24 November 2008

Bookish Body Image

As Thanksgiving rapidly approaches, and with the average turkey day meal consisting of some 2000 calories, I keep hearing people around me lament on how much they'll likely gain throughout the holidays and how much they already had to lose--it got me thinking...

If you’re a woman in the world, you’re a person with body issues. Hopefully they’re minor issues, curly hair you want straight, an upturn nose too cute to be taken seriously, things you live with and move on. But all too often they’re major issues that come with negative self-talk, dark thoughts that can number in the triple digits in a day concerning weight, body shape and more. Magazines and other mass media are given the blame for unrealistic expectations, but what part do books play? And if they aren’t part of the problem, have they done enough to be part of the solution?

I read more and more books where the heroine does not have a perfect body by Western standards, many of them romances or urban fantasies where romance plays a factor. This of course is wonderful, but I’m noticing a pattern that disturbs me. The hero, (especially if he’s supernatural and long-lived enough to have seen beauty standards change), is always perfectly happy and deeply aroused by the “curvy”, “womanly”, “voluptuous” body of the heroine. Yay for men who like real women! Our heroine is a different story however.

Many times her negative self-image is displayed on the page and there’s the utter conviction that the handsome hero in question couldn’t possibly want her. It’s real. I’ve had that conversation with girlfriends so I know. But is it helpful? Does it liberate readers to have a main character with the same insecurities they’ve gone through? Or does it make it seem like the heroine is being loved despite her weight/shape/size rather than because of it?

As readers, should we demand more heroines that have found peace with their bodies, or even better, those who revel in who they are? As writers should we work to write more heroines who are bold, sexy, sassy, sizes 12/14/16 and unapologetic about it? And do we fully believe they’d sell? I know I do, but I’m not entirely sure about the industry.

Chick-lit often covered the body-image topic in the aforementioned “he wants me?” pattern of romantic adventure. Or it walked the road of the successful diet where the heroine was finally able to feel good about herself having earned it through sweat and tears and perseverance; becoming a creature worthy of love. I’m thinking we’ve done that dance and can move along. Where are the confident and capable heroines who feel good about their bodies and whose size is a descriptor not an obstacle?

What are some of your favorite books that dealt with average (or near average) size women living their lives without a diet or negative thought in sight? What have you written that fits the picture? What else would you like to see more of on the pages of your favorite genres?

My, this was more questions and than commentary, but it’s what’s on my mind. What’s on yours?

"Happy Heroines/Holiday Calories Ramble" Done

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