Have I mentioned that I read a lot? I read a lot.
Some of the things I read are romance novels (boo hiss! whatever), and I've noticed a trend, both in the descriptions and cover art.
Perfect boobs. Perfect abs. Perfect hair and faces and legs and skin and teeth.
I like a certain amount of wish-fulfillment in fiction. I like reading legal thrillers where a lawyer brilliantly tears down a witness, even though I know it (most likely) would not happen that way in real life. I like political thrillers where the protagonist somehow thinks through every angle and no one catches on until it's too late. Not every book has to be lyrical and real. Some of them are exciting and funny and scary, and that's fine.
But as a lady, I have to say ... I tire of reading about ladies who are a lot hotter than me, but written by other ladies who (most likely) look exactly like me.
I've written about the weird objectification of men in contemporary romance before, and I've wanted to write this post for a long time. Part of me feels weird about writing it now, because it seems like this is something that is universally accepted in the romance-writing community.
But I know that I'm a normal looking woman. My hair is sometimes really great, but I wear glasses almost always (because I like them) and I have cellulite on my thighs (which I don't like). It's not very fun writing a romance novel about a gal with a muffin top who gets winded running up three flights of stairs (*hangs head in shame*), but I would feel much weirder writing someone who was self-deprecatingly gorgeous and athletic knowing that I am not self-deprecatingly gorgeous or athletic. Like I wasn't confident enough in myself or women or girls who look like me if all I wrote about was women or girls who are photoshopped perfection.
I think it's fair to say that I am not alone in the "looks like a real human" boat. In fact, I can be pretty sure of that--we (aspiring and actual) writers all have avatars on our twitter, links to our instagram photos. We're normal looking! And that's awesome!
And I think we'd all agree that the media portrays women and girls in an unrealistic, unnatural way, which in turn gives real-life women and girls unrealistic and unhealthy views of how they OUGHT to look. We critique magazine covers and television and movies that are designed to hide any flaw a woman could possibly have, and we feel fine about that.
But then when it comes time to write a novel that will be primarily marketed to women, it's OK to talk about impossible good looks for paragraphs on end?
Fantasy is one thing, and it's applied to more than just how a character looks. I mean, who really has a quippy comeback for every situation? But there comes a certain point where it just feels ... distasteful. (Clutched pearls alert! Distasteful!) I don't know where that line is--I assume it's in a different place for different readers and writers.
We talk about how it's important to represent characters of different races and characters with disabilities in fiction, and I think that is important. Probably more important than what I am currently harping about.
But I think writing about chubby women (who don't get a magical makeover before the finale) is important, too. Women who are short or tall (maybe even taller than their love interests?) with gap-toothed smiles or frizz-prone hair. And you know, maybe even writing female characters WITHOUT describing their legs, their hair, their boobs, or their eyes in exquisite detail.
For the record: I don't think that writers should feel obligated to write in a particular way. I don't think romance writers are more guilty of this than, say, thriller or sci-fi authors. (It's a truth universally acknowledged that perfect boobs seem to pop up in every genre.)
But given that romance is written primarily by women, for women, I do think it's worth questioning.