Among the unexpected responses I’ve gotten to All the Ugly and Wonderful Things are reviews and emails bemoaning Kellen’s physique. “Whyyyyy?” one reader asks. “Why does he have to be fat?” Also: “Ewwww, that’s so disgusting.” Plus: “It’s so sick that you made him a gross fat guy. What purpose does that serve?”
Many of the characters who describe Kellen in unflattering terms aren’t necessarily characters we ought to trust. Liam, that Prince Charming, is the one who calls Kellen a fat fucking slob. Dee refers to Kellen as sweaty and walrus-like, but then she also considers him slow. (I’d like to see her rebuild a motorcycle engine or solve a Rubik’s Cube.) Miss DeGrassi, a more reliable narrator, describes him as greasy and meaty.
Of course, even if we look through Wavy’s eyes of love, she’s the one who says, “I had nothing on my body like the warm damp crease between his tits and belly.” That line apparently makes some readers cringe. Man boobs are not on the list of desirable traits in our society.
It makes me sad when readers write to say, “I was so disgusted at him being fat that I just had to pretend he wasn’t,” but I regret nothing. While some readers may be turned off by Kellen’s size, it’s at the heart of Wavy’s physical attraction to him. His status as the Giant means that he can protect her. His size is safety. Also, as a skinny, hungry girl, she admires how he eats, and she desires the solidity and strength that his body represents. She goes so far as to compare him to food she wants to eat. For her, he’s attractive because he’s powerful but soft.
It’s not just as a writer that I’m saddened by this negative reaction to Kellen being something other than a chiseled stud on a motorcycle. Personally, it makes me sad to see so much hate for big boys. I readily admit that it was easy for me to tap into Wavy’s desire for Kellen’s flesh. Objectively I can admire a well-toned physique, but in my personal life, I’ve never been a big fan of sculpted abs. I like big boys. Guys who look like they could wrestle a bear and still make a good pillow. At a few of my book events, readers asked me to “dream cast” a movie of All the Ugly and Wonderful Things. That’s a really hard question because for the most part Hollywood doesn’t offer any actors who are remotely like I imagine Kellen being. (As much as I like Jason Momoa, he’s not even close.)
In fact, to try to show you what I mean about the beauty and power of a big, beefy guy with a belly and tits, I had to go the wrestling route. My current favorite rikishi is Endō Shōta. Although he only clocks in at 6’1″ and 330 lbs (quite a bit smaller than Kellen), he embodies the kind of physical presence I imagine Kellen having. And while Kellen is Choctaw, and Endō is Japanese, he has an adorably shy smile and soft brown eyes. Although he’s carrying enough body fat that he would be called “fat” in America, he’s also carrying a whole lot of muscle under that protective fat. Nothing sculpted or toned about him, but he’s built for the hard work of wrestling.
Or here, have some of my other favorite wrestlers, like André Roussimoff and Akebono Tarō:
Of course, André was an actual giant, massive and formidable, but Akebono is 6’8″, and at the height of his career as yokozuna was 500 lbs. (A little bigger than Kellen.) He was magnificent and nearly unbeatable. Consider the incredible power stored in a body like that. To me, that’s gorgeous and sexy as hell.