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Is Eleanor, Of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, Really Fat?

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I know that Rainbow Rowell has written about this, and that as she’s the author we must defer to her, but still there is the suggestion that each reader will take what they will from the book. Because it’s a theme I found particularly interesting, I wanted to explore it in my own way. I should point out that I wrote this post before reading Rowell’s answer.

For a large part of Eleanor & Park, we don’t really hear any definite suggestions that oppose the idea that Eleanor is big. What Park says sometimes, his lack of mention of her size, only goes to show that he’s in love – because when they first met he called her big and later he doesn’t refer to it. The only person who really discusses her size in any way is Eleanor herself. And we all know the stereotypical thoughts girls are supposed to have about their weight and all the diets we are all supposed to be on.

It’s when Park’s dad first greets Eleanor that the thought really occurs – Park’s dad says that she’s not as big as he’d thought she’d be. And whilst you could take from that that Park’s dad was thinking in extremes and that Eleanor is just a smaller version of ‘fat’, the way it’s all written just suggests something else. It suggests that all this time there’s been nothing to the idea. And whilst the nickname that created Park’s dad’s impression – Big Red – has a lot of potential subtext behind it, thinness is so lauded that even a bit of weight could cause such a name.

I don’t think that the possibility the largeness is (mainly) in Eleanor’s head means that we are meant to see Eleanor as overly anxious and lacking in self-worth. She is lacking in worth a little as ‘befits’ her situation, but again the subtext isn’t saying that Eleanor is a totally unreliable narrator with too much imagination. More that yes, maybe she thinks she’s big but that the emphasis is suddenly switched to the reader who has essentially created the image of a fat girl in their head with only one source of evidence. The reader has bowed to stereotypical language and ideas, the oft-used idea that a scruffy girl who is perhaps a little bigger than average is likely to be huge.

And in Park’s mother we surely have someone who, despite the fact that she is very kind and wouldn’t have said anything outright, would surely have intimated something if Eleanor was really that big. Again that’s if we stereotype and say that as a beautician Park’s mother would turn her nose up. Which in this case I’d vouch that we’re meant to do.

Eleanor is large but her diet at home is relatively meagre. Perhaps she was large at the neighbour’s house where she would’ve been well fed, but at home? Surely the pounds would’ve dropped away. Is there thus a possibility she has an eating disorder? Is she seeing what isn’t there or seeing what she thinks others see, imposing upon herself the view of others? I don’t think she has a disorder, but I found the idea worth considering.

I myself, even now, see a large girl when I think of Eleanor. That is what Eleanor’s narration left me with, and maybe it’s what Eleanor wants us to believe. Maybe she thinks that people focus most on her size when they’re actually more concerned with her clothes – after all she is mocked for her clothes but doesn’t care about that so much herself.

I think we are meant to see a large girl so that our stereotypical ideas can be destroyed in front of our eyes. I don’t think Eleanor is very fat, I think that the constant idea that she is, even after we get words on the contrary, is perhaps meant to teach us something about the way thoughts have become so ingrained in us that even when it’s a story about understanding others we still fall in with what society thinks.

How did you see Eleanor?

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Katie @ Doing Dewey

December 4, 2013, 1:10 am

I haven’t read this, but I think you make some very interesting points. I hope the author really was trying to make the point about how we should be more understanding of others :)

Jenny @ Reading the End

December 4, 2013, 1:56 am

I loved Rowell’s response to this — it was a lot like mine, I think. How fat exactly isn’t nearly as important to the story as this idea Eleanor has that she’s disgusting (clearly untrue, God how awful to be a teenager). I think it’s great that Rowell pokes at the question during the book, by having different characters think about Eleanor in different ways.


December 4, 2013, 2:48 am

I sensed that she was maybe a bit overweight, but that in her head she was huge. It was her low opinion of herself that inflated her body image in her mind and made her feel much larger than everyone else. The other characters obviously didn’t see her that way, but the way you see yourself has a more important impact on behavior, I think. Interesting topic!


December 4, 2013, 11:56 am


My take on it (I’ve not read Rowell’s response) is that Eleanor thinks she is fat, but she is isn’t as overweight as she imagines/sees.

I don’t think it is meant to matter per say, she has a severely low sense of self worth due to years of abuse – she sees a distorted version of herself that Park doesn’t see. I just like that she isn’t some stick thin, perfect stunner, it makes it all the more real.

Laurie C

December 4, 2013, 2:24 pm

I also felt that Eleanor was taller and just larger over all than the tiny cheerleaders she was comparing herself to, not really fat or even particularly overweight. Even having a larger bust size at that age can make a girl seem “fat” in the exaggerated sense that we have these days that anyone who isn’t skinny is fat. I don’t know how much my perception was affected by the book cover art, which showed the back of Eleanor’s head on a pair of very small shoulders.


December 4, 2013, 4:31 pm

Unfortunately, the less money you have, the more you have to rely on highly processed food with lots of sugar, fat and calories. Obesity is far more prevalent among the poor.


December 4, 2013, 6:04 pm

Also, I am here to tell you that a very large person (I am one) can eat a “meagre” diet all the time just to keep from gaining more weight, while a thin person can eat three good meals a day. It does depend on what you’ve done to your body (if you’ve ever dieted) and your genetics.

Rebecca @ Love at First Book

December 4, 2013, 7:24 pm

I see Eleanor as being “not skinny” – meaning she sees skinny as being skinny and anything larger than that as “fat.” Even though she’s not eating much, she’s not necessarily eating well.


December 8, 2013, 3:38 pm

I loved that this aspect of the book was so vague. Like Jenny and Rowell, I think what is important and has the most impact on Eleanor is that she THOUGHT she was fat.



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