A Heroine of Another Weight

by d

Desire Me (detail)It seems romance writers are more progressive than modelling agencies.

Sarah at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has just posted an entry about the changes in physical descriptions of heroines in romance novels over time.

My first encounters with female beauty in books was, as @joyabella noted when I asked this question on Twitter, the Wakefield twins. So many women found their gateway to romance in Sweet Valley High, and that gateway came with the constantly repeated and thus unfortunately inculcated reference to the “perfect size six figure.”

First, let me say on behalf of every woman with breasts and a backside: Fuck you and your six.

(Have I mentioned that I ADORE the Smart Bitches? Because I do, oh so much.)

I haven’t been reading romances for as long as Sarah and Candy have, but I have also noticed the trend toward variety in heroines. And not just Career Barbies, who looked pretty much identical but the PC company behind them is trying to show that Barbie can be a doctor if she wants! And maybe she can color her hair.

The last romance novella I read featured a woman who had done a tour of duty in Afghanistan as a nurse and lost the lower half of one leg (Dancing in the Moonlight by RaeAnne Thayne, free for Kindle/Amazon app readers) and was struggling to adjust to her new life as a ‘cripple’. She has to accept her new limitations and recognize that she is still capable of much.

One of the most popular romances around, and now one of my faces as well, is Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, wherein a very plump (legit plump, not ‘oh, I think I’m fat!’ plump) woman with a scathing tongue finds love with a man who enjoys her ample curves. I’ve happily the note the trend toward older heroines–women in their thirties and forties are naturally richer characters. Not long ago I read a book where the heroine had changed careers entirely, going from something in business to becoming a pastry chef now starting her own restaurant. You can’t do that with a character in her teens or twenties.

My favorite young adult series, Tamora Pierce‘s Song of the Lioness Quartet (specifically, #4: Lioness Rampant)  includes Queen Thayet, the most beautiful woman in the world, with a “strong-boned” nose that recognizably comes from her father. The idea of a woman with masculine features who is hailed by all as a “peerless” beauty always stuck with me. Thayet is not only beautiful, she is everything you could want in a queen–thoughtful in her diplomacy, but unhesitating when it comes to the protection of her people. That book was written in 1988, enough time for young readers to start becoming writers. If only we could get the fashion industry to realize that an irregular face can be the most alluring of all.

All of this is truly excellent: art reflecting life. Not only is it encouraging to see heroines of all description finding love and a happy ending (the two required elements of a romance novel), it’s also makes for more interesting books. There’s only so many times you can retell the story of the perfect princess. Perfection is boring. Stories are about conflicts, which are caused or enhanced by flaws.

That said, a random sampling of novels will still yield a helluvalot of ‘rare beauties’. (Not so rare in Romancelandia!) The editors are Ellora’s Cave (NSFW!) took a moment to grouse about the liberal use of unusual eye colors (totally safe)–seems every heroine has blue or green eyes–Pardon! Sapphire, emerald, topaz, amethyst or other genetically impossible hue. The supernatural sub-genre of vampires and werewolves doesn’t help.

On the whole, I do see an encouraging move away from the cookie cutter and toward more realistic, more interesting characters. These heroines are deemed just as deserving of love as their comely predecessors. They are recognized as individuals who each require something different in their lives (well, except for the man element), a different solution that works for them. One woman’s fairy tale ending is another’s hell.

Keep it up, romance writers!

2 Comments to “A Heroine of Another Weight”

  1. Hmm. I like this! I haven’t noticed the trend-changing as much as you perhaps have, but I’ve noticed it a bit. I like the change and I hope it becomes the norm. Although, I do still like the more “traditional” ethereal beauties you find in romance novels, I also like the non-traditional. I like all kinds. It just depends on what I’m looking for the novel FOR at that time. 😛 But, I absolutely love that women are no longer confined to the gilded cages we once were in novels such as these.

  2. I read some of the trend-changers from time to time. While some of them have characteristics bordering on the deus-ex-machina brand of stupidity, I do like that the protagonists are getting much better and seem to embody both quick minds and vast experience. It just means that people aren’t intimidated by the scope of their lives anymore, and it makes for much better reading.

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