Feb 21 2011 2:00pm

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Wife: Overweight Heroines in Romance Novels

She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Wife

 homage to my hips

by Lucille Clifton

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.

Too Much Temptation by Lori Foster


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.

Take Me by Bella Andre

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.


Robin Bradford is a lawyer, a librarian and, most importantly, a long time lover of words. You can check her out on Twitter @tuphlos, On Unpaged, or read the backlist at Obiter Dictum.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Laura K. Curtis
1. LauraKCurtis
One of the stories that stands out to me in this vein is He Loves Lucy. Lucy's weight *is* a big deal in the story, and she is conned into going onto a "Biggest Loser" type show. However, her weight isn't a big deal to the hero, and he makes that clear at the end. (I won't tell you how, that would be a spoiler.)

Meg Cabot had a couple of books -- Size 12 Is Not Fat and Size 14 Is Not Fat, Either -- where the heroine used to be a skinny mini, and has to deal with her weight. The first is better than the second, IMHO.

In general, I like these stories. I don't mind the thin women, either, but as a "big girl" myself, I appreciate women who aren't so svelte.
Diane Dooley
2. Diane Dooley
Interesting that there is no woman at all on the Foster cover. And the model on the Andre cover is quite slim.
Charli Mac
3. CharliMac
I noticed that too, the covers do not display an image of a plus sized woman. Even Bridget Jones who complained about her weight was still a pretty normal size.

On that note, back to drinking my full sugar coke and cheese curls.
Diane Dooley
4. wrytersblock
Meg Cabot has a third book, "Big Boned," that follows her aforementioned two books centered on a protagonist that is, as the title suggests, not a size zero. The books aren't really romance though--more along the lines of mystery/women's fiction, though there are some romantic elements in the stories. It's been a while since I read the series, though I do agree with the original commenter, in that the first book is the most enjoyable (though I enjoyed them all).

I received a book two Christmas' ago called "The Diary of an Ugly Duckling" by Karen Langhorne--the entire story is about the heronine's issues with her physical appearance, and her efforts to change them. Also not what I would classify as a romance, though a relationship is developed. The story is more about a woman coming to accept herself, and the painful process she undergoes to get to that point. One of her issues is her weight, though the man she is interested in informs her (after her transformation process) that he found her attractive prior to her weight loss.

One of my favorite books, though, is Elizabeth Young's "Asking For Trouble"--the heroine refers to herself as fat, and acknowledges to herself that she's a bit neurotic about her "wobbly bits." Her weight isn't the main issue of the book, which encompasses quite a few relationships, both platonic and romantic, but it is one of the heroine's hang ups about herself, which hinders her now and then. It certainly doesn't stop me from enjoying the banter between her and the guy she's interested in, or being unable to put the book down when all the various craziness starts hitting the fan.

Personally I would like to be given more variety in heroine and hero size--a romance novel is made by the chemistry of the characters, and chemistry exists regardless of the size of either protagonist.
Diane Dooley
5. santasmbslt
It is so rare for the cover of a romance featuring a larger heroine to actually feature a larger model. It's as irritating as having the heroine be a fiery red head in the story and a blond on the cover.

One of my favorite plus size heroines is Josie Essex from Eloisa James' PLEASURE FOR PLEASURE. She is fun and fiesty and witty and smart and has the love and devotion of an amazing hero, Mayne.
Donna Kissam
6. The Cat Bastet
Min from Bet Me is overweight. One refreshing thing about her is that she points out to the hero that with her body type, she's going to expand with age. It's also nice that Cal (hero) follows a rather realistic path - emotionally/socially speaking - to evaluating Min as a potential partner for himself, since he's very very conventionally attractive. Book in general has a lot to say about the way we make decisions and the ways we make exceptions, how our assumptions limit us, etc. Smart book. Whaddaya want, it's Crusie. Of course it's smart. But it's the smartest Crusie, which is saying a lot.
romance reader
7. bookstorecat
wrytersblock said: One of my favorite books, though, is Elizabeth Young's "Asking For Trouble"--the heroine refers to herself as fat, and acknowledges to herself that she's a bit neurotic about her "wobbly bits."

I was downloading some samples to my nook based on the recommendations on this page and was really surprised to see this novel by Elizabeth Young, about a rather plush main character, was made into the movie The Wedding Date, starring a very skinny actress.

Maybe I shouldn't have been so surprised. But that's kind of disappointing, don't you think?
Diane Dooley
8. wrytersblock
bookstorecat - more than a little disappointing, and sadly the movie wasn't content to confine it's sins to miscasting. The movie is only very, very loosely based on Young's book, which makes me grateful they don't share the same name--fewer people to make the association. Not only is the main character u,tar skinny, she also lacks the protagonists wit and humor. The heroes personality is completely redone as well, and let's not even get started on the sister and family. Add all this to the fact that I'm not a big fan of the lead actress in that movie, and the end result was a very unhappy movie experience for me. Overall I was completely dissatisfied, and left wondering what on Earth qualified this movie to be linked with a book. They shared one plot point. Hardly enough to draw the link between them, in my mind.

But man, if we think it's hard to get accurate cover representations for our books that seems to be nothing to getting good movie adaptations/curvy women in staring roles
romance reader
9. bookstorecat
Agree. If anyone can think of a good movie* about a not-skinny woman, other than Bridget Jones or Precious, I'd like to hear about it.

*for example, one that does not star Queen Latifah
Diane Dooley
10. southerngirl
@ bookstorecat: Have you ever seen "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"? That was a nice, sweet romantic comedy.

to everyone: My favorite romance novel about an unskinny/big-boned heroine is Sherrilyn Kenyon's "Night Play" (the Dark-Hunter series, book 6). A normal human woman named Bride meets a hot shape-shifting wolf-guy name Vane, who loves her just the way she is. Vane is so sweet! There is a lot of humor, too. The first ~8 books in this series are really good, and then the series goes downhill. This is my favorite book in the series.
romance reader
11. bookstorecat

Good call. "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" was great.
Diane Dooley
12. Angela Verdenius
Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Too Much Temptation by Lori Foster are my favs.

Ive just released Doctor's Delight, bk 1 in the Big Girls Lovin' triology, each book featuring a plus-sized heroine. I'm so glad to see that there are other readers and writers out there who like to see plus-sized heroines!
13. username
The Corset Diaries by Katie MacAlister. My favorite!
Diane Dooley
14. filkferengi
Sue Ann Jaffarian has a mystery series with a plus-sized heroine. The first Odelia Gray mystery is _Too Big To Miss_. From the first book, she finds a fellow frankly delighted with her shape. He's disabled, so there's some wonderfully realistic portrayal of issues we don't get to read about that often. The chemistry is very hot. Also, there're actual friends, family, etc. It's gratifying to read about characters who have lives before meeting each other.

Jaffarian also has a story in the romance anthology _Love At Large_.
Diane Dooley
15. sueroxmysox
Has anyone here run across any Christian fiction under this same category. I've only found one and it was so skinny (one of those Love Inspired novel-ettes...though, if that's all you can find, I'd GLADLY take it!). Help?
Vanessa Ouadi
16. Lafka
@ sueroxmysox : Have you tried Laura Jensen Walker's books? I think some of them (for instance Miss Invisible) star an overweight heroine :-)
I vaguely remember a book by Ruth Ann Nordin where the heroine was considered (by others and by herself) ugly, though I'm not sure it was about being overweight.
Rachel Powell
17. JMercy
@bookstorecat Have you ever seen The Mirror has Two Faces with Barbara Streisand? I like how it evolves the relationship between the hero and heroine over a period of time, but doesn't base her acceptance of herself on his acceptance.
to everyone: I have to agree, Night Play is one of the best in the series and within the category. Another one of my favorites is Sandra Hill's Tall, Dark, and Cajun from her Cajun series. Like all of Hill's books, it's over the top, but absolutely hilarious.
Shauna Comes
18. djshauns
@santasmbslt Josie from Pleasure for Pleasure has always been one of my favorites too, and I love that Mayne is the one to teach her to be happy with her figure

to everyone: I have always loved Bride and Vane from Night Play too, and I really like how he was attracted to her from the first time he saw her in one of the previous books, instead of taking half the story to see how sexy she is like some heroes seem to.
19. Janga
Pleasure for Pleasure is one of my favorites too, and it is a great example of how the covers do not reflect the story. The publishers decided the model on the ARC covers, who was not large at all, was not thin enough, and the final cover featured an ultra thin model who looked nothing like curvy Josie.

Jane Graves' s Tall Tales and Wedding Veils features a size 14 heroine whose size is an issue. More unusual is the heroine of Marie Force's Hoping for Love who has had lap band surgery.
Diane Dooley
20. Shark with Lasers
Ditto on the love for Crusie's Bet Me and Cabot's cozies about a pop tart turned amateur sleuth. And thanks for all the suggestions. I get tired of repetitive descriptions of heroines who all seem to look alike. The heroine who stands out the most in my memory in terms of her appearance, even years after reading the book, is Daisy in Susan Andersen's Baby Don't Go. She was a bodyguard with a big muscular frame, and no ameliorating descriptors the way one often sees when a heroine is meant to convey a look that is not classically beautiful. Although she did wear a nice dress at one point in the story, she never got the classic makeover sequence either, and I found that I really liked that change in the proceedings. I would not at all mind seeing more heroines who break the mold of 5'6" with perky pippins and a handspan waist.

On that note, thanks again for the suggestions. I'm surprised Jemima J and Bridget Jones didn't make the list though.
Shauna Comes
21. djshauns
I was just thinking on this, and isn't Penelope from Julia Quinn's Romancing Mr. Bridgerton supposed to be on the curvy side on top of the horrible clothes her mother insists on dressing her in?
Post a comment