The first (and obvious) reason would be because I myself am a plus-sized woman. The go-to advice for any writer is to write what you know, but for many years I always wrote about the women I used to read about in other popular books. I mimicked Danielle Steel in creating blindingly beautiful women that every man wanted. My first version of "Picture Postcards"* was written in this way way back in 1996, whereupon publishers promptly rejected the work because the character was out of reach for being "too perfect."
I wrote two more romances before I finally decided it was time to write about someone a little more like me, which I did with "Love Plus One." And to be totally honest with you, it was the most fun I ever had writing a romance novel.
What made me sit in the chair initially, however, was that I was hacked off about the typical romance novels I read that glorified the thin, perfect heroine and cast any pudgy girl as the comic relief. If she got any guy it was usually someone who was like her, i.e. overweight and without a lot of options. That's not to suggest he's any more or less worthy of her, or not a great catch himself. I have always considered Dan Connor the most perfect husband of all time. But why can't we get the hot guys too? Where's it written that the super hot guy WON'T fall in love with an amazing woman who just so happens to be heavy? In my books, just like in my life, I show our options are limitless. We can get any guy we want... even the super hot guys who make all the girls turn to butter.
I refuse to settle for stories that suggest anything else.
Though I loved her while I was a teenager, Danielle Steel shot to the top of my shit-list when it came to this kind of literary condescension. I can't remember the book but I do remember that she used fat to make a character less sympathetic. I believe it was in a book where she tackled the serious issue of domestic abuse, which of course immediately offended me as a woman, a domestic abuse survivor and a fat person.
It dawned on me there weren't enough heroines out there who looked like the average American woman, much less looked like me. I figured we all needed a voice. Instead of the rare book that spoke about how fat girls needed to lose fat because it was the big challenge in their lives, I wanted them to know that even if they didn't lose weight and get to a "perfect size", they could be loved perfectly for who they are.
In that respect it became a feminist issue at its core. You don't see this message of total value represented in the media. Instead of finding beauty in a woman beyond some numbers on a scale, we put a woman's value on hold until she can deal with the weight.
I can't count how many times I heard the well-meaning but double-edged compliment, "You'd be so pretty if you just lost weight."
Far too many fashion designers treat the female body as nothing more than a human hanger for their clothes. Curves are vilified. Models have run the general gamut of looking like prepubescent boys to underweight, sickly drug addicts during the ill-advised "heroine chic" era. Anyone who has any kind of flesh at all is treated like a hero for attempting to make her career as a model, and we pat ourselves on the back for giving her any kind of platform, like we're doing her a favor.
It's gotten so bad that models who wear a size 6 may be considered "plus-sized." To put that in perspective, according to her dressmaker Marilyn Monroe was 36-23-37. A size 6 at Victoria's Secret is 35.5-27-37.5.
How does the fashion industry feel about a size 6?
Technically this is still a small according to VS standards, but according to an ABC report a couple of weeks ago that is where many modeling agencies start their plus-size model criteria.
The women the fashion world uses to make us buy their product, whom they exalt as the ideal, weigh 23% less than the average women. And we support this ideal every single time we buy a magazine.
In today's culture Marilyn Monroe would be smeared on the cover of the tabloid magazines; paparazzi would wait in the bushes to get unflattering photos of her backside to sell copies of their rag-mags IF she'd even be famous at all.
Things have changed a bit in standards of beauty and sex appeal since Marilyn's generation.
What kind of message is this sending our girls? It's telling them they have to start dieting at age 8, that's what. To be beautiful, to be loved, you have to be super skinny.
And please don't misunderstand. I'm not saying heavier girls are prettier than skinnier girls. I'm just saying they're not UGLIER. We all can be beautiful, no matter what size we wear. We just have to believe it *INSIDE.* Where we fail as women, and as a society, is we give that power over to everyone else.
Let's face it, our standard of beauty is set by the media. If a woman gains weight, she is subject to scrutiny and her press is generally negative. If a little 13-year-old like X-Factor's Rachel Crow loses 15 pounds she's lauded as a good role model, even though most of her extra weight was that awkward result of how her body was adjusting to adolescence.
This is why young girls are discouraged from dieting because their bodies are still developing. (Teens who diet also fall prey to other behavior problems and eating disorders.)
But in our country the very worst thing you can be is a fat woman.
You see the sob stories on talk shows where they pick that one girl who never got a date because she was too fat (when really that has more to do with an absence of self-esteem, rather than the presence of some extra cellulite.) We ride the sofa while watching outrageous competitions like The Biggest Loser, somehow "inspired" by dramatic, rapid weight loss that is medically cautioned against.
Typically you are supposed to lose about 1-2 pounds a week for sustainable weight loss... but it's so bad to be overweight in our country the weight has to come off RIGHT NOW or else you're just a useless pile of blubber that doesn't even count as a whole person.
This results in these sort of fad/crash diets that only make us FATTER. It is by no coincidence that a country that makes billions (with a B) in the diet industry is also one of the most obese in the world.
(Note that the obese person in question in the above photo is - surprise, surprise - a WOMAN.)
Despite the fact that 34% of Americans are obese, you can be discriminated against for employment and generally mocked in the media as the last socially accepted bias. Even shows like "Mike and Molly," which star plus-sized actors who find love with each other, the main concept of the series was how fat is funny.
I've been on the losing end of that all my life, so I can tell you it's nowhere near funny.
Over the years I've discovered that anyone who mocks or shuns a fat person for being fat, or judges them harshly because of it, has pretty big issues of his or her own. It's as hateful as any other bigotry... and as unfounded. Just because you know I have extra weight doesn't mean you know me.
It doesn't make me lazy. It doesn't make me stupid. Most of all it doesn't make me desperate. Anyone who judges us by these skewed caricatures robs themselves of seeing us as the beautifully flawed and wonderful three-dimensional human beings we are.
Frankly... it's their loss.
Which is why I got out some aggression in "Love Plus One." If you've ever carried an extra few pounds and other girls turned into catty little jerks because of it... this book is for you.
There's some ugliness going on, but it's not what you may think you look like in the mirror. It's the disdain and condescension you get from others who think you're somehow lesser than because of the size dress you wear.
The only time you become lesser-than is if you believe it. These do not have to be your standards.
And, even more importantly, you can raise your standards in regards to anyone else. If they can't see past your weight to see how much you can contribute, your talents and your skill, your devotion and your dedication, then they don't deserve a place in your life in the first place.
Those are superficial, shallow people who would never see you as a person no matter what you do. If it's not fat it'd be some other little quirk or trait that would prompt them to stuff you in a box so they don't have to bother with getting to know you AND being responsible for their side of the social contract.
A person who can be bigoted for one reason can be bigoted for any reason, but you can rise above them.
This is the "moral" if you will that I addressed in my book. Find your value beyond all that petty, immature behavior and only invest yourself in those willing to do likewise.
They're out there... and they're worth finding.
I don't always take the self-esteem issue route. In "Groupie" my heroine was proud of her curves and knew how to use them. She understood not every guy would appreciate it but she wasn't about to change herself or make herself feel bad because of the superficial standards of someone else.
This is the confidence that made her sexy to a rising rock star; the guy every other girl wanted but she managed to snare. (You go, big girls!)
In My Immortal I gave my character an standard of beauty that crossed over centuries. What would make her the most prized and beautiful woman in the 1800s helped her keep modern men at bay. It would take a love that defied death itself to teach her she was indeed worthy of all good things even though she thought she wasn't. (This, by the way, had nothing to do with any extra weight.)
Believe me, someone out there will find you attractive even if the society around you tries to make you feel like a failure because you commit the crime of being fat. In my books it's usually more than one guy. In the last 25 years I have been single a grand total of two and a half years. And if I wasn't dating or married (and even if I was) there were those who were interested aside from my spouses.
I had a few "frenemies" both thin and fat who resented me because of it. They just couldn't figure out how someone like me got the things they somehow couldn't.
I didn't let fat stop me. I didn't let it stop me from getting a job, getting a man, having a family, or most importantly... being happy even when the world around me didn't think I had any right to be so. (This included members of my very own family.)
Do people still look at me like I'm a failure? Of course. But I don't live my life to their standards. If I did I would not have raised two AMAZING men to adulthood, been married to two of the most wonderful men on planet Earth and made the life of my dreams a reality.
Maybe I had to work a little harder but it only made me appreciate it more.
And now I can turn all that into stories for other women and girls who wondered, like I did when I was 16, if I would ever find someone to love. The answer is yes. Look in the mirror and start there.
So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive, which is part two of why I decided to pursue the genre: there's an audience for it. My two romances, "Love Plus One" and the revamped "Under Texas Skies" are my biggest sellers thus far, which proves there is a market for this sort of thing and I'm quite happy to be the one that provides it. It prompted a rewrite of nearly other story so that I can cast dynamic, diverse women of size in roles I previously only reserved for the thin and beautiful because I thought that was what the audience wanted.
What the audience wants is someone genuine they can believe in, and so I leave a little bit of me in every single heroine. It's as honest and real as I can possibly make it.
(And should I write a story where the size is not mentioned, it's because I don't consider it worth mentioning in the context of the story.)
I proudly write fiction with plus-sized heroines because despite what the world around you wants to tell you, you're perfectly lovable just the way you are. Modern media may make you the butt of the joke, the supporting character, the long-suffering best friend... but I believe you deserve top billing as the leading lady. And I give you handsome, romantic leading men who appreciate you for ALL of who you are, not just candy for their arm.
And it is my honor to give you a chance to shine.
*"Picture Postcards" is due for a rewrite and release in 2012 as a Rubenesque romance fairytale.