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Monday, December 18, 2006

Theory # 34: Readerly Theories--The Usual Romance Heroine

Version 1: Physical Appearance

Oooh, it's Monday! I actually remembered to come up with a Smart Bitches Day post!

This is not so much a theory as a question/complaint.

I just read a romance novella (Lori Foster's "Christmas Bonus") that made a point of the heroine having small breasts. And it struck me, because that's Not The Usual Heroine.

Sure, there are romance heroines out there who are small-breasted, or who are voluptuous, curvy, well-rounded... what we look into our mirrors and call "fat." But they're notable for their rarity. The Usual Romance Heroine looks quite a bit like an actress, except that she's usually shorter than most actresses, who tend to be tall (at least from this vantage point).

She's almost always "too thin," and her breasts, improbably, are "too large." Even if it's not specifically spelled out, at some point in the book, the heroine will need to borrow someone else's clothes, which will invariably be too tight in the bust and too loose in the waist and hips.

And particularly in historicals, she's usually so short that she barely comes up to the hero's sternum, yet she has "long legs." It's also likely that she has "too-full lips" and "too-large eyes".

I'm not a very visually-oriented person, so a character's physical descriptions tend to be background noise to me... unless I'm bashed over the head with them. And when I read the same description in book after book after book, it finally sinks in. It's to the point now where I either get seriously annoyed, or start laughing when I read about another Usual Romance Heroine. The laughing comes when I try to envision this paragon. Mostly, she ends up looking like a comic book heroine, or any generic actress with about half her torso removed (to account for simultaneously having long legs and short stature).

And don't get me started about how much it squicks me to have the heroine be child-sized compared to the hero. I have old friends--a couple who are vastly disparate in size. She's a few inches under 5 foot; he's a few inches over 6 foot. And she still comes up to the middle of his chest, not just to his sternum.

I'm not going to complain about the rarity of fat heroines. That's been done ad nauseum. My question is why are romance heroines described like this? These are books that are, in the vast majority, written by women and for women. Do women really find the boy-with-balloon-breasts physique appealing or easy to relate to? Do the authors think this is what will most appeal to readers, or is it what most appeals to the authors?

I suspect (ah, I knew I'd come up with a theory sooner or later) that it's partly the result of using actresses, with their skinny celluloid-friendly bodies, breast implants, and collagen-injected lips as placeholders, and partly the desire to emphasize the hero's... er... heroic proportions and ability to protect. And maybe there's a bit of authors buying in to the Hollywood image as being The Standard for beauty, or thinking that readers do.

I'm not all that satisfied with that theory, however, so if anyone has a better explanation, I'd love to hear it. Seriously. I'm begging you. Wondering why heroines are described like this pulls me out of the story every time while I think about it and try to come up with a reason. And while it might not completely spoil my enjoyment of a book, it certainly interferes with it.

In the meantime, I'm happier with vague descriptions of heroines, or characters in general. That's against prevailing wisdom, I know, but we all have different tastes--I can't be alone in preferring to add my own details to a general description, can I?


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Ha, ha, perhaps you better go watching a movie, then it's clear you can't immaginate the heroine other as she is represented !
Hehe. I'm just making a logical mental picture based on the written descriptions--it's not my fault the descriptions are exaggerated. :)
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