Tuesday, September 7, 2010


With the Franzen vs. Ladywriters dispute in full kerfuffle last week, I thought I'd better start reading me some Jennifer Weiner over Labor Day weekend. (I'm saving Freedom for the kind of late-autumn evening in which the yowls of sociopathic songbird-eating cats drown out the sound of acid rain beating against the roof of the nearest corrupt Halliburtonesque corporation.) So this post was meant to be a serious examination of women's fiction and its place in the modern literary landscape.

Alas, my feeble ladywriter brain is easily distracted by trivialities, and instead I found myself thinking about fat.

Cannie, the brilliantly-portrayed heroine of Good in Bed -- I began with the earliest of the Weiner oeuvre -- spends much of the novel battling the demons of body image on the way to her happy ending, and reminded me in many ways of Min, the heroine of Jennifer Crusie's more comic-toned but still weight-obsessed Bet Me, which I'd also read recently. In fact, I've come across a lot of books featuring curvier women in the past several years, all of which celebrated the beauty of ample endowment and the men who appreciate a well-rounded figure.

I couldn't be happier. I love reading about women of all body types, from dainty to athletic to lush, and it's about time that fiction recognized the beauty of diversity. A woman is loveliest when she's in tune with her natural shape, and both Weiner and Crusie tell this truth with aching eloquence.

But what about the dudes?

In each of these books, and others playing the same theme, the heroine ends up with a man of about one-percent body fat. He doesn't always have a pretty face, and he may not be muscle-bound, and he may measure in a shade shorter than the requisite six-two, but by God he hasn't got an extra ounce of padding on him.

Now it's great that our curvy women end up with what American society considers attractive men, but just how far are we pushing back the fat-is-ugly stereotype if it still applies to guys? Why, Cannie herself dismisses one man as "paunchy," and every fellow she's attracted to happens to be stick-skinny. What gives?

Biology might answer back that softness is womanly, and hardness is manly. Fine, but aren't we supposed to be beyond biological stereotypes? Or maybe a publisher would argue that these books are all supposed to be fantasy anyway, and novels without mantitty wouldn't sell. But doesn't that just misjudge so-called women's fiction, and women in general?

What do you think? Have you come across a novel with a less-than-lean but still-desirable hero? Would you like to see a guy with a love handle or two?

(And as for that serious post about Franzen and Weiner and literary vs. commercial fiction, I might as well forget it, because Ron Hogan has a much better version over at Beatrice.com.)


  1. As usual, this is a great and thought provoking post. Not sure how to answer and still be PC. Since generally, my vision of the hero or heroine stems from their personalities and interactions with other characters, not so much their physique as described by the author, I guess a love handle or two wouldn't matter.

  2. Thanks, Anne! I guess I'm part of the problem,since all my male protagonists (so far!) are pretty lean. But I'm still sitting here trying to recall if I've EVER come across a well-padded hero, certainly in romance and broader women's fiction, and certainly one who wasn't lean by the end of the book!

  3. I can't think of a less-than-lean romance hero off the top of my head. But one of my critique partners wrote a charming, well-padded boyfriend for her heroine at the beginning of her book, then killed him off. The whole critique group urged her not to kill him because we liked him so much. Maybe our heros don't have to be physically perfect after all.

  4. Sarah, that's a great story! I think there's a big cuddliness factor we shouldn't underestimate.

    It's also worth pointing out that Jack Aubrey, the naval captain of Patrick O'Brian's literary-toned yet commercially-successful Aubrey-Maturin series, maintains a layer of padding throughout and still comes off as heroic (and attractive to the ladies!). Note, though, we're talking about a male author writing well outside the conventions of genre fiction.

  5. Actually, there's a new TV series coming this fall where the attractive, plus-sized heroine hooks up with an attractive plus-sized hero. It's called Mike & Molly. I haven't come across any romance novels with this scenario. Karen K.