CW: Eating Disorder
For me, one of the great things about reading romance is the element of escapism. I love being whisked away into someone else’s love story. Experiencing another person’s world, another person’s relationships, and another person’s life has always been one of my favorite aspects of the genre.
When I first started reading romance, this was one of my primary reasons for going back to the genre over and over again. As the broke college student I was when I started reading romances, it was fun to imagine a billionaire whisking me away on his private jet, or a duke rescuing me from a dull, constrained life, or a cowboy offering me a life of adventure.
During this time, though, I also realized that there was another kind of escapism inherent in much of the romance genre that I didn’t care for quite as much. Many of the romance novels I read featured “slender waists” and “flat stomachs” for the hero to grab or run his hands down. In historicals, “unfashionably slender” women were decidedly in fashion, and in contemporaries, women complained about their size 6 jeans no longer fitting as if it were the end of humanity as we knew it. The women on the covers of romance novels often mirrored the women I saw when scrolling through Instagram, when I walked down the magazine aisle at the grocery store, when flipping through the channels on TV – and as a fat woman with an eating disorder, my devouring of romance novels became a problem.
For awhile, they were part of my addiction, part of my fuel for continuing with my unhealthy habits. I would spend hours pouring over passages where men worshiped thin bodies, daydreaming about the parts where they praised heroines for being so smooth and small and grabbable. But through my eating disorder recovery, I discovered something pretty freeing.
The truth is, I love escapism in romance. But I don’t want to escape my body.
When I was in recovery, I started to shift my reading practices, actively seeking out books where the heroines looked more like me. I started to read these heroines through the hero’s eyes – seeing her curves and her excesses not as something to hate and punish my body to get rid of, but as something to love. It was a turning point not just as a reader, but in my life and mental health.
Now, I’m lucky enough to spend my writing career crafting more of these romances. I’ve crafted heroines who save a town’s immersive Dickensian Christmas festival, bring down an elite secret society from the inside, and save the world from an evil sorcerer…all while incidentally being plus-size. The most thrilling thing about being an author is that you get to choose how your heroine walks through her life. And for me, that means writing plus-size heroines who find men who love them, adore them, worship them, and find them sexy exactly as they are. Their size isn’t their entire character or their entire conflict, but a lovable, beautiful part of them, just like my size is a lovable, beautiful part of me…and like countless others’ sizes are a lovable, beautiful part of them.
My latest release, The Magnolia Sisters, is a send-up of small town romances and is loosely inspired by Pride and Prejudice. It follows Harper Anderson, as she tries to keep her family’s flower farm from falling apart while also trying to put the arrogant tech billionaire (who just moved to her small town) in his place. Writing it was one of the most freeing experiences of my career because after watching a lifetime of Hallmark movies and romantic comedies, I finally got to write the competent, badass, snarky, beautiful, plus-size heroine of my dreams…And I got to write the hero who loves her.
So, in conclusion, whisk me away to far-off kingdoms! Lock me up in a tower with a brooding vampire prince! Mate me to a honey badger shifter! Marry me to an ethical billionaire (the ultimate impossible fantasy)! Just don’t expect me to check my body at the door when I do it. Not when I read books…And certainly not when I write them!