Friday, November 20, 2015

Body Positivity Part 2: Interview with Kari-Lynn Winters

My last post was an interview with Nicole Winters regarding body positivity in her book THE JOCK AND THE FAT CHICK. Nicole put me in touch with Kari-Lynn Winters (no relation), who has studied body image among youth extensively. Kari-Lynn is here today to do a follow-up interview, answering many of the same questions given to Nicole.

First, a note from Kari-Lynn:

I implemented and took part in a SSHRC-funded research project about the arts and body image. It involved producing a play and drama-based workshops for children (grades 4-7) that toured to 8 schools in the Niagara region (780 students). Data were collected with videos, photos, interviews, focus groups, etc. This is what I will base my answers on.

How do we teach kids that fat shaming is just as terrible as other types of shaming?

Shaming in any form can have devastating effects—lowering self confidence, destroying friendships, as well as contributing to isolation, depression, anxiety, and (in some cases) suicides.

I would like to broaden this topic from fat shaming to body shaming. 

Body shaming (e.g., fat shaming, lanky shaming) has been a part of life for a long time. However, from my literacy and arts research and from other research studies, it has become clear to me that body shaming is very prevalent in today’s youth cultures. Even young children (grade 4), were hyper aware of their bodies and how they fit in with their peers. 93% of the children we worked with/interviewed (N=780) had some issue/s with their bodies. Some of the more common concerns children raised included: arm hair, sweating, weight, height, skin colour, scars, wearing glasses or braces, and complexions. Indeed much of their concerns stemmed from peer pressures and their feelings of “otherness”. Additionally, some of their fears came directly from the media. For example, it was surprising to hear 8-year-olds talking about thigh gaps. Regardless of the type of shaming, the children found themselves humiliated, ugly, and unappreciated. Often they spoke about wanting to hide or to get away. Indeed, like any kind of shaming, body shaming has profound negative affects on a person’s physical and psychological health. 

How do we teach kids to love the bodies that they’re in, even if they are fat, in spite of being fat, while striving to be healthy?

Instead of focusing on the negative affects of an unhealthy weight, it might be helpful to think about possibilities and perseverance. This youtube video constantly reminds me of the strength of humans:

In some cases people can transform themselves through proper nutrition and exercise. But more importantly, humans have incredible opportunities to re-story their identities. This means that rather than changing their bodies, why not encourage children to change their mindsets and begin to refute media messages. With the children I have worked with, I try to focus on difference and ability rather than “sameness” and shaming. For example, Howard Schatz’s photo of Olympic athletes 

demonstrates a diversity of bodies. I show this picture to children, and highlight different contexts. I might ask, “If you wanted to be a gymnast, what challenges would you face if you had a basketball player's body?” “Or oppositely, what opportunities might you be granted because of that body shape?” When you re-story an attitude about the body, you not only see another perspective, but you also re-shape your own identity. 

How can we change the mindset of passively fat shaming (ie doing things like commenting ‘oh you’d be beautiful if you’d lost a few pounds,” “you have such a pretty face,” and those “helpful” people that try to suggest that everything could be easily fixed through proper diet and exercise)?

Encourage youth to stand up for themselves and for others by refuting comments with different perspectives.
For example, if someone says, “You can’t fit into those boots because your calves are too big.” Encourage the victim to respond with a new point of view. “I like my strong legs. I earned these muscles from sprinting up stairs.” Youth can practice acting out scenarios like these with their friends.

People will always position others, just as they always have. The secret is to be prepared to re-position yourself within a context, changing the point of view and by the challenging stereotypical attitudes. 

Have you ever changed your opinion (from hate to love) on a physical feature of yours? (An example: When I realized my daughter had the same hair as me, it became an object of sentiment, rather than an object of annoyance.)

Yes. I used to hate my big teeth. I felt like they were too big for my mouth when I was a kid. Now though, I love my wide, grinny smile…it is one of my signature expressions. People comment on it often. 

How do you feel personal mindset affects the average North American teenager? Is this something that should be included in the public school system curriculum and/or taught at home?

Yes. Personal mindsets can and need to be observed and discussed in schooled settings (because that is where many mindsets are shaped).
One project that I did was to encourage students to pretend to be expert mannequin designers and to design the perfect body.

Then these perfect bodies could be critically discussed, including students’ values about bodies, why mannequins are often designed in certain ways and how these designs sell products for corporations, and eventually, how to change mindsets about body image.

Additional discussions can be encouraged at home.

If a child displays their guardian's ideas and judgments on body positivism, how, then, do we educate the adults of America to create a safe place for their kids to be themselves in the midst of social pressure to fit into specific body sizes/shapes?

This is why we need children’s literature (such as Nicole Winters’ book) on sensitive topics—places where youth can retreat, reform ideas, and build knowledge about different mindsets. I am grateful to these brave authors, creators, and publishers who take on these projects. 


Many thanks to Kari-Lynn for participating and adding so much useful information to the discussion! I really appreciate her perspective, and I'm glad to hear about the great work she's doing with kids.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Body Positivity: Interview with Nicole Winters

Today I am very excited to bring you all an interview with Nicole Winters. Nicole's book THE JOCK AND THE FAT CHICK came out October 13th. She's here today to talk about body positivity, both in her book and in her own experiences. I've invited several readers to ask her questions on the topic, and you'll find those questions and Nicole's answers below. She has also asked Kari-Lynn Winters, an expert on body positivity, to join us for a part 2 of this series. I'll be posting Kari-Lynn's responses sometime next week.

First, here's a bit about the book:

No one ever said high school was easy. In this hilarious and heartwarming debut, one high school senior has to ask himself how much he's willing to give up in order to fit in.

Kevin seems to have it all: he's popular, good looking, and on his way to scoring a college hockey scholarship. However, he's keeping two big secrets. The first is that he failed an assignment and is now forced to take the most embarrassing course ever--domestic tech. The second is that he is falling for his domestic tech classmate, Claire.

As far as Kevin is concerned, Claire does have it all: she's funny, smart, beautiful, and confident. But she's off-limits. Because Kevin knows what happens when someone in his group dares to date a girl who isn't a cheerleader, and there's no way he is going to put himself—or Claire—through that.

But steering clear of the girl of his dreams is a lot harder than Kevin thought…especially when a cooking project they are paired together for provides the perfect opportunity for things to heat up between them outside the classroom….

And now on to the interview!

1. Have you ever changed your opinion (from hate to love) on a physical feature of yours? (An example: When I realized my daughter had the same hair as me, it became an object of sentiment, rather than an object of annoyance.)

I noticed my first grey hair when I was sixteen and was teased. In my twenties, I’d be centered out at parties where people would stare, looking at my greys as if I represented doomsday (turning 30) which was soon coming for them. Then I decided to wear my hair in a pixie style and dyed it a lot (raven black, burgundy, ice blond, etc.) but didn’t like the grey regrowth or all those chemicals, so I grew it out. During those two long years, women would stop me on the street or when I was riding the subway, to pay me a compliment on its colour, surprising me, making me think they must be crazy. Now I’m pretty much 95% grey, no, silver is how I've come to see it and because it’s the latest fad to have silver hair, young people on the street now ask me where I get mine done. Now, I love it, it's what makes me me, and wouldn’t dye it for all the world.

2. Is Claire actually fat (overweight or obese), and if not, why not? If she is actually fat, how did you decide to go that direction? 

Here’s how the story originated: a friend of mine said growing up, whenever his mom cooked, dinners consisted of two steps, a can opener and a microwave. That hit me pretty viscerally. Days later, I thought, what if I had a character who was an athlete and his mom cooked meals like that? What if he thought that he could do better, but in reality he did much worse? I know, I’ll have him eat nothing but energy bars, shakes and gels. So now I had a character who means well, but is misdirected. I knew I wanted to write about him, tell the journey from the male perspective. At the same time, I’d been reading books with plus size teen girls in them and they all seemed to be similar: depressed, bullied, or abused. It left me feeling down and got me thinking, how can I put my food challenged hero (Kevin), and a non-depressed/bullied/abused/ plus sized character (Claire), together? The story just unfolded from there.

When I was researching Claire’s character, watching cooking shows — she's a budding chef — and also imagining her physical appearance, I looked at a lot of photographs online, including many “real women” campaigns and plus size fashion sites. I would love to say, or show you who inspired me, but I won’t. I don’t know her personally; I want to respect her privacy.

3. Did you do a lot of research on body positivity, eating disorders, fat acceptance, etc. for the book, and if so, where did you look? What did you learn that surprised you?

I visited tons of websites, so many that I kept a spreadsheet over the years with links so I could reread them. For articles, I drew from YA diversity sites, romance readers/writers sites as well as individual bloggers, book reviewers, chatting with friends, and watching people on YouTube. This is just a drop in the bucket:

No One In Romance Novels Is Ever Fat by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby
I’m also a fan of Virgie Tovar:

I learned my instinct was right; just like Hollywood, there appears to be repetition when creating plus sized characters: depressed/bullied/abused/the clown/the comedian/the best friend, etc.  What surprised me the most was the vile cesspool of hate on YouTube.

4. How do we teach kids that fat shaming is just as terrible as other types of shaming?
5. How do we teach kids to love the bodies that they’re in, even if they are fat, in spite of being fat, while striving to be healthy?
6. How can we change the mindset of passively fat shaming (ie doing things like commenting ‘oh you’d be beautiful if you’d lost a few pounds,” “you have such a pretty face,” and those “helpful” people that try to suggest that everything could be easily fixed through proper diet and exercise)?

Other than to say, show by example, I’m not a parent, teacher or an expert in the field. So while I did enough research to tell Kevin and Claire’s story, I lack hands-on experience to answer these questions with any authority. However, my friend and fellow author, Kari-Lynn Winters, (no relation) who has a PhD in Education, just presented a fascinating research paper on media and body image and its effects on students. She gathered stories from people about body image and turned them into a play that her university students presented for young kids. This was followed-up with hands-on workshops with kids in classrooms and the results were fascinating.

Kari-Lynn Winters will be joining us for Part 2 of this series. She will be answering these questions and sharing her expertise with us.

7. Do you feel a personal connection to this story: If so, what is your experience with that social teen dynamic?

Mentally, Kevin represents who I was in high school, not an athletic teenage boy, but an awkward introvert who hung out with a social crowd. I distinctly remember alpha-members making snide, cruel remarks about other students (plus size or not). Half the group would jump in with comebacks and the other half, myself included, would exchange silent looks, knowing what was said was mean, but also lacking the courage to stand up and say something for fear of backlash. What an awful insecure, shame-filled, terrible feeling. I’m certainly not like that person now. If I hear something cruel, I'll speak up.

Mentally, Claire represents who I am today. I was a lanky, gawky, awkward, insecure, braces-wearing, flat as a board teen, and now, the older I get and the more curves, scars, freckles, laugh lines, and grey hair I amass, the more I like it. It represents a life well lived. It’s like, here I am world, and if you don’t like it, f*** off. Too bad I wasn't more like that in high school.

8. How do you feel personal mindset affects the average American teenager? Is this something that should be included in the public school system curriculum and/or taught at home?

I think Hollywood, corporations, books, music, fashion, etc., play a massive part in shaping the mindsets of teenagers. It’s a constant barrage of messages that try to tell young people what to think, act and feel. Corporations send them the message that they won’t be cool unless they use a particular product or wear particular piece of clothing (sold in certain stores with limited sizes), or look a certain way. And Hollywood? Where do I start? I often wonder what would have happened in the romantic teen comedy SHE’S ALL THAT if the geeky “unattractive” artist Laney remained who she was and didn’t get the cliché makeover and it was Zach who had to change, and it ended with them as a couple, but Laney was exactly how she appeared in Act I.

There are also teachers (e.g., social studies) who touch upon this topic, using “truth in advertising” as a start, and I’m all for more education on loving and accepting ourselves and other people both at home and in school. There’s a great website that addresses this issue. More awareness, open dialogue is a great start. I also think there should be more books with diverse characters that include people with various backgrounds, cultures, body types, disabilities and more. Check out and

9. If a child displays their guardian's ideas and judgments on body positivism, how, then, do we educate the adults of America to create a safe place for their kids to be themselves in the midst of social pressure to fit into specific body sizes/shapes?

I’m a writer who grew tired of seeing a certain stereotype and had the opportunity to do something about it. I understand my characters, Kevin and Claire, and how they feel; I also know that any story is only a partial reflection of reality and we all need to work together to make the real world a better place for everyone.


Thank you so much, Nicole, for joining us today! I really appreciate your answers to these questions; it's clear that you've spent a lot of time thinking about the issues involved. I'm looking forward to reading THE JOCK AND THE FAT CHICK!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rolling the Sleep Dice

One night two years ago or so, when our older son was a baby, my husband was so sleep deprived he tried to stop the baby crying in the middle of the night by turning off his alarm clock.

It didn't work.

Trying to get a good night's sleep with a baby is like rolling two dice and hoping for double sixes. There's always something, and usually multiple somethings, that make a long stretch of sleep highly unlikely. Things such as:


Stomach Pain/Gas



Sleep Regression

Or you get lucky and:


Here's a sampling of how a new parent's nights might go during the first few months.

The first couple weeks:

Parents: Ok... we can do this. And once we don't have to wake the baby up to eat I'm sure we'll get a little more sleep. Just have to hold on for a few weeks.

Nature: *snickers*

Parents: ... Did you hear something?

The next couple weeks:


Nature: Isn't it obvious? There's gas coming out of your crying child every five minutes.

Parents: But why????? *frantic internet search* Oooooh. Ok, no more eggs for Mommy while this child is breastfeeding.

Parents: Still with the gas???

Nature: This is fun. Brb, making popcorn.

Parent: Alright fine, Mommy will cut out broccoli too.

Parents: Ok, ok! No more chocolate or caffeine either. Are you happy now?

Nature: Eh... getting there.

Parents: Finally, no more gas. But why is the baby eating nonstop? I thought the growth spurt was supposed to be over by now. And what's with all the spitting up and hiccups?

Nature: That would be called reflux.

Parents: Yeah, this reflux thing is not cool. *more internet searching* It says here to elevate the crib mattress on one side. Guess we'll try that?

Nature: Good luck...

Parents: How on earth did the baby get turned around 180 degrees? We're trying to elevate the head here, not the feet! Maybe it's time to give baby some medicine.

Parents: Ha! See? No reflux. Medicine for the win!

Nature: Yes, but the whole family looks like death. Do you even know whose snot that is on your sleeve?

Parents: Doesn't matter. This cold will pass, and then, finally, all will be well.

Parents: Oh, come on! What now?

Nature: Did I forget to mention? That reflux medicine comes with a killer stomach ache. Enjoy being up several times an hour.

Parents: Ok, no medicine! We surrender! Anything is better than this.

Nature: Wanna bet?

Parents: *silent weeping*

Nature: Congratulations! You get GERD. From now on, your dice are set to roll only 3s.

A few months in:

Parents: *eliminate dairy from Mommy's diet*

Parents: *give in and bring the baby into the bed all night*

Parents: *buy every reflux product in sight*

Parents: *Mommy is now subsisting on rice and lentils*

And then one night...

Parents: ...

Parents: Well, it isn't reflux for a change.

Parents: ...

Parents: But what is it?

Parents: ...

Parents: And why won't it stop?

Nature: Isn't sleep regression fun? And you got the video monitor, so you can watch every time the baby rolls into an uncomfortable position, sealing your sleepless doom.

Parents: ...

Parents: Alright, we've been awake for four hours straight. Who's up for chocolate coffee ice cream?

This time around I haven't yet gotten to the chocolate coffee ice cream stage. I'm hovering somewhere between "spending all our money" and "living off nonperishable food." I'm convinced that reflux is Nature's way of enforcing a strong mother-baby bond. I didn't really think I needed that kind of help, but hey, when you're looking for a bright side, that's a pretty good bright side to embrace.

All that to say that posting may be a bit erratic for a few months while we ride out the storm of sleeplessness. Have a great Autumn!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pitch Practice: Character, Goal and Hook

Today I'm going to get a bit technical and talk about query pitches. This post is mainly targeting writers, but hopefully it'll offer a little insight into the process for others too.

So while I was in the hospital having a baby, I was featured on Amy Trueblood's Quite the Query. Head over there to see my pitch for The Never Silent, then hurry right back. I'll wait.


Back? Ok.

I'm really satisfied with this pitch. I signed with my agent, Marlene Stringer, for this book, so I absolutely consider it a success.

But what is it about this query that works?

I've been thinking about the answer to that question ever since a conversation I had with my critique partner about querying. The thing is, I'm one of those horrible people who actually enjoys writing a query pitch. I know, you hate me for that. But I think it's a fun exercise.

So I've spent some time analyzing my pitch-crafting method, and I've come up with something of a formula* that I frequently use. It has three parts: Character, Goal and Hook

Today I'm going to go through those three parts with a pitch for a story I'm making up out of the blue.**


Let's start with a girl. A teen, since I write YA. Let's call her Ellie. Right now we don't know anything about her, and we need to if we're going to get anyone interested in her. We need a reason for Ellie to be the main character, a reason why she is the only person who makes sense as the main character of our story. We don't just want a placeholder that any teen girl could stand in. So let's show how Ellie distinguishes herself from other girls.

Ellie sees memories when she walks into an empty room. They are silent, like 3D soap operas on mute. The more dramatic memories are brighter, the rest dim or faded to nothing.

Okay. That's a start. Ellie has a unique and interesting trait. I would want to know more about her. Now let's give Ellie a goal.


Every character needs a goal. (Even secondary characters in your story should want something.) In fact, your main character should have a goal in every scene. As the ineffable Rosemary Clement-Moore once told my group at a writing workshop, even a simple goal like wanting to fetch a drink of water can add to a scene. Having a goal means that there are stakes. The future becomes uncertain. Will the character be thwarted, or will they succeed? What challenges will there be along the way? So let's find out Ellie's goal.

When Jen, the Queen Bee of Ellie's school, goes missing, Ellie is the only one who knows where to start looking. There's a new memory of Jen in the girls' locker room, and it's the brightest one Ellie has ever seen. Finding Jen becomes an obsession.

Alright, great! We have a goal. It pairs well with the character, and everyone loves a good mystery. Now for the Hook.


So how is the hook different from the goal? Isn't the search for Jen enough of a hook? Why do we need more?

Well, yes, the goal should be enticing, but it's not necessarily a hook on its own. A good hook will add a new layer to the pitch that takes us from ho-hum plot summary to burning need to know what happens. It should work within the context of the Character and Goal but add a new dimension.

In my pitch for The Never Silent, the hook isn't that Henry is looking for a killer. Looking for the killer is his goal. The hook is that Henry, a con artist, now has to embark on the greatest con of his life in order to accomplish his goal. See how the hook plays in with both the Character and Goal there?

The hook should interact with the other elements. It's a twist on what we've already established. So let's add a twist to Ellie's pitch.

The more secrets Ellie uncovers about Jen, the more important the locker room memory becomes. But this memory is different from all the others.

This memory keeps changing.

And there we have it! A compelling twist that brings up a lot of good questions.

Now maybe there's more to add to the pitch. Perhaps there's somebody in the memory with Jen. Maybe it's somebody Ellie doesn't recognize. Or maybe Ellie does. Maybe it's her best friend.

That would be an interesting twist. But as it is, we have a great start here with our Character, Goal and Hook.

Exercise to try at home: Make up a Character-Goal-Hook pitch for a story you've never written, and post your pitch in the comments!

*There are a lot of ways to write a pitch. I am NOT trying to sell this one as the only definitive method. If you have a pitch that works for you and for your story, go with it.

**At present I have no intention of writing this story, but I reserve the right to do so in the future. If I ever come up with a plot...

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

One Eventful Night

So I've been gone awhile, but in case you haven't heard, it was for a very good reason: my family has grown by one member! He was born almost a month ago, but it's taken me until now to write about it. Today is actually my first day home alone with the boys, and so far it's going very well, though it does help that the big boy is out playing for a few hours.

Here's some of the story of the baby's birth:

For one thing, he took a lot more time about it than his brother did. Number one was out within five hours. Number two took somewhere around sixteen. It was a tougher birth all around--it was slower, I was far more tired by the end, and I had a bit of back labor wearing me out. On the bright side, even though I was induced, I never had to be given Pitocin, which I had been hoping to avoid.

If I learned anything from the experience it was this: that birth can happen so differently from one baby to the next, and making judgments about a woman's choices during labor is really quite thick-headed. I admit I used to have a bit of pride about the fact that I got through my first delivery unmedicated. Now, after the second, I have a whole new appreciation for epidurals.

In the end it was a really good thing that I got one this time. Almost as soon as it kicked in, I started feeling like delivery was eminent. Unfortunately the doctor was not at the hospital at the time. Now normally it would have taken her between ten and twenty minutes to get to me, but it just so happened that my baby decided he wanted to come at precisely the same time that there was a major accident on the highway in the middle of the night. So instead of twenty minutes I kept hearing "It'll be about another ten minutes..." In the end I waited nearly an hour before the doctor arrived (and then only because of a police escort), and that entire time I was resisting what nature was telling me very strongly to do. If I hadn't been so sleep deprived, I might have said, "Forget it, I'm pushing." As it was, all I could think to do was follow directions. And let me tell you, if it weren't for the epidural I would not have made it through that experience.

That night was eventful for another reason too: there was a meteor shower happening right as my baby was born. A lot of people were outside looking up at the sky, but I like to pretend they were all awake to celebrate a new little boy coming into the world. Although, now that I think about it, maybe that accident on the highway was caused by someone looking up at the sky instead of paying attention to the road. Hm...

Well, regardless, it was quite the night. My little boy has so many things ahead of him to learn, but one thing is certain--he already knows how to make an entrance.