Romance, Literature, and Body Image

I’m stuck in a place where this is not a whole blog post, but it’s also way too long for a Facebook status update, so consider it, like, a mini. A little treat for you for today. Just because I love you.

So this study came out and seems to be showing that it’s damaging for women to read about a) skinny chicks in literature, and b) fat chicks who have issues about being fat in literature. In the sense that reading these things makes them feel bad about their own bodies.

Now, the methodology already seems screwed. Why did they change the words to two already existing chick lit books instead of finding several chick lit books that had a variety of sizes and shapes and attitudes of heroines? Is it because they couldn’t find enough chick lit books that were specific enough about height and weight? Isn’t that indicative of something right there?

But the other thing for me is, their conclusions just feel completely opposite to my experience. I read a lot of romance and chick lit as a teenager and I feel it was precisely that that saved me from having serious body image issues. If I had stuck with a diet of Seventeen magazine and movies in which we pretend Rachel Leigh Cook is ever not a very pretty girl (And seriously, how is that not the most damaging thing – to put beautiful women on screen and have them tell you they’re fat and ugly?), I would have been screwed. But I read about girls with many different shapes of body and many different attitudes towards their shape all having hot sex with men who were nuts about them. So instead of thinking, “I will never get laid and no one will ever find me attractive because I don’t look like Kate Moss,” I came of age thinking, “Wow, men are infinitely varied in their desires and chances are someone’s going to find my sparkling wit and my Rubenesque figure appealing.” And lo and behold, I found one!

(Yes, I knew the word Rubenesque as a teenager. I could have even identified paintings by Peter Paul Rubens. This should not be surprising to any of you.)

Actually, I thought the most interesting thing Bridget Jones’s Diary did was it gave you a weight for the heroine (which was pretty low – at my weight I do have trouble picturing the woman on whom 130 lbs = heifer) but not her height or anything else about her physique. The point being that she’s fixated on this weight being unacceptable but it isn’t necessarily so to anyone else. The weight thing is about her struggles to feel like an acceptable and desirable person, not about her actual weight.

But anyway, my point is that, reading about women who were skinny and curvy and fat and had small boobs but big asses or big boobs but little asses or were tall or short or boyish-figured or voluptuous or whatever, and who liked their bodies or didn’t like their bodies, who experienced cultural approval for their bodies or didn’t, who liked that cultural approval or didn’t, etc, etc, etc, and all other permutations, and still got hot sex and deep love from men they desired, I think actually saved my body image, and did not damage it at all.


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