GS v. STA: The Plus Size Heroine - The One Who’s Well Adjusted

Oh, the plus size heroine. You may choose from the following options:

1. She diets her way to happy endingness, because nothings says “blissful sex and unlimited love forever after” like losing weight and having thin thighs.

2. She diets her way to happy endingness after seeing the visual holyshit that is her head photoshopped onto a thin body. Once this, she suffers from absolutely no misapprehensions as to what her body looks like and instantly adapts to a gym-centric, carrot-stick-loving life, because thin is so in. (No, Jemima J, I have still not gotten over that one).

3. She’s the plucky, plump sidekick of awesome, a sterling character inside a sexually unacceptable and therefore sexually unthreatening character who compliments but doesn’t compete with the heroine.

4. Like the heroine who is so very very accomplished but does nothing but fuck up left right and center, she’ll go on and on about how big and unattractive she is, how she’s larger than the other women she knows and it bothers her, yadda yadda – and then you find out she’s a size 10 or some shit like that.

Weight is a tricky issue for the heroine, who must be a perfect embodiment of all that is perfect without pissing us readers off too much. Lately there have been more explorations into The Land of The Plus Size Heroine in all genres, but mostly it’s a matter of omission. As Robin Uncapher wrote back in 2006

Out-of-fashion beauty was one of the main problems our thin, wide-eyed heroines had to overcome. What these girls had to worry about was being too beautiful, so beautiful the randy heroes could not keep their hands to themselves.

More recently, though, something completely new has happened in the world of romance. A small number of romance writers have been writing women who look more like most of us, not just by being plain, but by feeling overweight. Books like Ruth Wind’s Beautiful Stranger, Justine Davis’ A Whole Lot of Love, and Suzanne Brockmann’s Get Lucky started popping up.

Of course, as Robin points out, once you name a number as a size, a whole lotta women on either side of that number line up to argue about where the real “fat” line lies. Is it size 2? Is it size 14? Is it no size at all? Or is it every size, since so many women suffer under the idea that they are far, far too big for the ideal. Smart authors, if you ask me, leave it up to the reader and never name a number at all, leaving “plus size” in the mind’s eye of the beholder.

So are there plus size heroines that aren’t going to diet their way to happy endings, thereby reinforcing the damaging stereotype that only thin people deserve happiness? Are there heroines who remain their size and then move on to happiness? One Bitchery reader wrote:

I’m looking for romances that feature larger heroines.  I’m wondering if you can poll the readers for their recommendations.  I don’t care the sub-genre of romance, I just want to have a list of books that feature larger women.

The Rotund did a romance novel review in which the heroine was constantly bringing up her eating habits even though she was an okay size.

It got me thinking that I hadn’t read many and so I’ve gone looking and found some to order, but just want extra feedback.

Thanks to Barb Ferrer, I have read A Whole Lot of Love (among the worst titles ever, really) and it’s marvelous. The heroine, Layla Laraway, is a larger woman blessed with a hot-sex-on-chocolate-silk voice, and she’s a fundraising mastermind. When she meets The Hero, a hottie mchot executive named Ethan, he’s initially smitten with her voice, and has to adjust to the fact that his imagination of what she looked like doesn’t match reality (which he does quickly, thank heaven).

Her insecurities are real, but only part of the obstacles between them, and the heroine herself is marvy. In fact, Alzheimer’s Disease is often more of a focus in the narrative than Layla’s size. And, most importantly, her size is part of her character, not an obstacle to her happy ending – as in, she doesn’t have to make half of herself disappear to earn her future happiness.

So what other plus-size heroines have you read and liked? And which ones made you want to scream at the reinforcement of what The Rotund calls the “hegemony of Thin?”

ETA: While wandering around my house far, far from the reaches of the internet (it’s a scary place, that part of the house – there’s a mountain of laundry that never gets smaller) I realized that there are actually potentially two types of plus-size heroines. One: the kind for whom weight is a conscious issue but hopefully for the sake of a narrative not the only issue, and two: a plus size heroine whose size is a matter of fact element to the story, who doesn’t agonize over it at all.

It seems to me (and I haven’t caffeinated yet fully so I am happy to be disagreed with) that the place in which the openly imperfect heroine* most comfortably resides is historical romance. There are some historical heroines who aren’t visually perfect, for weight reasons or otherwise (note: examples blocked by lack of caffeine), but of course the hero, through the rose-colored lenses of her Magic Hoo Hoo, finds her fascinating. In contemporary romances, it might be more difficult to create an openly imperfect* heroine for weight reasons specifically because of the fatism that affects contemporary society, wherein if you’re fat you’re presumably lazy.

Are there heroines, in any time period, who are totally accepting of their size? Are there well-adjusted women of size in romance?

*Note: *I* for God’s sake do not think any amount of weight up or down is an imperfection. (My post partum ass, let me show you it. Next week.) I am referring to the standard of perfect imposed upon contemporary women, which currently seems to follow a “you should look as bony and square as a 10 year old boy” visual style. So when I say “Visually imperfect” it’s not from my perspective that I’m labeling imperfection. You look marvelous just the way you are. Really.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Anita says:

    I would certainly love it if there were more romances with happily plus-sized leading ladies.  Or men too, I suppose.  I think there tend to be more body variations in lesbian romance, which is my cup of tea anyway but not for everyone.  There are also some younger romances and fantasies and so on with wonderful plus-sized heroines.  “Princess Ben” by Catherine Gilbert Murdock is a wonderful example, but it is mostly a fantasy/magic/adventure with a little romance thrown in at the end.

  2. 2
    Anonym2857 says:

    Susan Donovan tends to use larger women in her stories… although ‘large’ is defined as size 14-16 instead of size 0-2. Still, that’s progress, to have average sizes being ok, without glorifying Barbie proportions.  Insecurities and cellulite are allowed.

    Her story HE LOVES LUCY is about a gal who is 100 pounds overweight. He’s her gorgeous trainer, and both are involved in a bet to get her in shape by the end of the year.  They’re doing it as part of an advertising campaign that is being tracked by millions on TV as it happens.

    I really enjoy her books. Light and funny.  In fact, I wish she’d hurry up and write another one.

    Diane

  3. 3
    Lori says:

    He Loves Lucy was one that angered me because she didn’t get her HEA until she lost weight. The Next Big Thing was another one. When someone touts a book as a larger sized heroine oftentimes the larger sized is the anti-heroine and she becomes the heroine with her HEA once she’s not larger sized.

    Pet peeve I have to admit. Confident, fat and happy just aren’t found in classic romance. And I want so desperately to read them.

  4. 4
    Sarah says:

    The first book that I have ever read which had a plus-sized leading lady was Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon and I liked the fact that she wasn’t a twig and even more I liked the fact that her hero loved that there was something to her. It’s been a long time since I’ve read that book and I don’t recall reading another one since then.

    It would be nice, though, and also more realistic to have plus sized women starring in these roles. I’m going to have to check out that Susan Donovan book. I haven’t read her yet.

  5. 5
    emmaco says:

    Bet me by Jennifter Crusie is one of my favourite romance books and stars a character whose plus-size is a great part of the story.

  6. 6
    TracyS says:

    STA: Lula in JE Stephanie Plum annoys me.  If she’d just stick with the descriptions she’d be fine. If you are skinny DON’T PUT   A NUMBER ON THE WEIGHT b/c you have no idea what you are talking about!!  Before I started loosing weight I was really close to Lula’s “stats” and nowhere near as big as Lula was described. I could not sit on a 6’3” grown ass man and squish him into crying “uncle” like Lula could!!  200 lbs may sound HUGE to JE but it’s not as big as she described Lula AT ALL!

    UGH.

    I want a plus size heroine that does NOT diet herself into a happy ending.  I was skinny when I met hubby and now I’m not so skinny and guess what? He still loves me and finds me SEXY! What do ya know?? LOL

    I’m gonna try out the books you mentioned Sarah!

  7. 7
    Anne Douglas says:

    My eBooks/eBook stash, let me show u them. I have mb on mb worth of BBW romance!

    This is one way eBooks are miles ahead of their tree counterparts. BBW’s abound!

    The majority of my stories have BBW heroines – not that their size is necessarily a major part of the story. I’ve even got a heroine with a disability who is plus sized. And their men? The men love them that way, they aren’t stories about changing who you are to be suitable for the hero/es.

    LI even has a full figured heroine category, as does EC.

    I have many issues with NY versions of BBW romance (not all, but a majority), but if I listed them I’d be here for hours.

  8. 8
    Anonym2857 says:

    Lori,

    I agree—I’d like to see plus-sized being an ok HEA too, w/o losing weight.  But I think at least LUCY addressed some of the issues and insecurites, and did a better job than most books do.  It was good for a few chuckles, too, which never hurts.  And at least Theo loved her long before she lost the weight, which is more than can be said for a lot of plus-sized books. 

    I remember reading several categories over the years about women who were overweight, got slim during the course of the book, and the hero begged them to put the weight back on because they were ‘too skinny’  and he’d loved her just the way she was.  Of course, I can’t recall the titles at the moment, and they are long out of print anyway. Sigh.  Another book (also a category), both the heroine and hero were overweight.  Of course both had to lose the weight before they got their HEA, which was annoying.

    Helen Brooks recently had one w/ a heroine with more curves than currently in fashion (whatever that means). The hero loved the curves.

    Diane

  9. 9
    Vivian says:

    The book that got me into romance novels had a bigger heroine, though not that I’m thinking of it she may fall into category 4 haha.  I’m talking about Min from Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me.  But I didn’t care about her dress size, what I cared about was her insecurity about her weight, and most of all, how Cal didn’t care about it.  I think Bet Me has become my major comfort novel when I think the whole world is being crappy to me.  There are so many great scenes (like the one where he’s telling her she’s not fat, just “lush” and turns himself on, or the one in the dressing room where he makes her try on another dress that fits her better…sexy), and I didn’t feel like Cal was betwitched by her Magical Hoo Hoo, so it rang true for me.

    I also really liked Jennifer Weiner’s Good In Bed, and Cannie (I think that was her name, I read the book a few years ago) was DEFINITELY plus sized.  It’s a chick lit as opposed to a romance, but it was really well done.  She doesn’t diet or anything, but comes to terms with herself.  Hmmm I read Liza Palmer’s Confessions with the Fat Girl recently but didn’t like it as much as Good in Bed.  But it was still good :)

  10. 10
    Anne Douglas says:

    He Loves Lucy was one that angered me because she didn’t get her HEA until she lost weight. The Next Big Thing was another one. When someone touts a book as a larger sized heroine oftentimes the larger sized is the anti-heroine and she becomes the heroine with her HEA once she’s not larger sized.

    Pet peeve I have to admit. Confident, fat and happy just aren’t found in classic romance. And I want so desperately to read them.

    Oh you and me both!! This and why plus sized heroines always seem to be in comedies – as if being plus sized is a perennial stand up comedy. Now I like comedies – heck I even wrote a BBW comedy of my own – but I want some gripping suspense stories, urban fantasies and all the rest to go with it!

  11. 11
    LauraKCurtis says:

    Like Anon, I enjoyed Donovan’s He Loves Lucy, and appreciated the fact that while *Lucy* was geared to lose the weight, by the end of the book the hero proves that he fell for her before she did so. I think it put a real focus on the fact that what we think goes through others’ minds when they see us, we can’t read what’s up there and may be pretty darned off!

  12. 12
    Vivian says:

    SORRY. That’s Liza Palmer’s “Conversations with the Fat Girl” for any who are interested in reading.

  13. 13
    KL says:

    The wonderful Renae Johnson, author of full-figured-heroine erotic romance, has a story out with Loose Id in an anthology called Going Up, Going Down. In fact, I think both of the stories in the book are about plus-sized heroines. Not that you can tell that from the teensy little cover model. Bless her heart.

    Also, agent Nathan Bransford said he’s gotten a slew of queries lately for women’s fic with plus-sized heroines, and for whatever reason, he’s perplexed as to the source of this sudden influx.

  14. 14
    Gail says:

    Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie features a heroine who learns love her curves, it’s clear by the end of the book that dieting is not going to be a part of her happily ever after.

    I will make one note in defense of He Loves Lucy, there’s curvy (I describe myself as Rubenesque personally) and then there’s the point at which your courting health issues. I was reading Lucy’s starting point in that book as physically as well as emotionally unhealthy regarding her weight. So the diet didn’t bother me profoundly, but do definitely like seeing heroines who aren’t trying to a size 2-much less 0 (now there’s a size to give a girl a complex, if your trying for zero your trying be nothing).

    And finally with the caveat that I haven’t read most of them All About Romance has a list of titles of books that feature curvy heroines. http://www.likesbooks.com/curvy.html

  15. 15
    elianara says:

    I remember reading a book with a plus sized heroine that got her HEA without losing weight. But I can’t remember the title, nor the author.

    She is an baker with her own bakery, close to a mall or something, and she also does catering. She usually doesn’t serve at the catering events herself, but this time she had to, and she meets the hero. I think he owned a restaurant and wanted her to make desserts for him, and she baked him different things to test. I seem to remember her having a beautiful skinny sister. The heroines insecurities about her size led to her breaking up with the hero, and not believing him. At the end there was something with a blue dress, and her being proud of wearing it, and a HEA.

    Why can’t I ever remember important information, like titles, but I can see the plot in front of my eyes?

  16. 16
    Jana says:

    Considering that I’ve never met a plus sized, “average,” or fat woman who isn’t obsessed or concerned or worried about her weight and society’s perceptions about her, I don’t know how realistic this heroine would be.

  17. 17
    Spider says:

    I think the plus-sized heroine in Time Traveling Romances is almost #5 in your list, and at the very least, a distinct variation of #4.  (It might not be either, if it’s a numbers game, as I imagine it doesn’t have the size base that 1-4 have.)

    You know, the heroine who is overweight (but it’s established that it’s the kind of overweight that is simply not the pop-culture standard of thin/beauty), and she travels back in time to a period wherein the historically-native hero thinks she’s A) normal or B) thin by his time period’s standards.

    Also, there is the case of the voluptuous in paranormal, particularly with weres & shifters, who are, apparently, so freakin’ big (in body as well as…spirit) that they need/want a larger woman. 

    And what do these say about our current culture?  That HEA is still not available for the real woman today?  I don’t know.

  18. 18
    Silver James says:

    One of the things that first drew me to Karen Marie Moning’s Highlander series was the fact that her heroines were on the plump and realistic side. And they stayed that way.

    Before I started loosing weight I was really close to Lula’s “stats” and nowhere near as big as Lula was described. I could not sit on a 6’3” grown ass man and squish him into crying “uncle” like Lula could!!  200 lbs may sound HUGE to JE but it’s not as big as she described Lula AT ALL!

    AMEN, Tracy! At 5’6”, 209 lbs., I wore a size 18. I’ve lost nearly 20 lbs. and now wear a 16. (Have to lose weight for health reasons not for body image/feel good about myself reasons). Writers need to get a firm grip on body types. 6’4”, 170 does not well-muscled mantitty make. That’s skinny.

  19. 19
    AnimeJune says:

    Well, should we then start having fat heroes, then? Have the educated and wilful baronet’s daughter fall for the rotund, but witty and good-hearted earl?

    Plus-sized heroines are rare, but there are hundred times more of them than plus-sized heroes.

    Now, before you get on my case let me say I’m finally glad there’s a double-standard that goes against men because there are way too many against women, but think about it.

    I saw the trailer for the Mo’nique movie Phat Girlz, and it’s the one where Mo’nique, a fat woman, falls for a sexy Nigerian doctor. Now, I’m fine with Mo’nique, but the trailer involved her obviously checkin’ out the Nigerian’s rock-hard abs. She’s tired of being judged by her appearance and yet she’s doing the same thing to the doctor!

    If we can have physically imperfect heroines, why not physically imperfect heroes? They can be witty, funny, smart, rich, and good in bed regardless of weight. I’m frankly tired of all those “beauty and the beast” stories where the hero has, like, one scar or some pock marks but is still sexy regardless (I’m looking at YOU, Raven Prince).

    As for curvy heroines (because, yes, we still need more of those too), Bet Me is the highest on my list (Mmmm….donuts) – I especially liked how turned on the hero gets when Min the heroine’s happy eating. I loved that, that he found who she WAS (and not what she was trying to be) sexy. He also made this comment in the novel about how some dishes just weren’t tasty enough without oil and butter and sugar in them, and he means Min when he’s saying it. Le sigh…

    Second on this would be maybe The Wicked Ways of a Duke by Laura Lee Gurhke – which has the heroine struggling (entirely unsuccessfully) to have a fashionable twenty-inch (!!!) waist. She has trouble with her weight (and often goes without eating), but once the hero’s in the picture she completely forgets about it and he’s too horny to even notice. It’s only at the end when the hero’s lie is revealed that her weight issues come back, but in a realistic way.

  20. 20
    Esri Rose says:

    I’m not plus size, but I’m no 2 either, and I hate the cultural pressure to be super-thin. What a friggin’ waste of time. I LOVE reading books where the heroine is physically different in some way. Give me someone with a big rump, a space between her teeth or big feet any day. It’s interesting. It’s real.

    But here’s a question for us all: How do we feel about a less than McHotterson Hero? Big nose seems to be okay (and I think you’re right about historicals being more accepting of imperfections). Scars, sure. How about a pot belly? Uh-huh. Not so certain now, are we? My favorite example of this was Charlotte’s HEA in Sex and the City. Actually, Miranda’s Steve, although certainly hot in his own way, was also interestingly imperfect (leaving aside the one testicle).

    Just finished a humongous rewrite and have missed hanging out here, but look forward to seeing you in San Francisco!

  21. 21
    Esri Rose says:

    Ah! I see Anime June and I were tuned into each other’s thoughts!

  22. 22
    MoJo says:

    In mine, I have 3 female protagonists.

    Female #1 lost the weight before story begins, eats low-carb and doesn’t deviate from (except oh, the chocolate in bed, which is negated by the ah…protein factor), but it’s just a part of her life so it’s mentioned but doesn’t get a lot of play.

    Female #2 is Rubenesque and is going hungry trying to lose the weight.  Her insecurities about it are only briefly mentioned, but her male counterpart likes Rubenesque women so when she takes up female #1’s eating habits, stops going hungry, and loses weight (side effect, not the goal), he is NOT a happy camper.

    Female #3 has no issues.

  23. 23
    Catherine says:

    I guess this is going to get me hated on, but I just have to say it.  I hate reading books with plus-sized heroes/heroines.  Very rarely will I find one that has the person being ok with their size.  I hate reading a book that is filled with inner angst that sounds really neurotic and obsessive.  Even if they do find their HEA I find it very unbelievable.  I really don’t think that you will ever accept that someone really loves you if you can’t even like yourself.  The fact that more often than not every other page has the character thinking about being fat really jars me out of the flow of the story.  Let it go people.  If you want to be thin, then exercise.  If you like your body type how it is then fuck everyone else who doesn’t.

  24. 24
    Gemma says:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever read a romance with a fat heroine that I’ve been entirely pleased with.

    I will be following up on other people’s recommendations here.

  25. 25
    Tina says:

    It would be nice to read about heroine’s being more realistic in size or insecurities, but the hero’s need to be also.  How believable is it that they are all devastatingly handsome, built, well-endowed, titled, etc.

    There should be no weight loss to appease, only a change in attitude in how a character sees his/herself. 

    There should be more focus on how the characters fall in love with the personality and not just the looks or the “amazing” sex.

    The market is just too flooded with these unbelievable stories and I don’t know if it’s the readers or the publishing houses fault, but things need to change.

  26. 26
    Sarah T. says:

    Considering that I’ve never met a

    plus sized, “average,” or fat

    woman who isn’t obsessed or concerned or worried about her weight and society’s perceptions about her, I don’t know how realistic this heroine would be.

    I think it’s possible to write a believable story about an “overweight” or even an “obese” woman, who is not trying to lose weight, who is dealing with society’s perception of her body, and who is also having hot sex.  These women do exist in the real world.

  27. 27
    sassymonkey says:

    What about Katie McAllister’s romance novels? I’ve never read her paranormals but her contemporaries (Corset Diaries, A Hard Day’s Knight) had plus-sized heroines and I don’t think that they felt they had to lose weight in order to do anything. (It has been awhile since I read them so I might be wrong…)

  28. 28
    Laura says:

    But here’s a question for us all: How do we feel about a less than McHotterson Hero? Big nose seems to be okay (and I think you’re right about historicals being more accepting of imperfections). Scars, sure. How about a pot belly? Uh-huh. Not so certain now, are we?

    Well, there’s Miles Vorkosigan from Lois McMaster Bujold’s series – he’s not likely to win any beauty contests (the cover art on some of those books doesn’t help this impression in the slightest), but I have to say, he’s one of the “sexiest” heroes I’ve ever encountered in fiction.

  29. 29
    Rose says:

    Personally, I don’t really care about a heroine’s size, so long as her behavior makes sense and she’s not whiny about it (and I found Cannie Shapiro in Good in Bed to be extremely whiny). I think variety in terms of heroines’ sizes and looks is good, but I do agree that we’re not exactly seeing tons of rounder heroes, either. And I also agree that most women I know who are, say, higher than an American size 12 are not happy about their weight (full disclosure: I’m neither a 2 nor a 12). Body type matters – some women look and feel fine with bigger, curvier bodies; for others, it just doesn’t work, regardless of what society is or isn’t telling us. The key thing is to be healthy and to be happy with yourself, and yes, both can be hard to do.

    Recommendations: Min from Bet Me is definitely good. I think Penelope in Romancing Mr. Bridgerton was a bit on the plump side, as was Cecilia, the heroine of A Woman of Virtue by Liz Carlyle. Both of those books are enjoyable (I prefer A Woman of Virtue). Celeste Bradley had a book with a plus-sized heroine but the title escapes me. And Claire in Outlander is not overweight, but she’s not exactly waif-thin, either, and neither she nor Jamie seem to be bothered by that.

  30. 30
    Jody W. says:

    Homely heroes?  I’d read ‘em.  Of course, I’m one of those drab, boring people who likes beta heroes, too :).  Mostly I like variety—in personality, in appearance, in status, etc.  It is nice when, at the end of the story, you can believe their lives together are going to be awesome, so for them to be comfortable financially, emotionally, mentally and maybe physically (with any health risks) is preferable.  But they don’t have to be gorgeous or insanely rich or the rulers of a make-believe country for me to believe in their personalized HEA.

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