them as real with genuine consequences for the character." I fundamentally disagree with this notion. At worse, as an author you can do both. See here for more reasons why. Mar 30, 2022 at 10:32
  • @ProseFerret, you are really missing the point. If your desire is to write a story where the central conflict is about someone's body shape, then make it a problem that the character is challenged to come to terms with. If this person's body shape is not a central conflict in the story, then don't worry about it. If you want a character to be fat, fine. If it is not a conflict there is no need to be concerned with writing about it with sensitivity. But, if it is an important conflict, then treat the character harshly and have them overcome it.
    – EDL
    Mar 30, 2022 at 18:38
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    I'm thinking about the audience. See my question edit. Apr 1, 2022 at 17:23
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    No, not all audiences do read for those reasons. Or at least not in all things. I can have conflict, but write it respectfully with audiences in mind. If I have a Denverite in a story who is rejected from publishing their sci-fi novels I can choose to write "As a Denverite she was predisposed to bad writing so had not been surprised when their draft had been rejected" Or "No matter what other people said about writers from Denver, she'd show them how good their draft was!" Only one is going to disrespect people unnecessarily. Apr 2, 2022 at 22:56
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    It was really hard to come up with a disrespectful thing about denverites, but I know it's much easier to be disrespectful about other aspects of a person... So easy you can do it without meaning to. That's why I asked. Apr 2, 2022 at 23:03

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