Guest Post: On Fat Heroines (in Romance) by N.R. Lines

Hi friends! So this post was inspired by just an offhand comment about how fat heroines are [rarely] actually fat in romance, or there’s something ridiculous about them – e.g. the “fat heroine” has visible ribs the hero counts or runs his fingers over. Anyway, I then asked N.R. in the spring if she wanted to write a post, this was sent to me back in June, but I’m basically awful and had to put this off because scheduling and then time got away with me, so if anything is off, this is my fault. And also, thank you N.R. for your patience! I really hope you all take the time to read this post. <3

I’d also like to note that all covers shown here are recommended romances, regardless of placement in the post. I just like pictures, ok? 😉 

On Fat Heroines (in Romance) 
By N.R. Lines

We have a problem in the romance genre. It’s been a problem for as long as I’ve been reading romance back in1981, and likely much longer than that. It’s a problem that impacts many women , whether they know it or not. And few people seem to be talking about it. The problem: Romancelandia lacks fat heroines. Or at least fat heroines who are written well.

I have divided the fat heroines I’ve seen in romance novels into the following categories:

  • The Fake Fat Heroine
  • The Confident Curvy Girl
  • The Full Figured Fat Heroine

There are three types of Fake Fat Heroines. First is the heroine who the author is authentically trying to write as fat, but uses descriptors that could never apply to a fat heroine. For example, a truly fat, or even curvy girl will never be described as having jutting hipbones. A partner would never loving run their hands down the fat heroine’s ribs and feel the outline of her rib bones. These Fake Fat Heroines make me shake my head and laugh at the absurdity of it all. To fix this we need to be better at describing a fat heroine in a manner that is both realistic and affirming. We can do this, I know we can!

The second type of Fake Fat Heroine is the heroine who describes herself as fat because she is insecure about an aspect of her body. Fat or slender, we’ve all been there. But what if we stopped doing that? What if instead of making your heroine feel and see fat when she thinks about those insecurities we give her an insecurity that she overcomes. Pick one thing about herself, not her entire body. I get it, fat is that ubiquitous descriptor that is used to describe a woman who doesn’t feel right about her body. I’m in no way minimizing the issues we have as women, but as romance writers, perhaps we can do better and can find other ways to describe these insecurities. And we can write the stories where these insecurities are overcome in positive ways that don’t inadvertently put us fat girls down.

The final type of Fake Fat Heroine is more damaging. This is the heroine an author presents as a woman who believes she is fat, who sees a big girl when she looks in the mirror, but as we get into the story we come to realize the heroine isn’t a plus sized gal at all. Maybe the heroine has been called fat by family and friends because she’s a size eight instead of a size two. Maybe she was fat at a different point in her life, but has been at a lower weight for some time and is suffering from body dysmorphia. Maybe she is a trans woman who has some dissonance between how she feels in her skin and what she sees in the mirror. All we get from the heroine’s inner dialogue, and maybe dialogue with her evil family and friends, is that she is fat.

If you have written or are writing this more complex fat heroine, maybe you’re trying to appeal to those women who can only see fat when they look at their bodies. If you are, you need to understand what it is you’re writing. Body dysmorphia and eating disorders are real things that need to be treated with incredible care, so don’t go there unless you have the research and sensitivity to write this in a realistic and non-damaging manner. If you’re writing this Fake Fat Heroine for any other reason, just stop. By continuing to write her you are reinforcing a stereotype that thinner is better. That any amount of fat is bad or that any body type other than the athletic or hourglass is somehow wrong, which makes your character believe she is somehow less. Which tells me and fat girls everywhere that we are less. Do you realize this? No? Well I’m telling you now, your fake fat heroines hurt big girls like me and woman who are living with body dysmorphia, so stop!

(Side note: There body issues experienced by trans women or trans non-binary people are, in my opinion, stories best told by #ownvoices.)

There are authors who try to get it right. We’ve all read the books where the heroine wears clothing sizes north of size 16, and has a body fat percentage that explains the soft layer of body fat covering her frame. And they usually struggle. They aren’t healthy. They feel badly about themselves. They want to step out of the role of BFF and become the heroine of their own story. But they don’t think they can love themselves, or be loved, until they tone up and lose the fat. These are the Fat And Unloveable Heroines. Yes, there is enough room in Romancelandia for books that take a serious look at overweight heroines who need or want to lose the weight for health reasons, but we need to stop linking body size and the ability to be loved. Why can’t this heroine love herself and believe herself worthy of love while at the same time taking steps to tone up?

The Confident Curvy Girl is a step in the right direction. This heroine isn’t worried about dropping a few pounds to fit into a size. She loves her curves and she knows how to use them. The problem with the Confident Curvy Girl is in the writing of her. Curvy girls aren’t, in my opinion, fat. They are a healthy weight and would have been the models of the 40s and 50s.

Before you try to tell me, “But, N.R., the clothing industry and society in general is different than it was way back in those days long before you were born. It’s not apples and apples. Today’s curvy girl is considered chubby and perhaps in need of losing some of that curvaliscious fat for lean muscle mass,” let me call you on your shit. First, all people who identify as female are damn beautiful. Full stop. Second, building your argument based on what an unhealthy fashion industry tells us is healthy means you’re drinking the kook-aid and have become part of the problem. Third, stop it! I mean it. Check yourself and just stop. If you’re writing a Confident Curvy Girl, leave weight and dress size out of it. She’s not confident despite her body. She’s confident within it and makes it work for her. She’s going to attract a partner who loves her softness, not despite the shape of her body but because of it. A Confident Curvy Girl isn’t going to feel shy being all naked and sweaty with her partner. She’s going to revel in the magic she creates with her body. She’s going to dress to flatter the shape of her body, not to hide it. If she has doubts or struggles with something, it’s not going to be her body.

If you are writing a curvy girl who is insecure in her body, give us a compelling reason. And don’t make the romance revolve around this insecurity. How refreshing it would be to see a heroine who goes out and hunts down love despite her body insecurities. That is the story we need!

Finally, there’s the Full Figured Fat Heroine. When I do find a romance novel with a Full Figured Fat Heroine, she is usually has body issues. She may also be riddled with other insecurities and doesn’t believe she’s going to find love until she loses those odious pounds and makes herself over until her body is closer to whatever image she has in her head of the perfect body. She is fat shamed by the people around her, or she fat shames her self. This heroine’s journey often includes the heroine committing to an extreme fitness routine and/or diet to lose the weight, and in the process learns to love herself. Sometimes the heroine does all this for the object of her desire. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes she finds a better man along the way. And doesn’t that sound nice?

What’s wrong with this version of the Full Figured Fat Heroine? Don’t fat women have insecurities and want to lose the weight in order to be both healthier and happier? There’s so much to unpack here. First, yes, fat women have insecurities. So do thin women, athletic women, young women, older women. There are so many insecurities to choose from! We need to step back from the stereotype where if a woman is truly fat she must be insecure about her body and her weight. Second, being fat does not equal being unhealthy any more than being slender equals being healthy. Being fat does not equal being unhappy any more than being slender equals being happy. Find a better reason for your fat heroine to be insecure or unhappy. Find a better journey for her to travel on her way to happiness.

And since we’re on the topic and I’m worked up, can we stop with the partners who don’t appreciate the Full Figured Fat Heroine’s body? Men, women, and non-binary people can and do love fat bodies. We don’t need to change ourselves for our partners, and that includes our physiques. If your heroine’s journey is about learning to love herself, don’t pair her with a partner who wants her to change as well. I know real life can work out this way, but this is Romancelandia. We can do better in our stories.

If we want to provide readers with a heroine who is fat, then pack on the pounds, give her body rounded angles or soft curves, put her in size 18 clothes, and let her love herself. Give her a partner who loves her as she is. Allow her the same sensuality we would give a slender heroine. Give her the same sexual power. She is not less because she is fat, let’s stop writing her like that.

I’ve read several authors, and have gotten recommendations on others, who write Confident Curvy Girls and Full Figured Fat Heroines well. This list is by no means complete. If you’ve read a great romance with a plus sized heroine please share!

I’m curious too! What do you think of how Romanceland has handled the [fat] heroine? What are problems you see? Or books to recommend? 🙂

8 thoughts on “Guest Post: On Fat Heroines (in Romance) by N.R. Lines

  1. Limecello

    I’m reading a book now with a “fat heroine” – she’s a size 18, but I don’t know that the author handles it well … I’m not quite done yet so no judgment issues until I hit “the end” so stay tuned.

    Also – heh, I left “kook-aid” because I don’t know if that’s what you meant or not, or if you meant “kool-aid” but … 😀 I liked “kook.”

    Reply
      1. Limecello

        I just finished it – Sexy Living by Regina Cole, and reading it, I quite liked it, then I liked it, then the ending kinda ruined it for me. Just too much WTF and the heroine was an asshole and that was never explained/resolved. Like yes, I get she had a lot of self esteem issues and a total shit hand dealt to her – but like… just TALK to the hero. Fucking TALK TO HIM. And then it did really bother me she wouldn’t be intimate with the hero in anything but the pitch black until she saw she’d lost some weight. Because the book made it seem entirely about the weight – not about her. :\

        … I need to read an Alison Bliss book.

        Reply
  2. dholcomb1

    The first contemporary romance I read with a “confidently curvy” character was REAL WOMEN DON’T WEAR SIZE 2 by Kelley St. John. It was a good story, set in the South and she works in retail. I won a book called FAT BODYGUARDS by Marita Fowler, but I haven’t read it. They’re more zaftig. I think it’s more of a chick lit book. I did read SIZE MATTERS and am currently reading ON THE PLUS SIZE by Alison Bliss.

    I just finished an ARC last night with a “confidently curvy” heroine. Can’t tell you the title since it’s an ARC and I’m not allowed to, but I do know the author personally. I know she and I are about the same size and a lot of what the character is feeling comes straight from her heart.

    As a rubenesque woman, it’s nice to see some confident characters portrayed in books.

    denise

    Reply
      1. dholcomb1

        It does seem to be available on pre-order, so I can tell you the author and title, I’m just not allowed to discuss the book per the publisher’s. Jeannie Moon’s THEN CAME YOU. It’s available on netgalley if you have reviewer’s privileges there.

        Reply

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