Editor’s Note: This week’s FLL discusses body issues and abuse. The art used in both the featured image and in the essay itself was drawn by Tumblr artist Mihodraws, and all rights to it belong to them.
There have been many, many works in the Harry Potter fandom that have changed my life. That makes sense; I grew up reading the books, adopted Harry and his friends as if they were real people with whom I could share my greatest fears and my most wonderful adventures. The sense of anticipation I felt when J.K. Rowling released a new book was unlike anything else. Ten years after the release of Deathly Hallows, my relationship with this series is far more complex than it was back then, but it’s still important to me.
Once I discovered fan fiction, fan art, and fan videos, it wasn’t long before I fell headlong into the vast Harry Potter fandom. I remember seeing art crop up on Tumblr, years ago, depicting Hermione and Harry as people of color; I remember being glaringly, righteously angry at Rowling for co-opting an AIDS narrative for a character she forced to be straight and debating it hotly in online spaces; I remember deciding, quite unequivocally, to ignore the series’ epilogue altogether and instead believe my own headcanons for how it ended.
Among these fanworks that stick out in my mind, there are a fair few that I’ve revisited over and over again. A decade is a long time to cling to something, but some of the Harry Potter fan fiction I read in high school has stuck with me in a permanent, heart-searing way. As for fan art…
One piece that my partner reblogged two full years ago has stuck with me in a visceral way ever since. It has changed how I view the series as a whole, not only in fandom but in canon. I remember staring at it, when I saw it, and then reading my partner’s excited tags and then feeling, deep in my gut, that the image was wrong. That it wasn’t how things were supposed to be. That the cute, fat girl in the middle of the drawing couldn’t possibly be Lily Evans, because Lily Evans would never be fat. That just didn’t make sense.
Harry Potter fan art with Lily Evans in the middle, in a crop top and jeans. Artist: mihodraws on Tumblr
Two years ago, I was just beginning to recognize how much help I needed to deal with my mental health. My self-hatred, which stemmed from a lifetime of hating my fat body, abuse hurled at me from family and partners alike, and deep-seated issues of abandonment and need made me feel like an utter failure anytime I so much as burned something while making dinner. I hated how I looked, how I felt, how I thought other people felt about how I looked and what I was like.
Seeing a fat Lily Evans, smiling unashamedly from the center of such a bright, well-wrought piece of fan art really, really angered me. I had dreamcast Karen Gillan in the role. I had dreamcast Hayley Williams in the role. I had pictured countless thin, pale, red-haired women as Lily Evans and loved all of them fiercely, because Lily Evans — both in canon and in fandom — was a character I wanted so, so desperately to be like.
Karen Gillan, from Doctor Who. Gif found on Tumblr.
Lily Evans was Head Girl, top of her class, damn good at magic and completely willing to sacrifice herself to protect her infant son. She was fierce and brave and endlessly, endlessly perfect. James Potter, the most popular boy in school, was so into Lily Evans that he became an absolute idiot around her.
This description left no room for Lily Evans to be fat.
It takes two hands for me to count the number of boys who have told me, point blank, that they’re not attracted to me because of my size. That doesn’t matter so much now — I came out as a lesbian years ago — but these things still stick with me. It doesn’t help that my ex, who once called me “baby whale” as if the nickname were cute and not damning, used to encourage me to lose weight so we could have better sex.
Fat people don’t get to fall in love, and see it reciprocated. Fat people aren’t lusted after by the most popular boys in school. Sookie St. James was a fluke. My high school drama teacher told me she wouldn’t cast me in ingenue roles because I didn’t “look the part.” Translation: I was too fat.
And fat people don’t get to center in romances. Especially not fat women.
When I saw this drawing of fat Lily Evans — who, now that I look at the piece with fresh eyes, isn’t even that big — it made me feel wrong. Dirty. Like the artist didn’t understand what they’d done by giving her more generous body portions. Lily Evans couldn’t be fat. Rowling never would have written a fat character to be good the way Lily was.
Nearly all the fat characters in the Harry Potter books are horrible, awful people. The only canonical exceptions to this rule are Neville Longbottom and Molly Weasley. The message is clear: fat people are either evil or humble. They aren’t subjects to be lusted after or admired.
I’ve thought about fat Lily Evans almost every day for the last two years. I’ve talked about her in therapy. I’ve roleplayed her. I’ve written her into fan fiction. Every single time I think about her, I think about how there’s no real reason Lily Evans couldn’t be canonically fat. I think about how the prejudices and self-hatred that have been beaten into me since I was a chubby toddler colored my initial thoughts on this piece of fan art, and I think about how hard I’ve worked to love myself in the two years since I saw it.
Fan art holds a lot of power. It not only allows us to envision someone else’s imagining of characters we think we know intimately; it allows us to confront our own prejudices and, often, change how we interpret canon. Fan art sticks in my mind more often than not because it alters how I view characters, from their hair to their body to the way they stand. It’s an incredible transformative work because of how it plants images in a fandom’s mind, often spiraling into inspiration for others who are seeking more representation of themselves within a fandom and aren’t sure where they should start.
Rowling doesn’t bother to represent fat people well in her books. Luckily, the Harry Potter fandom is there to supply the content she didn’t. Fat Lily Evans seemed like such a novel concept two years ago. To be honest, she still does. But now I feel as if there can be no other version of her. I picture Lily Evans as a curvaceous babe with no qualms about hexing James Potter for being a creep. It’s been a long, slow crawl for that headcanon to cement itself, but it’s there now, and I have this one fan artist to thank. •
Samantha Pearson is a freelance writer, editor, and social media manager who currently writes for Rogues Portal and Culturess. Her work has also appeared on Femsplain. She occasionally blogs about vegan food and her life as a cat parent on her personal website, The Verbal Thing. Samantha likes comics, Shakespeare, cephalopods, space babes, MLPCCG, and dismantling the patriarchy. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.