Sunday, June 15, 2008

Heroines - All Shapes and Sizes

When I first started reading romances, all heroines were gorgeous and thin...they possessed the requisite slender waist and perky bosom.. Now, for you ladies that fit that mold, I'm happy for you but I never looked like that. Reading those romances often reinforced the feeling I had as a young woman that only thin and pretty girls got the guy.

I read those books when I was in my twenties and loved them. They inspired me to hope I might one day write books and I have no bones with the authors who wrote the stories I loved back then. Still I wondered, "where is a heroine like me?" Where are the heroines with wide hips, full busts, and legs that aren't long and lean?

As I grew older and my thoughts turned to writing, I didn't immediately decide to "break the mold" with my heroines. I tried to write about slender heroines. Women with waists whom a man's hands could span. Heroines with legs that didn't rub together. Alas...I had major trouble. Why? The last time anyone could span my waist with his hands or my legs didn't rub together, I think I was about...three? Five? Probably around five. I've been fat all my life. Yo-yo weight for better living through yo-yo dieting, but I was usually fatter than thinner. As much as I loved the stories and the sexy heroes I had trouble relating to the thinner heroines.

One thing writers hear when they are getting started is: "write what you know." Well, I don't know thin. I have thin friends, but I've fought my weight all my life to be thin. I never was thin. At best, I was pleasingly plump. That translated to paper, because when I tried to write thin heroines they didn't feel authentic. Probably because I've never inhabited a small body.

So what's a writer to do? Write fat.

Yup, I decided I would write plus-size heroines and even if no one read the stories but me, at least I would recognize the women I wrote about. My heroines are big girls. Some have issues with their weight and believe they aren't beautiful, so they work through those issues. Others know they are fine and expect everyone around them to acknowledge it too. It's fun to explore those issues. Especially now. Why?

The times they are a-changing. Twenty some years ago the acronym BBW entered the lexicon because of a lifestyle and fashion magazine for plus-size women that did very well. It was considered revolutionary because in the 1960s the fashion industry made Twiggy the image of the perfect girl. In the 70s, they moved on to Farrah and so on... It may have taken awhile but change is coming to the fashion industry. Last year, Dove soap created their revolutionary ad which features women of all shapes and colors as beautiful. And this year, America's Next Top Model actually crown it's first plus-size winner, Whitney.

Of course, Whitney is actually a normal size girl, but by the standards of the fashion industry, she's plus-size. I admit I was glued to the show this year, but I really didn't expect her to win because plus-size models in other cycles were dumped early. Somehow Whitney made it through and it's wonderful. Wonderful that we can recognize that ALL women are beautiful.

How does that make it easier for me to write my BBW heroines? Publishers recognize that heroines come in all shapes and sizes, too. Ellora's Cave features a Rubenesque genre category and Loose-Id are very open to BBW (big, beautiful women) heroines. When I was in my twenties (many years ago), it was unusual to find a big girl as a heroine. And if she started out big, she had to lose weight to get the boy. Now, that's just not the way.

It's wonderful that as writers we are given the freedom to make our heroines exactly who they are...fat, thin, or somewhere in between. It's a good thing.


  1. What a wonderful post, Francesca. I adore imperfect heroines. Who needs Barbie anyway?

  2. I like the trend of making heroines more "real". Good post.

  3. What a wonderful post, Francesca! I've written a story about a plus size gal, mostly because I read a book (by one of my favorite authors)who wrote about a plus size heroine. By the end of the book I was furious.

    First, even though the heroine caught the hero's eye while she was still heavy, they didn't become intimate until she lost weight.

    Second, the way the author portrayed someone with an eating problem. Every other thought was "I'm hungry" Now, I don't know about you other big gals out there, but for me it's never about hunger, it's about compulsion. It was clear to me the author had never had a fat day in her life.

    Okay, I'm done venting lol Great post! It's time the romance world realized BBW's can and do find love too!


  4. Maggie,
    Good point about the "I'm hungry" thing. For me, when I have food issues it's always, "I'm sad" therefore I eat.
    The lose weight and get the guy is one of my biggest pet peeves in cliched plot devices. I was watching a "Secret Lives of Women" episode on WE last night. It featured some plus-size ladies who started a dance club called "Club Bounce" in California. Oh boy did that give me plot ideas! LOL

  5. It's so sad that normal is "plus sized". Thanks so much for wring an excellent piece on this subject.

    Here's hoping the larger heroine is the wave of the future :)