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August 25, 2009 / Katie

Dudley Dursley and The Over-Indulged Fat Child Straw Man

Today, I want to address a straw man* that is often implicitly invoked in media and pop culture references to the so-called childhood “obesity” epidemic.** To do this, I’m going to be using examples from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, but I assure you there won’t be any plot-relatedspoilers; I’m just going to be talking about basic characterization using examples from the first three books. (I’ll also be assuming some very basic knowledge about Harry Potter to save us all a lot of time and space. If you need more info, Google is your friend).

In the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (yes, I am reading the British versions), we are introduced to Harry’s aunt and uncle, Petunia and Vernon Dursley, and his cousin, Dudley Dursley. It is Dudley’s birthday, and thus begins the most vivid description of Dudley so far. He has received many gifts, and one is a bike. Rowling writes: “Exactly why Dudley wanted a racing bike was a mystery to Harry, as Dudley was very fat and hated exercise.” Dudley begins counting his presents and the following exchange ensues:

‘Thirty-six,’ he said, looking up at his mother and father. ‘That’s two less than last year.’

‘Darling, you haven’t counted Auntie Marge’s present, see, it’s here under this big one from Mummy and Daddy.’

‘All right, thrity-seven then,’ said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible in case Dudley turned the table over.

Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger too, because she said quickly, ‘And we’ll buy you another two presents while we’re out today. How’s that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that all right?’

Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally he said slowly, ‘So I’ll have thirty … thirty …’

‘Thirty-nine, sweetums,’ said Aunt Petunia.

‘Oh.’ Dudly sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. ‘All right then.’

Uncle Vernon chuckled.

‘Little tyke wants his money’s worth, just like his father. Atta boy, Dudley!’ He ruffled Dudley’s hair.

Rowling, here, shows herself to be a master of the “show, don’t tell” rule of writing. This is good writing in the sense that it paints a very vivid image of these characters. While the writing may be good, the fatphobia dripping from it is extremely offensive.

Now, obviously, this is caricature. Those of us who’ve read the entire Harry Potter Series are aware that some of Rowling’s characters are complex and realistically written, and others are basically caricatures. But for a caricature to be efficient, it has to exaggerate a feature that is actually present. Caricatures of President Obama show a large, toothy grin and sometimes squinted eyes. Reverse this and the caricature wouldn’t make any sense, because Obama does have a large, toothy grin, even if not quite as large as the caricatures show, and his eyes often squint when he smiles.

So, even though Rowling is clearly providing us with caricatures in these characters, the exaggerations she makes while describing the Dursleys are built on assumptions about fatness that are actually widely believed. If they weren’t, these caricatures just wouldn’t make any sense. These assumptions are:

1) fat children don’t enjoy physical play such as riding bikes (they “hate exercise”), are self-indulgent, are immature (throwing tantrums at 11 years old) and are stupid.

2) parents of fat children are over-indulgent, spoiling their children, and completely oblivious to both their children’s character shortcomings and their children’s fatness.

If the assumption is that fat children and their parents are oblivious and/or stupid, then Rowling’s caricature makes sense. It also makes sense how parents and children are depicted in the media and pop culture. It makes sense why my local news station keeps repeating the same insipid “weight loss advice” (Eat less! Exercise more!) day after day, week after week, year after year. It makes sense that parents of five-year olds who are deemed to be obese would be sent warning letters by their childrens’ school, as if they hadn’t noticed their child is fat. It makes sense that schools would put kids on weight loss programs. It makes sense that “health experts” in the UK would call for the removal of fat children from their home.

But in reality, fat doesn’t equal stupid, and these measures are ridiculously unnecessary (not to mention dehumanizing, bigoted, hateful, human rights violations). Lots of kids are active and some kids are lazy, and weight doesn’t actually tell us whether a child is active or lazy. In fact, many of us who grew up fat played outdoors frequently, ate normally, and were still fat. We were subjected to ongoing harassment not only from random strangers or other kids at school but people in our very families—our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our parents. Parents of fat kids are aware that their kids are fat. And they’re more often than not trying to restrict their fat kids’ eating, rather than indulging it like the Dursleys. Fat kids don’t get to live a single day without being reminded that they are fat, and that fat is unacceptable.

Heck, I can’t even read one Harry Potter book without being reminded just how fat Dudley is and how we are supposed to consider that as one of many reasons to hate him. Whenever Dudley gets mentioned, we hear about how he’s “waddling” towards Harry, hitching up his trousers as they slip down his “fat bottom,” he’s “lolling around eating ice creams” and helping himself to “a fourth piece of pie.” We hear about his “porky shoulder,” his “many chins,” the watch on his “fat wrist.” Rowling’s description of Dudley is much more akin to what fat kids actually experience the world thinking of them. Fat kids are not over-indulged, selfish, stupid, ugly brutes in need of a nanny state to come in and save them from themselves and their ostensibly stupid parents. Fat kids are abused in their families, at their schools, by society at large.

I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time finding the good news here. This is not just bad news, this is terrible news. This is systemic, social child abuse. It is ugly, it is dark, it is death. Where is the life? Maybe you can help me out with this. So far what I’m coming up with as the good news here is that it’s not true. The good news is that it is in fact a lie, and that there are people out there, like Sandy Swarc, Marilyn Wann, Paul Campos, Linda Bacon, and other writers, speakers, health care professionals, and bloggers spreading the truth. The truth may be stifled, quiet, not well-known, but it’s being spoken. People are speaking truth into the lies being told about fat kids and our parents. The truth-speakers are crying out in the wilderness, brining a message of hope, that fat is not deadly, that fat children are just as unique and precious as thin children, and that all children deserve opportunities to play, to enjoy their food, and to understand that they are whole, fully human, and loved regardless of their size.

——

* Straw woman? Straw person? Straw child? I tend to like to use non-gendered terms as much as possible, but in this case I’m not sure degendering the term “straw man” will still convey my point. I’m afraid it would just be confusing :)

** I am putting “obesity” in scare quotes because of serious issues with its actual ability to tell us anything of use except that insurance companies and doctors like to have a reason to justify their anti-fat prejudices. I will probably talk about the serious problems with the obesity construct eventually, but it’s not really a high priority for me right now. If you’d like to do some digging of your own, I suggest starting with Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth or Junkfood Science (scroll down the right hand column to find her Junkfood Science Obesity Paradox Series)

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30 Comments

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  1. Patsy Nevins / Aug 25 2009 2:07 pm

    Very good observations. I love the Potter books, but I do really hate the characterization of Dudley. There are other people in the books who are fat who are more favorably drawn, but Dudley is a terrible, exaggerated stereotype & I really believe that Rowling is capable of better.

    • Heidi / Aug 25 2009 4:09 pm

      I’m not sure I remember a fat character in the HP series who actually had many redeeming virtues – although I enjoyed the books overall, the portrayal of Dudley REALLY rubbed me the wrong way.

      • SL / Aug 25 2009 4:15 pm

        Neville wasn’t exactly svelte and he ended up being quite the hero. Just saying.

      • Katie / Aug 25 2009 4:50 pm

        Mrs. Weasley is described as being plump, and she’s the only one I can think of that we are supposed to like (Neville is called “round faced” but I don’t remember him being described as fat exactly).

        Some have argued that Hagrid is supposed to be fat but I don’t think so, especially because he himself insults Dudley’s fatness in the first book. I think Hagrid’s just supposed to be half giant which makes him bigger than normal humans, but not fat.

        Generally speaking, Rowling certainly is letting her fatphobia show loud and clear. And I’d go even further and call it simple “lookism” because she has a habit of making the bad characters and Slytherin kids be ugly and the good ones be attractive. Ugh.

      • living400lbs / Aug 25 2009 8:12 pm

        Hagrid?

  2. Jenny Stockton / Aug 25 2009 2:47 pm

    I think you make a great point about how terribly society handles childhood obesity. However, I think there are many reasons why kids are overweight and sometimes I think it is from overindulgence. I had one kid in particular who I used to work with who always reminded me a lot of Dudley Dursley. He was a little more likeable than Dudley, but it was the same thing–he was greedy with food and with his belongings. He was horribly spoiled and dealt with his bizarre family issues through bullying, tantrums, and overindulging in the things he liked. I think being overweight as a kid would be incredibly hard–I know it can be as an adult–and being a kid is hard enough as it is sometimes. We need to find a better understanding of childhood obesity and not make sweeping generalizations about it, or discriminate against the children or the parents who are dealing with it. Obesity is complicated, and I really appreciate hearing your thoughts and perspective on the way we look at it and how it is being dealt with. It is definitely something that is not discussed enough.

    • Alibelle / Aug 25 2009 4:26 pm

      Yeah, some children over-indulge and that’s why they’re fat, some adults do that as well, that’s not the point. The point is that it’s not always true, it rarely is, but the children get treated like they are gross wadling monsters who do nothing but eat and eat. I weighed more than some of my classmates, did that mean I ate more than them or played less? No. I weighed less than some of my classmates, did that mean I was underfed, or them over? No, it simply means that there are endless body types that people naturally have.

      And if you’d like to learn more about obesity I suggest you visit kateharding.net and look at the BMI project, because there’s a good chance you don’t even know what obese looks like yet.

    • Katie / Aug 25 2009 5:01 pm

      Jenny, I think we can always come up with someone we know who fits the stereotype, but it doesn’t make the stereotype any less inaccurate (or bigoted). With the specific child you are talking about, it may be that his overindulgence in food is related to his weight, but it actually may be unrelated. The fact is, there are overindulgent children who are both fat and thin. And some fat children are overindulgent and some aren’t. And some thin children are overindulgent and some aren’t.

      I also am trying to challenge the idea that fatness itself is problematic. If you’re interested, there really is some great stuff out there debunking the construct of obesity—I mentioned just a few in the ** note to this post, and I have found kateharding.net (and especially the BMI project) that Alibelle suggests particularly useful.

      So glad you’re here and thanks for the comment :)

      • Jenny / Aug 25 2009 5:15 pm

        Thanks Katie! I am interested, and I will check it out. :) Looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

  3. Emma B / Aug 25 2009 4:23 pm

    Parents of fat kids are aware that their kids are fat.

    This is the only part of this I’m going to disagree with, because the ranges for children are so narrow as to be nearly useless. For school-age children, there’s about 10 lbs difference between the top end of BMI “normal” and the bottom end of “obese”. For toddlers and preschoolers, the difference between the two is more like 5 lbs. That’s not a lot, and I think it entirely possible that parents wouldn’t think those few extra pounds qualify their children as “obese”.

    Of course, that says a lot more about the uselessness of childhood obesity statistics than it does about parents.

    • Katie / Aug 25 2009 4:57 pm

      this is actually a good point, but I don’t think it’s exactly what I was talking about. Children often go through stages where they get pudgy for awhile and then have a growth spurt and shoot up several inches quickly, becoming thin again, so to say that young children have unhealthy weights is a bit weird given all these constant changes. I also am not very knowledgeable with height/weight charts for children and didn’t realize there was such a small weight difference between the top of “normal” and bottom of “obese.” But as you said, this just goes to show how ridiculous the “obesity” charts for kids really are. And that might be going on with that link I posted above where parents are getting warning letters if their five-year-olds qualify as obese.

      But with older kids, like the age Dudley is supposed to be, when other people notice that they’re fat (Rowling makes it clear that everyone in the world knows Dudley is fat except his parents) then in that case, I really don’t believe parents are blind to their kids being fat. If anything, I’m way more concerned with parents being overly concerned about their children’s fatness… restricting their eating, pushing exercise which takes the fun out of play, etc.

  4. Sarah C. / Aug 25 2009 5:16 pm

    I had similar thoughts about the character of Dudley. Thanks for this. Horace Slughorn is another fat character who is self-indulgent and morally suspect.

    I also wish Rowling could have shown us a gay or lesbian student or two at Hogwarts.

  5. Patsy Nevins / Aug 25 2009 5:46 pm

    Well, the actor who plays Hagrid is both tall & fat. That is pretty well known about Robbie Coltrane. And Mrs. Weasley, for all her temper, is a very positive character.

    As for people being fat ‘because they overindulge’, that isn’t true. Quite aside from the fact that it is no one else’s business what one eats or how much one’s exercise, or the well-established fact that fat people, on average, eat no more or differently than thin people, it is as impossible to make a naturally thin person fat as it is to make a naturally fat person thin. One may be at the top of his/her natural weight range with some eating habits & the bottom with others, but one cannot become fat unless one has the genetic makeup to be fat. And there are just as many thin people who ‘overindulge’, but they are not judged for it because the evidence doesn’t show up on their bodies. I spent many years sitting next to or across the table from my ONE thin brother (the only one of us who inherited our father’s thin genes) while he ate three times what I did & lectured me about ‘letting myself go’. My thin father, coincidentally, also ate twice as much as my fat mother regularly, while often nagging & belittling her for being fat. My mother did not have an unusually large appetite, but, like most fat people, she was convinced that she was a glutton. And, yes, I agree that characters such as Dudley & Slughorn reinforce all the stereotypes.

    And, yes, there are plenty of scientific studies & articles about fat & health, genetics, eating, etc., & lots of evidence that being fat is NOT about health & not a danger to health, & is often protective, but that fat hatred is a cosmetic & an economic concern; many people do not like to look at fat people & many also love to profit off that fact, regardless of how many people are hurt.

  6. Orodemniades / Aug 25 2009 6:30 pm

    Also, don’t forget that Rowling is a crap writer.

  7. Ostara / Aug 25 2009 10:50 pm

    Once I started noticing the blatant bigotry in Rowling’s portrayal of Dudley I started looking critically at other characters and noticed how it reflects real life when it comes to bodies and eating. Ron is often described as always eating, not even stopping the chewing to speak clearly, in fact, all of the Weasley boys seem to have pretty hefty appetites. Yet, they’re all described as thin or implied to be “normal” (read, thin to thin-ish). Where as Dudley and Slughorn are described as very much liking their food and are fat.

    Just like in real life, some people eat a lot and are fat, some eat a lot and are thin. Funny, despite the overwhelming bigotry she writes for some characters, the truth does work its way in there, though if I had to make a guess I’d say it was unplanned.

  8. Frankincensy / Aug 26 2009 4:45 am

    **contains a slight spoiler for the last book**

    Aside from the quite blatant fatphobia in the portrayal of Dudley (and I just wondered if it was coincidental that he has slimmed down by the time he starts treating Harry more like a human being – it seems like an obvious linking of his physical state and his obnoxious personality), there were a few references that caricatured Aunt Petunia as a stereotypical thin woman on a diet, although these were fairly minor in comparison to the way Dudley was drawn. JK Rowling has certainly written some positive fat characters, but her tendency to go the “good = conventionally beautiful, bad = conventionally ugly” route when describing characters can sometimes be overwhelming.

  9. vitamom / Aug 26 2009 4:59 am

    I’m actually trying to write about parenting through the lens of fat acceptance on my blog, though I definitely need to be more regular in terms of updating! I’d love your thoughts on it, though. (I think my name here should link to it.)

  10. vitamom / Aug 26 2009 5:00 am

    Oops, maybe not. Anyway, here it is: http://vitamom.wordpress.com/

  11. Katrina / Aug 26 2009 6:05 am

    yes, Dudley is portrayed as spoilt, fat bully/brat, through the first four books (and on a dangerous diet in the fourth). However, at the beginning of the fifth books it is made evident that Dudley is now a much more fitter, muscular condition because he’s now a) 15 and outgrowing his baby fat b) doing boxer training. And he’s still a violent, spoiled bully who likes to pummel the neighborhood kids w/he newfound skills. After this episode, we don’t really hear much about him in anyway(appearance or character) until the 7th book.

    Also, let’s not forget how judgemental Harry is about the appearances of those that he dislikes/hates. It’s implied here and there that many people he likes such as Mrs. Weasley, Neville, Hagrid, Professor Sprout, Hannah Abbot, the Weasley twins (often described as short and stocky) and even Hermione (she pants at any kind of slight exertion) are plump.
    He describes many other people he doesn’t like as as “skinny”, “stringy”, “pointed”, “ferrety” and “boney” not exactly flattering terms. In fact in these cases, when those physical attributes are used, it is often signifier that the individual lacks compassion and empathy.

    • Katie / Aug 26 2009 9:46 am

      interesting comment Katrina! I am re-reading the books and the last time I read them was years ago as they were coming out for the first time. Probably because the movies didn’t contain much at all about Dudley after the first few and the time it’s been since I read them, I don’t even remember Dudley getting “fitter” (though equating that with getting thinner is problematic). I may very well be back with a follow-up post once I get to those books.

      I also agree about just general lookism in the book too. I mentioned it in a comment above—everyone that is “good” and who the reader is supposed to like is basically attractive, and everyone that is “bad” and who the reader is supposed to dislike is ugly and/or fat. I think there are a couple people who may arguably be described as plump or pudgy (possibly Neville, possibly some of the Weasleys) but that’s a bit iffy. I hadn’t noticed Hermione being winded after slight exertion, but even if that’s true, I’m not sure why we are supposed to thus think of her as being plump? I don’t actually think Hagrid is supposed to be fat—he’s half giant, so he’s larger, but nothing in the writing suggests he’s supposed to be fat—he even insults Dudley’s fatness in the first book. The actor playing him in the movies is, but I’m focusing on the books. Really Mrs. Weasley is the only main character in the books I actually believe is written as fat and we are supposed to like her. I think she’s the only one Rowling paints as the “jolly fat” type.

      • Jeanne289 / Aug 26 2009 2:10 pm

        I always read Hagrid as fat because he’s described (more than once, I think) as “twice as tall as the average man and three times as wide,” which to me implies fatness. Also, I know the movies differ from the books in many ways, but iirc Rowling herself picked Robbie Coltrane to play Hagrid, so she may have envisioned him as a fat character.

        fwiw, I always thought of Dudley as still being fat after he took up boxing, just less fat than he was before and more muscular. His friends call him “Big D,” which is one reason why I think that, although the name could be interpreted in different ways.

  12. Christine / Aug 26 2009 8:54 am

    @ Riri:

    Why would you have three 11-year-olds in your Third Grade class? Eleven is the age for 6th grade. The age for 3rd Grade is 8. Of course there will be some 9-year-olds, depending on when birthdays fall within the year. Maybe even one 10-year-old who started school a year late or was held back a year. But three kids, all three years older, all fat, and all with an illness found in only 0.04% of all kids?

    Something smells fishy. Are you sure that’s Koolaid in your cup?

    • Katie / Aug 26 2009 9:38 am

      Christine,

      FYI, Riri’s comment’s been deleted because if I were doing moderated commenting, I never would have let it through in the first place. As you point out, something is indeed terribly fishy, but even if the math added up, it still violates basically every one of my comment policy guidelines. If I have the feeling people are disagreeing in good faith, I engage it, but nothing about that comment said “good faith.”

  13. Thalia / Aug 26 2009 4:38 pm

    The thing that struck me about the Harry Potter books (and while I liked them well enough I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan) was that the characterizations got more nuanced as the books progressed. I assumed it was because we are looking at them from Harry’s pov and he was getting older and learning that things weren’t so black and white. Petunia, for example, turns out, for all her bitching and moaning, to be doing something somewhat on the noble side in taking Harry in. Dudley, if I remember correctly, kind of mellowed a bit after Harry saved his life, didn’t he?

    It was something that surprised me, after how stereotypical a lot of the characters were in the first book. But that’s how an eleven-year-old would see things.

    Which isn’t to say I don’t agree with you. The original description of Dudley (and Uncle Vernon, too, for that matter) is certainly hateful and nasty and fatphobic. And maybe in Dudley’s case it doesn’t really get a whole lot better. Just that the cartoonish depictions had struck me as intended to be cartoonish. Maybe that’s an overly generous reading, though, I don’t know.

  14. Thalia / Aug 26 2009 4:39 pm

    Just that the cartoonish depictions had struck me as intended to be cartoonish.

    Quoting myself to add, cartoonish and *incorrect*.

  15. bri / Aug 27 2009 5:47 am

    I am just now reading the HP books for the first time (I am up to Book 4 now), I must be one of the only pagans I know who hasnt read them! I have noticed a lot of the characterization you mention. It is fascinating to be able to recognise the stereotypes that Rowling uses and the way in which she uses them. Great post!

  16. Maud / Aug 28 2009 5:35 pm

    I have not read the Harry Potter books, but another part of the characterization of Dudley that you describe struck me. Not only is Dudley generally ill-tempered and demanding, he is specifically greedy. He must have more gifts than he had last year, without necessarily caring what they are. He wants more just to have MORE. That, too, is generally part of the justification for fat-hating. Fat people are fat because they are greedy. People will admonish fat people about indulging themselves in over-eating while there are starving people in the world, as if fat people are grabbing food away from the starving. I have even seen articles which attempt, based on bad science, inaccurate “facts”, and most of all on unexamined assumptions about why people are fat, to show that famine exists in the world because wealthier societies use a disproportionate share of the world’s resources (as indeed they do) specifically to feed the fatties! People love this stuff, so it doesn’t get examined for accuracy or even sense.

  17. Brady / Aug 29 2009 3:39 am

    Dear Katie,

    I so enjoy reading this blog and the eloquent things that you have to say. I really appreciate its presence. I read a lot of ridiculous articles “based on science”, including some of the ones (that I’m sure you know of) that claim that obesity is the number one killer and blah blah that stuff and it makes me sick, it really does. Because team sports cause the most injuries in school-age children, and where are the health experts there and I could go on and on and I’m glad you’re going on instead and thinking & writing critically.

    And then, felling all of this love and support for your work, I feel compelled to comment most when I am dissenting. Because I think that careful critique is important. So please take these words in the spirit that they are intended.

    Standardized tests in the US have very strict policies related to political correctness. No person may be shown doing stereotypical activities. This extends past the basic protected categories and includes things like “Grandparents shall not be shown knitting or doing any sedentary activities and should instead be shown jogging.”

    I think it’s all well and good to show grandparents jogging, and women leading corporations, and men giving babies bottles, and other people rising above the social expectations of the activities that their “group” does.

    But I don’t think it’s a flaw to show a grandparent baking cookies. I don’t think it’s a shame to show a mother nursing (indeed, I wish there was more cultural material that referenced nursing). I think showing these “typical” behaviors, whether stereotypical or regular, is fine and acceptable.

    There are obvious boundaries when it comes to caricatures, and I’m sure I needn’t mention some ridiculous depictions.

    This post seems to say that you dislike seeing unpleasant characters that are fat. I understand and support the desire for cultural material that includes fat role models, fat heroes, awesome active fat kids doing great things (and there are! there are some great books, movies, etc. Too few, but a beginning.)

    But then you seem to assert that the antagonistic characters shouldn’t be fat. It seems as though that takes things a bit too far.

    What do you think?

  18. eli / Aug 30 2011 11:21 pm

    As some previous people have stated, the books are told through Harry’s eyes. As such, if you take a good look at the first book, the utter scathing hatred that Harry has for his relatives is actually somewhat justified. After all, every time they have a home cooked meal, Harry’s the one that’s described as cooking it (unsupervised, mind you, and there’s a subtle implication that this has been going on for years now), however, it is outright stated that Harry only ever gets to eat the leftovers after the Dursleys are done eating. Maybe this is me adding up to the list of abusive offences (and no one can say that the Dursleys are not abusive or neglectful… locking a kid up in a cupboard under the stairs long enough for him to be used to the spiders in his “room” while their son has a bedroom and another room for toy storage is not only dangerous for the kid’s health, but also emotionally degrading), but I’ve always been under the impression that the Dursleys starved Harry. I mean, Harry only got to eat that Knickerboker Glory because it didn’t have enough ice cream or something, i.e. because of his cousin’s selfishness on his birthday the treat became a leftover. The rest of the time?

    Now, keeping in mind that this is all told through Harry’s point of vue, since Harry is starved by his relatives and is therefore skinny because eating is a privilege in #4 Privet Drive for any non-Dursley, of course he’s going to describe his relatives in the most acidic manner he can. It’s not just the rotund uncle and cousin that get an unflattering picture taken, even the skinny aunt is described as a nosy, horse-necked bag of bones of a woman. Harry dislikes his relatives, with good reason, and so describes them in the two weight extremes (obese and anorexic). Keep in mind that this is all told when he’s eleven and he’s, essentially, the slave of the house. If attacking his relatives’ respective weights gives him some measure of control, he’ll take it.

    Before anyone goes for my throat, yes I do understand where this is coming from. I am overweight myself, always have been, always will be no matter how much I exercise. However, instead of using the Dursleys as the only stock fat characters of the series, why don’t you look at the positive fat ones? Mrs. Weasley, Hagrid (the fact that he is half-giant coincides with the fact that sometimes you have no choice but to be overweight thanks to genetics), or Neville. Even Slughorn isn’t so much an evil character as an opportunist. He’s a professional networker, keeping his talented, famous, and wealthy acquaintances happy and sometimes helping them out. Also, despite his mistakes with Tom Riddle (who fooled everyone, even victims like Hagrid, into thinking he was an innocent albeit brilliant schoolboy), he still felt remorse over the unintended consequences of him doing his job (i.e. lending a hand to a clearly genius student) and even owned up to his mistakes (first in a drunken stupor, then when he fought in The Battle of Hogwarts).

    I could also keep going by pointing out that the series’ biggest degenerates happen to be skinny: Bellatrix Lestrange, her husband and brother-in-law, Barty Crouch Jr (tortured a couple to insanity doesn’t really help them in the sympathetic character contest), and Voldemort himself. Heck, Voldy was ridiculously handsome before he became confident enough in his powers to stop hiding his real agenda.

    • Katie / Aug 31 2011 9:37 am

      Hi eli,

      Welcome to my blog. I think you will see that I answered most (if not all) of your questions already in this post and in the comments, so I’ll leave you to read my responses elsewhere. The exception to this is the idea that Rowling wrote it from Harry’s perspective, and frankly as much as I love the world Rowling has created, she is not by any stretch of the imagination a writer sophisticated enough for that to be a compelling argument. Of course anyone is free to hold this opinion, but I haven’t seen even a sliver of compelling evidence to believe this is so, and I also have no reason to give her the “benefit of the doubt” when what she says is so very hateful, and the writing encourages the reader to share her bleak view of Dudley rather than to have any compassion for him whatsoever.

      Your comment here is a perfect illustration of the lengths a person needs to go to to justify Rowling’s fat hatred as demonstrated through the character of Dudley Dursley. I, for one, am not willing to engage in such intellectual gymnastics. Sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar.

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