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.