When going beyond the clear gendered expectations of children’s literature, it also works in a way that informs perceptions of the body. Although many common depictions of the body refer to it in ways that allude to the adult frame, children’s literature does a lot in regards to constructing what is commonly attributed to the body.
Children’s literature develops societal constructs as to what the body means, and ways in which it is appropriate to represent it. It forms the ways in which children learn about their bodies through texts like “Everybody Poops” but also creates a basis of knowledge for things like basic hygiene and sexual maturation. Children’s literature works in a way that allows children to gain a better understanding of their body and what it can do, but also the things that are good and bad to do with your body. A lot young adult fictions works with the topic of sexual maturation within these young adults, and often works in a way to create stigmas against it, reflecting the values of society.
Not only does children’s literature affect what children think they should do with their bodies, it affects what children think their bodies should look like. Hager looks at the fact that there is a significant lack of representation in children’s literature for fat people. These texts are representing thin figures as responsible and vilified, while heavy characters are all represented as sexually promiscuous, passive and powerless. These body stereotypes can be seen in The Bluest Eye in the way the prostitutes are portrayed. The misconceptions of weight and worth aren’t the only stereotypes perpetuated through children’s literature. Hyper thin, European ideals of beauty are presented as beautiful, while all other things are encouraged to morph into that idea.
This specific idea, the idea that white is beautiful, continues into modern society and outside of the context of literature itself. Just the other night while on Instagram I came across a post that perfectly depicted the continued idealization of white beauty. The white girl depicted is explicitly shown to have more beauty. It is literally labeling the white girl as beautiful. They show here in a more refined manner, with more detailed clothing and accessories. Meanwhile, the colored girl is directly labeled as ugly. She is presented with an expression that is entirely disinterested. Children’s literature works to form what children are to find as beautiful.