Andrew Zansky is 15 years old and weighs 307 pounds. His pants are size 48 and he hates the tag on the outside of his jeans that announces it to the world.
But instead of dwelling on his doughy body and slinking further into social isolation, the protagonist in the recently released young adult novel Food, Girls, and Other Things I Can't Have joins the football team - something author Allen Zadoff, a former fat kid, regrets never having done.
In C. Leigh Purtill's novel All About Vee , 217-pound teenager Veronica heads to Hollywood in pursuit of an acting career, and snags the guy and the dream without obsessing over her heavy frame.
The two fictitious characters are more than just role models for fat kids everywhere - they're part of a larger embrace of the plus-sized self taking shape in popular culture. From the reality TV series More to Love - a super-sized version of The Bachelor that features extra-large contestants vying for romance - to zaftig indie rocker Beth Ditto posing naked on the cover of the European fashion magazine LOVE, powerful cues abound that suggest it's okay to be fat.
How else to explain the draw to gratuitous grease pits such as The Heart Attack Grill, a hospital-themed diner in Chandler, Ariz., that has achieved international fame for its double bypass burgers and letting people over 350 pounds eat for free? Or food porn blogs such as This Is Why You're Fat, which made its debut in February, that cast fatty fare like Krispy Kreme bacon sandwiches in a favourable light?
The trend is happening as a backlash against a culture that has long perpetuated futile strict diets and impossible exercise regimes. People are finally tired of the yo-yo meal plans that help them melt off pounds but also pack them back on. And the media are making more efforts to reflect a public with ever-expanding waistlines, experts say.
"People are getting fatter and if you keep just throwing unrealistic, thin images at them, they're not going to be able to identify," says Peter Stearns, author of Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West and provost of history at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
While Mr. Stearns doesn't see a seismic shift toward fat acceptance, he says that as media images suggest "a little more comfort" with plus-sized figures, that might give people who fret about their weight "further reassurance."
Feeding off the positive response from readers, even fashion magazines - the staunchest defenders of the skinny ideal - are starting to embrace the plus-size figure. A photo of 20-year-old model Lizzie Miller in the September issue of Glamour that showed a decidedly real tummy pooch drew overwhelming public support and earned a vow from editor Cindi Leive to include more women who look like the size 12 model. Earlier this week, leading German magazine Brigitte said it will lose stick-thin models in favour of real women who reflect their curvy readers.
Fashion runways, though reticent, are also taking a cue. At London Fashion Week in late September, Canadian designer Mark Fast sent three models sized 12 to 14 marching down the catwalk (though the move prompted two members of his team to storm out three days before his show).
Fat-acceptance proponents say excess weight shouldn't be a person's biggest hang-up. Ditch the diet, eat what you want and exercise for enjoyment, they advise, instead of trying to drop 20 pounds and fit into a size 6. But the more moderate advocates are careful to stress that an embrace of fat is not an excuse to be lazy and neglect a person's physical well-being. The overall goal is to be body-confident, but free of health issues - an idea even obesity experts support to a certain point.
Last fall, Linda Bacon, a physiologist and nutritionist based in El Cerrito, Calif., published Healthy at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, which advises overweight people to forget about diets and eat intuitively, quit trying to mend emotional problems with food and exercise at a comfortable, casual pace. Through a series of experiments, she found that people who didn't follow strict diets but simply aimed to eat healthier and exercise didn't lose weight but achieved significant health improvements.
The trick is defining what healthy is.
There's both a medical definition and a personal definition, says Yoni Freedhoff, medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute of Ottawa. "People can indeed have significant amounts of weight and not have any medical problems," he says. "Their blood work's pristine, they have no aches and pains, there's nothing a physician in his office would find, other than weight, to suggest that a person would have any kind of medical issues."