Entire multi-million-dollar industries are literally banking on this premise, from the magazines we see screaming at us from the check-out aisle, to the cosmetics and fashion industry and... let's not forget the weight-loss industry, which brings in BILLIONS per year. So naturally the women we see reflected back to us in the media all tend to fit a certain type, and woe to the women who don't. Any time any woman dares to dip her tippy-toe outside of this narrow definition of ideal feminine beauty, there's shame the size of Texas waiting to be heaped on her, to corral her back into line.
And we all kind of accept it. We all kind of go along with this idea that women in particular deserve our ridicule and our disdain simply because of how they look, which reinforces the even more destructive social messaging that a woman's value hinges on something so temporary and so superficial. If you dare to be successful in any OTHER way, whether professionally, intellectually, in your character, with your achievements, even if you want to be president of these United States, it all comes back to how you look.
If you don't look a certain way, you simply don't deserve to be happy.
And it's bullshit.
I used to shovel the shit, same as the majority of folks in our culture. I wrote thin and beautiful women, desired women, who didn't know they were thin, beautiful and desired, something I wouldn't know dick about, and publishers told me thanks but no thanks. My characters were "too perfect."
But that was how I saw the women mirrored back to me. They were certainly more perfect than I was, and more deserving of good things than I was.
I mean, that IS the message, right?
In 2007, I set out to change that message. I wrote my first Rubenesque romance, LOVE PLUS ONE, about a size-12 (gasp! shocker!) gal who not only didn't know she was beautiful... she had the world around her reinforcing that sad message. She had to fight through BOTH piles of bullshit to find her happily ever after.
THAT... I know.
Since then I've written all sorts of "plus-size" fiction, with all sorts of heroines. I have my confident, DGAF heroines who embrace the fact they are different and don't give a rat's ass who agrees with them. (Rachel from THE FULLERTON FAMILY SAGA, Andy from THE GROUPIE SAGA, Coralie from THE MASTERS SAGA, Caitlin from PICTURE POSTCARDS and Carly from GLITTER ON THE WEB.) I have my more insecure heroines, who are fighting uphill through molasses to figure out their worth. (Jordi from THE FIERCE TRILOGY, Shannon from LOVE PLUS ONE.) I have my pissed off heroine, who gained weight just to keep men dafuq away from her, (Jessica, UNDER TEXAS SKIES,) and the character who has battled the chatterbox a lot like me over the past four decades, even when she couldn't see the great things that were right in front of her. (Roni from THE LEFTOVER CLUB.) Joely Morgan, from BACK FOR SECONDS, was a 40-year-old mother of three who gained weight and alienated her hubby, who dropped her like a bad habit for a 20-something size-perfect beauty. She got the interest of a younger, hotter man who wanted to get his hands all over her neglected curves, again... writing what I know from real-life experience.
I've written characters who are where I used to be. I've written characters who are who I want to be. And each and every one I allowed to be who they were, no physical changes necessary. They had to change their attitude only, one that said, "You're allowed to find love the way you are. And that must always start with you."
Needless to say, there's been some negative feedback. In a genre where fantastic, unrealistic things happen all the time, I've heard my share of complaints that "plus-size" fiction isn't "realistic" enough to sell. One blog I read treated the whole Rubenesque genre as a joke, saying it would be more realistic to her if two mentally challenged people found love together, as long as they were hot. You can be an asshole, you can be missing limbs, you can have the IQ of a kumquat, but God forbid you're larger than a size-6, which is where this particular blogger started her fat-shaming because "No man I know would ever date a woman bigger than that!"
So the majority of American women, who tend to be a size 14/16, are SOL when it comes to finding love... even though they do, even though they date, have sex, marry, have families and generally live happy lives.
I've had personal reviews that reinforce this sad message. One reviewer, an admitted size-16 herself, said my GROUPIE SAGA was unrealistic because no rock star AND music mogul would fight over a woman who wore a size-16.
Oh yeah. Nothing to like THERE. She's only the first model of size to grace the cover of the coveted Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She's listed in People's Most Beautiful. Oh, and she's also married to a hot guy who digs her curves like there's no tomorrow.
And she did all that as a size-16.
Another interviewer took issue with the fact that I don't shy away from numbers in my book. CC Cabot (or Coralie) from my MASTERS SAGA was also a size-16, which... if you look at the Victoria's Secret Sizing Guide, is 42.5-34-44.5. Coralie is 46/34/44. I made her top-heavy because some women don't necessarily have sizes that fit these cookie-cutter sizes, and my whole message with Coralie was that American fashion sizing is bullshit (particularly the use of the term "plus-size.") She, as the daughter of a fashion industry icon, couldn't even find stuff to fit or flatter in her very own store because of this segregated idea of feminine beauty. I wanted to make it hard for her to find clothes, because for many of us it IS hard to find clothes. Even Salma Hayek and Scarlet Johansson, some of the hottest babes in Hollywood, overfill certain sizes. Salma is 39-24-36 and Scarlett is 36-25-36. Back at Victoria's Secret, a size-4 is 34.5-26-36.5, but you don't get into the 39" bust size until a 12, or a 36"-bust size until an 8. Did I mention already that the fashion industry standard for "plus-size" starts at a size 6? WHICH, btw, is a SMALL at Victoria's Secret.
See where I'm going with this? THIS guy does.
But because I said that Coralie had a size-46 bust, a reviewer took issue with my gender identity. "Is this writer even a woman?" she wanted to know, because 46 inches was HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE.
She's right. I don't know much about being a size-16, as it's been about three decades since I wore a 44-36-44. My current bust size now is 48". Whether I'm a woman or not... well...
Many a guy has looked at my chest and didn't give a shit about the number (unless it was my phone number,) but thanks for the reality check, I guess. Living in my skin day to day, I had forgotten what an anomaly I was. Thank GAWD someone was there to remind me how I don't fit in. Having made the career of my dreams out of thin air, raised two amazing men, and been loved and desired by many amazing guys, my confidence was getting OUT OF CONTROL. Someone definitely needed to put me in my place.
Even though I can point to real life examples of what I write...including my very own story, it's "unrealistic." I'd venture to guess more size-16 women get married every single day than college graduates get whisked away by gazillionaires, but ... y'know... whatever. Gotta protect the message.
It should be crystal clear by this point I don't give a flying fig about "the message."
Actually that's not true. I care enough about the destructive nature of this bullshit message to change it. This is why I write the books I do. I was sick and tired of being told I wasn't the ideal, I couldn't have my happily ever after, and I was not good enough. This is the uphill battle I climb every single time I walk outside my front door, facing a culture that would rather shame me into conforming than understand me as I am.
In my book, GLITTER ON THE WEB, Carly Reynolds shares this same mission. She is likewise a size-16, but she doesn't give a fuck if you think she's huge. She dates. She has an active sex life. She lives her life on her terms, and fuck the naysayers who want to shame her for any of it.
Because every plot needs an opposing force, I decided to make a living embodiment of our social standard. I've done that before with Eddie in FIERCE, but this time I had a different agenda. I was going to put these two opposing mindsets together, and use the resulting chaos to change the fucking message. So I created Eli Blake, who is the perfect ideal of a man, according to society standards. He's painfully good-looking. He's white. He's rich. He's straight. He's successful in the eyes of the world. These are his "get out of asshole" free cards that society hands to guys like this, even when they're ginormous douche bags.
It really is amazing what we, as women, tolerate from guys who simply look a certain way. (I'll get to that more in a minute.)
GLITTER was my way of shining a light on the destructive nature of the shaming mindset that goes hand-in-hand with shaping a message around beauty conformity. Needless to say, Eli had his biases when he got into this relationship, but so did Carly. Forced to work together, and live together, to perpetuate the lie of being a couple, they were able to get past the bullshit. And that's where the real chance for romance starts.
Fast-forward to May 9, the day before I released my ambitious project, and the book world exploded around the concept of "fat-shaming" when a male model went on a social media rampage against fat women, both the authors and readers of romance. I won't name him, he got enough publicity at the start of the week, but his message was that fat writers had to write romance because they weren't getting any dick at home, and readers of romance should just go eat ice cream and hang themselves in the closet.
No, really. That was his message, word for almost fucking word.
That he wasn't more widely panned by the women who had become his "fans" as a fitness role model and cover model for romance novels, just reinforced the power of this destructive message. It's also a sad social statement that women accept abusive behavior from jerks just because we think they're good-looking. (Raise your standards, ladies. S'all I'm saying.)
This is a guy who told us fat girls to go hang ourselves in the closet. I want no part of that message. Instead I'm trying to tell us all that no matter what your size, you deserve to be happy. You don't lose your worth as a human just because some jagoff is pissed off you're not doing more to attract him.
For some reason, some guys get really REALLY mad about this. I mean, why else would you say to someone that they need to hang themselves in a closet??
He did try to wrap this "concern-trolling" bullshit with the more socially accepted "obesity epidemic" trappings. But this guy doesn't give two shits about your health if he's trying to tell you you need to end it all simply because of what you weigh. What kind of fucked up message is that?? "I really want you to lose weight so you can live longer. But fuck that, you're a fat slob of a pig. Kill yourself now." That is a passionate, deep-seated hatred of you as a potential sexual partner who didn't do enough to please him, like you owed it to him to be hot.
Spoiler alert: You don't.
Like Jennifer Weiner said, there is room in the world for the unpretty. You don't owe it to him to give him a boner or to get his attention. From this kind of explosive meltdown, I'm going to go out on a limb and say this is not the kind of man you want ANY attention from. EVER. But regardless of who or what, you don't owe it to anyone else to be thin, to be pretty, to be perfect, to look good, to fit into a certain size - OR exercise and diet and starve yourself just so the people who are trying hard to find reasons to hate you will somehow like you one day.
Spoiler alert: They won't.
I didn’t want to tell her that “they” would never stop finding things that girls are “too” this or that for, to deny us our happy endings, like we somehow didn’t deserve it anymore because we’re not perfect. It starts with too young, then it becomes too fat, too thin, too loud, too quiet, too timid, too bold, too chaste, too slutty, too ugly, too pretty… until finally we’re too old, and we get put out to pasture like any brood mare who was no longer useful.
“‘They’ will always try to make you feel like a half-person, who will never be complete until you have a man to validate you. But ‘they’ are full of shit. You are an amazing person all on your own. The right person will see that. It’ll turn all those things that are too much into just right.” - Carly Reynolds
I've talked about fat-shaming before, where I was actually FAT-SHAMED for doing so. (Not surprised.) In fact, there are some who would fat-shame me for writing romances about bigger women, just because it's "unhealthy" to encourage happiness/self-acceptance when the accepted wisdom is fat is bad. Even though studies have proven that fat-shaming is way more damaging than helpful, which I know from my own personal experience.
All of this stuff just reinforced why I write the stories I do. My entire purpose on the planet is to change the message, because I know first-hand how destructive it is. You want to be really, truly healthy? Try loving yourself enough to be imperfect. Convince yourself that you matter. You have value. You are here to be what no one else can be... and that's you. You're here to love, to learn and to grow, and you deserve to be happy. If you're not happy where you are, then change it. You have the power to do that. If you are happy where you are, then work on those things to make you stronger, to help you live longer, so you can show all the naysayers that no matter how much they try to steal your thunder, you're here to shake things up, and fuck 'em if they don't like it.
So stop accepting these ill-fitting boxes they try to cram us all into to make THEM feel better about themselves, when they're the ones who are limited. You matter. And you deserve to be here. You're going to make waves standing out, being different, but don't you dare apologize. People will try to shame you, sure, because they don't know how to handle it. This usually indicates these are people who aren't fit to judge you anyway. So don't accept that shame. There's no one on this planet more qualified to judge you for being you except you. And I got news for you... you're fucking perfect at it. Because of the scars you wear... not in spite of them.
Shake off the haters, lift your chin and own. You might be surprised who might someday agree.
“You really don’t care what people think, do you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Like today. I tell you to skip makeup, you put on sunglasses like it’s nothing. If I had said that to Rhonda, she would have spent the next ten minutes yelling at me in Spanglish, telling me I didn’t understand what it was like to be a woman in the public eye.”
“Big difference. I’m not in the public eye.”
“Yeah, you are,” he corrected. “You just don’t care. At the spa. On the beach. You just walked through a crowded lobby in beachwear, and don’t even notice if other people stare or talk behind your back. It’s like you’re a queen and they’re all beneath you.”
I chuckled. “Oh, I notice. But you’re right. I don’t care. I’m not defined by the opinions of others.”
His caresses grew even gentler. “Like a queen.” I said nothing. “It’s sexy,” he murmured, his fingers trailing over my shoulders and down both arms as he leaned closer. “You’re sexy.”
My eyes met his. “Surprised?”
He nodded. “Every day.” He leaned forward for another kiss.
GLITTER ON THE WEB now available in Kindle Unlimited.