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 an 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”?