She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Wife
these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don't fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don't like to be held back.
these hips have never been enslaved,
they go where they want to go
they do what they want to do.
these hips are mighty hips.
these hips are magic hips.
i have known them
to put a spell on a man and
spin him like a top!
The controversy about the TV show Mike and Molly gave me cause to go back and reread two of my favorite books, which happen to both feature heroines who are anything but svelte. The Los Angeles Times ran an article in March 2009 about “Fashion’s Invisible Woman" that describes the average U.S. woman as a size 14. In fashion, this means you are invisible, but the invisibility doesn’t just end there; on TV, in music videos, and also in fiction, you are there, but not there. You can be the friend of a beautiful person, the sibling (always jealous) of a beautiful person, but not the main attraction. As usual, before the tide started to turn on TV, it had already shifted in books.
In 2002, Lori Foster introduced us to Grace Jenkins in Too Much Temptation. Grace and Noah’s story isn’t about weight. It’s about broken engagements and family and secrets and self-esteem problems stemming from many things, including the heroine’s weight. It’s about standing up for what (and who) you believe in, just saying NO to people who want to dictate the course of your life (no matter how well meaning), and it is about steering clear of all kinds of perils—family perils, professional perils and just life in general.
Of course, food is a peril. Grace barely eats in front of Noah, extremely self- conscious of how much an overweight woman should put into her mouth. Even though she overcomes her sexual hibernation fairly early on (all the better for us!) we hear all about her industrial-strength bras and utilitarian underwear. All of these are not-so-subtle ways of telling us that she is not a Victoria’s Secret model-esque character. The characterization of overweight Grace is wonderful, it all feels very true to life, but the very best part of this book is that you tend to forget about that as you watch the relationship between Noah and Grace develop. Yes, she is obsessed with her weight. She mentions it a lot. Foster never gives the impression that Noah is trying to prop her up with false compliments. It takes Grace a little while to believe it, but Noah’s attraction to Grace is real from the very beginning of the book. Dressed, undressed, half-dressed, he is not just comfortable with her body, he is delighted by it. There is never a “process” he needs to work through or anything he needs to come to terms with, as far as her physical appearance is concerned. He appreciates her, physically, just as she is.
In 2005, Bella Andre introduced the world to the curves of Lily Ellis in Take Me. Lily is underappreciated at work, and in love with her best friend’s twin brother, who can’t stand her. The book starts with Lily doing a huge favor for her fashion designer sister, Janica, which leads to Lily living the fantasy night of her life. Once reality comes crashing back to both characters, the book picks up speed as they try to deal with the consequences of their actions and inflict a little payback on each other. While Lily is less insecure about herself than the main character in Foster’s book, she has her own weight issues to deal with. Travis, who has known Lily most of his life, knows exactly which buttons to push (and when) to make her feel awful. He has plenty of experience doing exactly that, and it has become a habit for him. His attraction to her, while surprising to him, is white hot. One of the more intriguing parts in this book is how difficult it is for Travis to undo the damage he’d spent a lifetime doing to Lily. It doesn’t matter that he, very obviously, finds her attractive, there is more to it than simply saying, “You’re not fat.”
Both of these characters make it to the end of the book and their Happily Ever After without crash dieting or some other drastic measure. While both stories have overweight/round/curvy heroines, that isn’t what each story is about. They aren’t about teaching readers a lesson on the worth of overweight women. They aren’t about hammering home the point of recognizing the inside beauty of a person who may be outwardly undesirable. All of those are good things, and you may get that out of the story, but neither author focuses on making any of those points. Both books are simply about a man and a woman who, together, are too hot to be anywhere else but with each other.