Aug 29 2013 1:30pm

Trope of the Month: Plus-Sized Heroines

Suddenly You by Lisa KleypasAcademically put, tropes are “common or overused theme[s] or device[s]," which makes them sound like cliches, which makes them seem like a bad thing.

But they’re totally not! Romance novel fans all have their favorite—not to mention least favorite—tropes, from friends to lovers, chick in pants, secret baby, marriage of convenience, opposites attract, May-December, boss-assistant...the list goes on.

Each month, we’ll be picking a romance novel trope and ask you to offer recommendations falling under the trope rubric (again with the academic talk!).

This month, we're featuring romances where the heroine is plus-sized and that just gives the hero more for him to love! We're always looking for more plus-sized heroines, but to get us started we've listed a few of our favorites:

  • Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas
  • Too Much Temptation by Lori Foster
  • The Bride and The Beast by Teresa Medeiros
  • Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
  • One Dance With A Duke by Tessa Dare
  • Take Me by Bella Andre
  • He Loves Lucy by Susan Donovan
  • Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake by Sarah MacLean
  • Dangerous Curves Ahead by Sugar Jamison

Who else tops your list? And to spur the discussion: Why do you think plus-sized heroines are so popular?

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Kelley Anderson
1. luvthekellster
I loved Real Women Don't Wear Size 2 by Kelley St. John!! From the looks of the cover, I thought for sure it'd be super cheesy but it was incredibly charming and such a fun, relatable read!!

I think plus sized heroines are popular because frankly, most of us don't look like models. Its much easier to relate to characters who have some sort of insecurity because we ALL know what that's like, and watching them fall in love with their heroes, and in turn with themselves, is always a story that'll be appealing, sweet and triumphant. :)
Brie Clementine
2. Brie.Clem
He Loves Lucy is one of the most offensive and problematic books I’ve ever read. It’s yet another story about a fat heroine that becomes better and love-worthy once she loses the weight. And it uses a character with Down Syndrome as a prop and plot device to make the hero look more dreamy and heroic (not to mention that the portrayal is stereotypical and the main characters treat him in an incredibly patronizing way).

Also, when the heroine was younger she went through something so awful and traumatic that I honestly regret having read that part. Not only that, but said trauma is used as an excuse to justify her gaining even more weight during her adult life, so it reads a lot as if the message is that overweight people are like that because there’s something wrong with them, because sane, emotionally-healthy people can’t be fat.

And there’s something about saying that plus-sized heroines are a trope that makes me a bit uncomfortable. Are thin heroines a trope too? And are plus-sized heroines really popular?
3. JVS
Night Play by Sherrilyn Kenyon. The heroine's size seemed to be secondary, the romance came first ;-).
4. LaurieF
The Perfect Wife by Lynsay Sands.
The heroine is told she is less than because she isn't thin like the women around her. She's curvy and spectacular according to the hero.
It's been a while since I read it but I remember liking it a lot.
Jennifer Proffitt
5. JenniferProffitt
@Brie.Clem: I think that plus-sized heroines would count as a trope just in the sense of this definition. It's more of a plot device because there are certain "issues" attached to them. They may have insecurities attached to them (like any heroine but especially in our society there are more issues surrounding weight for women), they may have had verbal abuse from past relatives or boyfriends that made them insecure, and, except in the case of He Loves Lucy most of the men end up with live them BECAUSE of their size not inspite of it.

And I think that's why they're so popular to touch on your other point. They offer a heroine that is very real and likable, and faced issues that a lot of us (myself included as a plus-sized person) have faced. The Sugar Jamison book mentioned is a good recent example where the heroine is plus sized but she celebrates it, makes clothing for other plus sized women and is proud of herself and her figure but there are still the "issues" around her weight. No I don't think a thin heroine story would be a trope but that doesn't mean that I don't think thin heroines aren't used as a plot device--a lot of times actually you see thin heroines with the same self esteem issues but in the opposite spectrum. While the plus sized heroine learns to love her curves bc she's SO feminine, the thin heroine also has to find her femininity byrealizing that just bc she may not have full breasts and hips that she isn't just as feminine. I think it's also good to point out that some of these books use the plus sized heroine as the major plot point in the book where she's dealing with her self esteem while others just say "yeah she's plus sized but she's more than that"
Sugar Jamison
6. SugarJamison
Well said @JenniferProffitt. I personally hate books where the heroine gets skinny and then finds love. They send the message that women are not worthy of love or beautiful unless they are a certain size. Pleasure for Pleasure by Elosia James has always been one of my favorites. I still can't get the scene where Mayne teaches Josie how to be sexy by putting on her dress and strutting around the room.
Jennifer Proffitt
7. JenniferProffitt
@SugarJamison, Thank you! That is one of my favorites as well! I think Eloisa does a great job of giving tropes a new twist or just making you realize why you love them to begin with!
Thili Abuna
8. Thili
@5 "It's more of a plot device because there are certain "issues" attached to them."

Well, no. That's the insulting part she was talking about. There aren't "issues" attached to them, or at least there shouldn't be. No more than there are with skinny heroines. Issues surrounding a heroine's weight reinforces the idea that that that's the norm for larger heroines.
Jennifer Proffitt
9. JenniferProffitt
@Thili, I also said that there are issues attached to a skinny heroine as well. In fact she usually has the same issues but on the opposite end of the spectrum. And with plus-sized heroines a lot of the time it's about taking back their self-esteem or paying it forward to other women--as was the example with Dangerous Curves Ahead that I mentioned in my comment. No, not all plus-sized heroines use the same plot elements--mentally abusive ex-boyfriend, well-meaning but harsh mother/father, self-esteem issues because of these people, etc.--but enough of them do for it to be a trope. I'm glad we're having a dialogue about this because no, many plus-sized heroine books shouldn't also packed with tropes, but they are.

We talked about He Loves Lucy giving us a plus-sized heroine who wasn't deemed worthy of the hero until she had lost weight and that's not the best example in this bunch because most of the books mentioned the heroine is plus-sized at the beginning and stays plus-sized and the hero loves her because she is who she is AND she's plus-sized. Everyone has self-esteem issues, and let's face it in our society many of those issues are about weight (whether your skinny and still think your hips are too wide or your plus-sized and you hate that you can't shop in the regular stores even though you love your shape), I don't think there's anything wrong with books that explore that--as a trope or otherwise.
10. duskrider3740
Some of my favorite Plus Sized heroine books include Wishes by Jude Deveroux, as well as Doctor's Delight, Cop's Passion, and Vet's Desire by Angela Verdenius.

I think that plus sized heroines are so popular because they are more like the average woman that reads these novels. The "skinny" heroines are good for the 18-29 crowd, but let's face it, the 30-50 crowd may have a few (or in my case, a LOT) of extra pounds floating around. Reading about plus sized heroines is a reflection of ourselves.
11. GrannyD
I'm going to take exception to calling Amanda Briars (Suddenly You) plus-sized. I believe the proper term is voluptuous. Nor was she very tall. I imagine her more of a pocket Venus.
Mary Lynne Nielsen
12. emmel
A new book that has a very different take on this is Courting Greta. The heroine is a HS gym teacher, so she is more "stocky" or "square." And the hero? He has spina bifida. Made for an interesting read.
Jennifer Proffitt
13. JenniferProffitt
@duskrider3740, great recommendations! I haven't read any of those but now I guess I'll have to add them to my massive TBR pile...
I think you're right about the reason we read plus-sized heroines since I tend to read books with nerdy/bluestocking, redheaded, plus-sized heroines. All things I am!

@GrannyD, please do! We all define plus-sized differently and I think nine times out of ten the heroine is more on the curvy side of things than actually plus-sized. I recently read a book where the heroine had to wriggle out of Spanx in front of the hero and she was so embarrassed and he just made her feel so loved and accepted and it made my heart melt--especially since I'm a Spanx wearer and I know how inelegant and jiggly that process is.

@emmel, what an interesting couple! It doesn't look like it's strictly romance (more on the women's fiction side?) but I might just have to give it a try! Thanks for the rec!
14. Kareni
I'll second emmel's recommendation of Courting Greta; it was a good read.
Fiona McGier
15. FionaMcGier
I've written a couple of books with plus-sized heroines. Having babies did me in, and though I expected to be a size 8 again after having my 4th baby, she's now 20 and I'm still twice that size! Sigh...

In one of my books the heroine was a voluptuous woman because she's a chef, and she opens a cafe. When she needs a helper in the kitchen, the most suitable applicant is a large, bald, tattooed biker. That kitchen gets hot pretty quickly!

My most recent book has a heroine who is known for her pie-making skills...coincidentally, so am I. So I've put up some of the recipes for the pies she makes in the book, on my website:
If you want to try your hand at home-made crust and yummy pie, come on over and get some recipes. Bake someone you love (including yourself) a pie. It's good for the soul! (If not your jeans.)
Jennifer Proffitt
16. JenniferProffitt
These sound great, Fiona! Thanks for sharing. *scuttles over to TBR pile to add more books*
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