Monday, December 17, 2018

Love Thyself

This is, in part, about the word "fat," but mainly about allowing yourself to be beautiful.

I first discovered I was fat when I was 13 and my mother put me on a Slimfast diet. I was 5' 7" and about 130 lbs (which is actually underweight for that height). My body was still figuring itself out and it would later settle in a curvaceous 38-24-36... and I still thought I was fat. I wore over-sized clothes and, even though I was in dance and had legs of iron, never wore shorts. By the end of my senior year I figured out that I shouldn't be ashamed of my body, but I still thought I was fat because I wasn't skinny.

I haven't used the word "fat" to describe myself or anyone else in over fourteen years. What changed? I had a daughter and an epiphany about self-love. I am not fat, I have fat. I have more fat than I should for my height and it's not healthy, but it has nothing to do with how I face the world or my sense of worth. If I want to lose weight it is for health, not to meet someone else's standards. I can feel more attractive at a size 16 than I did at a size 8. When I hear someone complain about or judge someone for being fat I cringe at the word as strongly as I might if they used a racial slur.

I now have two daughters, both young teens and nature is working itself out. One has very, very low body fat, that's how she's built. One is more like teenage me, and that's how she's built. I have tried to promote portion size and nutritional values, but I don't teach calories. They know I am overweight and need to exercise for my health. They encourage me to exercise because they love me, not because I should meet some standard of beauty. I don't want "fat" to become part of their regular vocabulary or value system. They will face plenty of struggles in their lives without the ever-present specter of being fat or being afraid of being fat following them constantly.

How does this relate to writing:

Romance heroines are beautiful... but what does that mean? In my first draft I wrote Frances LeSieur as so-so (with or without the makeover). Not unattractive, but not stunning. I wanted the sense of her beauty to shine more and more and Henry fell in love with her. My beta reader's feedback said I should change that. Why? Because romance has that element of fantasy full of beautiful people.

The rest of my heroines are, so far and forevermore will be, beautiful. That doesn't mean they will be created from cookie cutters from Playboy.

Beauty is so many things. Frances is a size 8-10 and has a body that has born five babies. Mary is too slim to be fashionable then but would be adequate today in a size 2-4. In her era, however, this was not a positive trait. Jane (coming soon in Courtly Abandon) is petite and curvaceous in a way that wouldn't fit most clothing today--she would have to shop in the petite plus size section (she is, in fact, more in line with the standard of beauty appropriate to the era). While none of these ladies are a 2XL (yet) they are beautiful in their own ways and highly attractive to their mate.

None of them worry about being fat. None of their friends complain to them about their fat legs or pooch or flabby arms. It's a non-issue. Mary is a little self-conscious about a very toothy smile and tries to emphasize her bust, but, out of all of them, she might bemoan NOT having more girth.

If I had to whittle this down to my main points it would be that beauty is subjective and something we force on ourselves, so why destroy it with self-hatred? Romance novel heroines may be figures of beauty (in the book, based on the book's standards) but even there there is no standard they all meet. They find what is beautiful about themselves and learn they are worth the effort of claiming happiness.

I have fat and I am not thin, but I am me I am beautiful in my way.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Extended Imaginary Epilogue

Courtly Scandals is set over the twelve days of Christmas. This means Mary and Charles have twelve days to find their happily ever after. While the fates (me) put them in the position to find each other and have a common goal binding them, it's hard to pave the way for them to have a viable future. Sex is easy (although it's something I have difficulty writing, especially with my kids not respecting the fact that I REALLY am working right now), it's the possibilities of what will come next that is really tricky.

I like to see the potential for success in their relationship. Marriage is tricky and the infatuation based love that comes from our innate instinct to mate and reproduce, is not a long lasting condition. This means the couple has to be able to be friends and have similar values when it comes to fidelity, honor, and the willingness to work on staying in love. This is why I have trouble suspending disbelief for the tropes of the maiden and the rake, especially if there is a broad age difference.

Personally, I write beta males that can be alpha when needed. Don't get me wrong, they're confident, strong, attractive, and smart but they are not pushy. While the man who takes what is his can be sexy in an escapist fantasy, I want a man who listens and respects the woman he loves. That sort of man would never push a woman to the point where, even though she was saying no, her body was saying yes. He would never steamroll over her dreams. It's not just about consent, it's about trust and friendship. I have a hard time visualizing alpha males being true partners as parents or supporting their wife while she deals with depression or what-have-you. The alpha is so set as himself that it would be hard to grow and change with his partner.

While I do write epilogues that give the flavor of what comes next, it would be fun to do something ten or twenty years down the road. Julia Quinn re-released some of her books with extended epilogues and I bought them even though I owned the originals (and loved them). I love seeing what happens next. Romance is so full of potential and hope--it helps promote faith in humanity to see that potential realized. Love can work if you work it and, I think, my characters can stand the test of time. For all that romance is fantasy, it's a good model for life and can help guide good choices for big decisions, even if it's not easy. There's a quote on Julia Quinn's page that says:

“In some ways, portraying a 
healthy relationship in literature
 is the most revolutionary 
thing you can do.” 

—Julia Quinn

When you read romance do you think about what comes next?
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