Thursday, May 05, 2005

Beauty Is In The Eye...Ah, Heck, Beauty is Buff

As you can imagine, since I didn't have time to write blog entries, I certainly had no time to read blog entries. So I have nearly a month's worth of stuff to catch up with on the various blogs I read regularly - a list that increases by one almost every day. Yesterday I spent a good amount of time with the Smart Bitches, and I just want to say right here, Candy and Sarah, I :heart: you guys!

Being away means I've missed some hot topics. One of them caught my attention, not so much because it created a heapin' helpin' of controversy but because I didn't have to think twice about my answer to the supposition. Specifically, in the April 18 column of Romancing the Blog, Emma Gads asks the question of why it is we never see overweight heroes in romance novels.

Before she gets to the question, though, Emma points out that heroines with a few extra pounds are no longer red-headed step children in romance novels. They fall in love and even have great sex with incredibly sexy men (for example, in Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, heroine Minerva Dobbs gets it on with the amazing Cal Morrisey despite her obsession with her weight, an obsession that Cal does not share, by the way). The idea of featuring less-that-svelte heroines is seen as a nod at realism. Because after all, not many of us are five-foot eight, 120 lbs. when soaking wet – twenty pounds of which are in some form of creamy, firm globage – ex-fashion model goddesses. In fact, I don't know any people who look like the women or men described in romance novels.

I figure there are two types of readers. There are those readers who want to identify with a heroine who is like them, cellulite and all. These readers like the reassurance that even though they are slightly south of perfection, they are still lovable and desirable. Seeing a full-figured girl get the man gives them a certain satisfaction because (yes, I have a psychology minor) it validates their hope that being less than perfect is okay (which it is – very much so) despite what television, movies, books, magazines, and every other form of media has been cramming down our throats.

Other readers – and I fall into this type – want to forget about their need for the South Beach Diet From Hell for awhile when they escape. If I’m going to put myself into the fantasy role of heroine in a romance novel, I want it all. I want the flowing tresses and the skin of porcelain perfection. I want to speak six languages and have the power of healing simply with a touch of my silken fingers. And I want to have a body to die for. I want men panting after me and the hero swooning over my goddess-like-ness. I want the full-fantasy emersion scenario. Because I get to live the reality.

Not that I can’t appreciate a pudgy gal getting her guy. I loved Crusie’s Bet Me. But I loved Bet Me for reasons other than the fact that Minn wasn’t an Ambercrombie and Fitch waif. In fact, my one and only complaint about the book was that Minn harped far too much and for far too long about her weight, and it started to get tiresome. I wanted to shake her a bit and tell her to snap out of it, for God’s sake, and grab a hold of that hunk of a man staring at her so lustily.

For me, the heroine's weight is a non-issue, as are other physical traits bestowed upon her to remove her from the goddess pool. Once I’ve been shown that Jane is kind of a little plain or hefty or has some other non-traditional feature that disqualifies her for Miss Universe, I want to forget about it. Unless, of course, that physical trait creates the internal (or external) conflict between the hero and heroine, at which point I tend to get annoyed over plots wherein said heroine believes she is hideous and undesirable despite the fact that Hero Studmuffin seems to have an eternal erection whenever she walks into the room. That kind of stuff reeks of first class whinging, and I just hate whinging heroines no matter how much they weigh.

But regardless of which camp you fall into when it comes to the heroine’s weight or nose size or over-tallness or large-buttedness, it seems to be the case that most, if not all, of us romance novel readers don’t want a hero who is sporting even so much as a hint of a love handle. We don’t want to read about chicken legs or spare tires or beer guts. Don’t even get me started on receding hairlines or really bad combovers.

Nope, we want a guy who is perfect. Because honestly, what is fantastical about getting the short, pudgy next door neighbor who mows his lawn in his shorts with black sox and work loafers to fall in love with us? Many of us have conquered that goal. Again, we live the reality. And it’s fine for the day to day, steady partner, life-long commitment, growing old together stuff.

But when it comes to hot, steamy sex and animal attraction and forbidden love, Joe Average just doesn’t make the grade. Because even though it is Joe Average who rocks our world in reality, isn’t it fun to imagine how much rockier things would get with a hard-bodied, chiseled-features, piercing-eyes god?

One point of discussion brought up in the comments generated from Emma’s column mentioned baldness as something women find attractive or not. In case you’re interested, I’ve been known to express some degree of lust for Capt. Jean-Luc Picard and a few of Vin Diesel’s stoic tortured freak-a-zoid hero incarnations. I find baldness incredibly sexy if it is paired with other sexy features (but I will cross streets to avoid combovers). Whether you find baldness scary or sexy, the question brings up the point that what constitutes a good looking man is highly subjective. Duh.

But one feature seems to be a must in order for a hero to qualify as good-looking. Body must be firm. No flab allowed. It’s okay to range from lean, athletic panther-like grace up to mountain-sized, barely-contained Herculean power, as long as the dude falls somewhere on the spectrum. All other features are up for grabs.

It makes sense, of course, from a biological perspective. A man with muchas muscles and power and physical abilities is best situated to hunt down the biggest piece of meat on the hoof, spear it and drag it back to the cave to feed the mate and her litter. And we mates are no dummies. We like to eat. So it only makes sense that we’d be drawn to the six-pack abs and the thighs of steel. Just as those he-men are attracted to the big breastage that ensures their offspring will have plenty of momma-milk to get them through the hard times and lovely rounded hips full of fertility-enhancing estrogen. Women are hard-wired to find physically fit men attractive. Sure, we may be ten thousand years away from those caves, but old habits die hard.

Candy, one of my two favorite Smart Bitches, waxed long and philosophical about the role of penis size in determining if a hero measured up, so to speak. I won’t go into that, suffice it to say my philosophy on this topic is simply, it's not the size of the boat, it’s the motion in the ocean that matters. But she did provide a link to an article that I found fascinating. At last men have reached the level of objectification that woman have long enjoyed, complete with the body-image issues that come with the deal.

Ogling a well-defined set of abs and longing to stroke fingers over a fabulous set of pecs is no longer relegated to the heroine 'hos of romance novel fame. Seems everyone wants to admire a well formed man, and to do so no longer invites derision. Hey, I admit to following the crowd on this one. My desk top features what I view as possibly The most perfect male form I’ve ever seen – a beautiful photograph of Bravo network’s Manhunt: The Search for America’s Most Gorgeous Male Model winner, Jon.

Yeah, it earned me an eye-roll from the hubby the first time he picked up my laptop. But hey, he watches CMT just to get glimpses of Shania Twain and Faith Hill (hopefully together, in some sort of sorority-girl pillow fight situation), so he has no room to point fingers.

The stereotype leads us to believe that a good-looking man = a good lover. In the arena of the romance novel, this is one stereotype I’m buying into whole hog. I know it’s not reality, but so what? A girl can dream anything she wants.

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