Friday, August 17, 2007

She ain’t heavy—she’s Venus, dammit!

Recently, one of my beta readers demanded to know how my book’s protagonist, Kate Gallagher, can attract men so easily, even though she is—to quote Beta—“stout.”

As described in the books, Kate is five foot five and a hundred and fifty-five pounds. Is she trying to lose weight? Yes. Is she unattractive? Not in the least. In fact, she’s a traditional Irish beauty, with wavy auburn hair, sculptured cheekbones, and an hourglass figure.

But Beta kept complaining about how “portly” she is. He had trouble believing that she could attract a high-powered boyfriend.

After several go-rounds, I finally told Beta—who is an older gentleman—that it is quite possible for someone of Kate’s height and weight to attract a desirable partner. “I speak from personal experience,” I told him.

“But you’re thin,” he said to me. “That doesn’t count.”

I stared at him, then burst into laughter. “I’m the same height as Kate, and I weigh more than she does,” I said.

Beta was genuinely shocked. “I had no idea,” he whispered, as if I’d just revealed that I was harboring the Ebola virus.

The whole discussion got me wondering—is this gentleman just exceptionally uninformed about what women-of-a-certain weight actually look like, or is there something else going on?

As a society, perhaps we’re simply not used to seeing average-weight women—women who are not obese, but who are definitely not thin—presented as sexual beings.

In films, literature and the media, there don’t seem to be very many examples to choose from.

One heavy woman character (if you can call her “heavy”) who was also sexual, was Bridget Jones. She was wildly popular—especially with women readers.

Back when the movie came out, I recall attending a screening in Hollywood. When Renee Zellweger, who played Bridget Jones, first appeared onscreen, there was a audible gasp from the audience. The Hollywood wives and moguls recoiled as they got their first glimpse of the actress, who’d gained weight for the role.

Like my gentleman reader, they were shocked. And disgusted.

That gasp notwithstanding, I think that there are many heavier women out there who are gorgeous, and who know it. They have no problem attracting men. But they don’t see themselves accurately reflected in popular media. And they’d like to.

Hmmm….do I hear “target audience”?


Anonymous said...


People seem to have to down others to feel good about themselves. Now, our government and healthcare and diet industries have given them license to criticize and discriminate against people of size.

I've always been 'heavy' but that hasn't stopped me from having boyfriends, lovers OR husbands (sequentially!), often times while my thinner friends sat home. Clearly SOME people saw something special under the excess tonnage.



Monica Ferris said...

We have our own self-image problems to overcome. I've always fought my weight, thought I was overweight even when I wasn't. I recently came across a photo album that had some candid shots of me back in the 60s. I was THIN! I thought I was fat back then, but I wasn't. I was in excellent physical condition so what I thought of as excess weight was muscle. I didn't make myself crazy about it, but back in those days there wasn't the cultural pressure to be thin there is nowadays. It must be a nightmare for many women -- especially since men tend to like women with curves. I know I did well even later when I rounded out.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Hah! "Sequential husbands!" I love it! That will have to go into a book someday. Monica, I'm with you--curviness was never an obstacle to relationships, so why is it treated in magazines and movies like the plague? Sigh.

Camille Minichino said...

Of my twenty or so cousins, only one was thin growing up, and still is. I remember my mother and other aunts and uncles worrying about her, whispering about how they thought her mother (their sister) was not feeding her.
That's not my excuse now, but there's a lot of history to overcome!

A couple of times we've been treated to representation ... Tyne Daly on Judging Amy. Oops, that's all I can think of.


Linda O. Johnston said...

My husband and I enjoy watching America's Got Talent, and there was a singing and dancing group that got to the semi-finals this year called the Glamazons. (I don't know if I'm spelling that right.) They were sexy, very entertaining women who were large and curvy, and they were a lot of fun. Good for the image of the overweight!

Jess Lourey said...

Kathryn, I think Chief Wenonga could really show your Venus a good time, if they could get over the language barrier. ;) Bravo for writing about and for real women! We're the majority, despite what the glossy mags and movies would have us believe.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Chief Wenonga plus Venus--a match made in heaven! Thanks, Jess--looking forward to reading your new book! Kathryn