Figures. As writers, it has to come to our minds, doesn't it? One of the first things we develop is how the main characters look. And in particular, it seems that weight is a hot topic.
I wanted to briefly touch on a stereotype in fiction, especially romantic fiction that deals with a woman’s body type. The average woman’s weight in America, according to the CDC FastFacts page, is about 166 pounds. But I’d estimate the average heroine’s weight to be more like 110...if that, even. There have been lots of articles on this particular topic, but I would like to add my voice as a Fantasy writer who enjoys a good Regency Romance when not actually writing something.
I think we all know the stereotype I’m thinking about. Tall or short, the woman generally has a well-endowed bosom, trim waist, and narrow hips. There are variations, but it’s pretty safe to assume that the majority of heroines are not overweight, and certainly not “plus-size.” There are plenty of advocates out there calling for some sort of fiction revolution to better represent the average woman’s size, but that’s not actually my focus.
I wanted to tell you why I went with the norm.
My first character, Wynn, is petite. She’s short and slim, and I wanted to give her a soft, almost fragile feel. This is a quintessential example of the dainty damsel, and it’s not new. So if I and many other authors are fully aware of this, then why do we keep making our girls look like models?
Before I get to my answer, I remember reading an FAQ for a popular romance writer (I honestly can’t remember her name as it was years ago), and one of the questions has really stuck with me. The question was the same one I asked above: “Why are all your heroines skinny and gorgeous?” Her answer was that the heroes just saw the women that way, and she wasn’t necessarily describing their weight so much as the fact that the hero saw her as a living vision of Aphrodite.
Well that’s…nice, but I remember calling bullcrap, in my head. Maybe she meant it, but it felt like a cop out to me. And that’s why I’m going to be honest when I answer this question.
I did it because I don’t have the kahunas to do otherwise.
That, first and foremost, is why my main character is easily imagined as a model. In my experience, a pretty woman who fits “Hollywood image” is what readers really want. And I want readers to pick up my books. So I chose a standard slim woman so it would be easy for you, the reader, to imagine her in your mind.
There are other more practical reasons that Wynn is thin: She’s an orphan constantly on the run, her life is quite physically taxing, and she doesn’t get many home cooked, substantial meals. So it did make sense to have her be thinner, but I freely admit that I conformed to manikin character size because I assumed that’s what everyone would want.
As I have thought more about this topic, I do find myself wanting to give my next character some real curves. Whether or not I actually do it will depend entirely on the book and the character. As much as I’d love to stand up for real women (like myself), I don’t want to take readers out of the story with it, either. I like to write action/adventure books, and generally my main characters have to have some modicum of physical fitness or they’d never be able to save the day. I just imagine myself running up a mountain to escape the talons of a vicious, man-eating harpee, my baby belly jiggling, until I fall in an exhausted heap and eat Reese's Pieces until the harpee catches up with me. Not very attractive. Or heroic. And I'm an average woman's size more or less...but I'm no action heroine!
So what do you think? Would you like to see more curvy women in novels? Or do you prefer the smaller image? I’d love to hear of books you’ve read that “break the mold,” or your opinions on the subject!