Like so many people, I have an ongoing struggle with my image of myself. It can be especially difficult during this time of year, when diets and gyms ramp up their ads and we’re all being sold on the idea of “New Year, New You.” But even with all of this, years of weight fluctuations, a very difficult and high-risk pregnancy, an autoimmune disorder diagnosis, and thyroid complications, on most days, I am content with the body I have. I’ve been smaller and bigger than I am now, and will probably be both smaller and bigger in the future. Some days I think I’m super cute, other days… not so much.
What has changed over the years as I’ve come to this place of body acceptance is the way body positivity and confidence are portrayed in all forms of media – movies, TV, social media, podcasts, and of course, books. Plus-sized, average-sized, and ideally-sized people exist in reality, what the media projects on us, and in works of fiction. And we’re all deserving of love and happily-ever-afters.
I recently read three books that made me think about body acceptance in romance and fiction: Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon, Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, and Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes. While each of these books deals with different modes of body acceptance, confidence, and positivity, one thing is common amongst them: these are the bodies the female characters have, and that’s fine. They fall in love, have amazing sex, and are with people who, on a surface level, look different.
Xeni, Rebekah Weatherspoon’s titular character, is a confident and accomplished black woman who is about to inherit millions of dollars from her beloved aunt, but there’s a catch – she has to marry a man she’s never met and stay married for 30 days. Xeni meets Mason and the first thing she, and everyone else, notices is that he’s a solid, tall, large man. One of my favorite interactions between Xeni and Mason is how Xeni notices Mason prefers to stand in the lawyer’s office, not because he’s being rude or trying to make a quick getaway, but because she quickly recognizes that he’s more comfortable standing because his impressive stature isn’t suited for “normal” sized… anything. Little things like this are sprinkled throughout Xeni, and Mason does his fair share of noticing how Xeni also navigates through the world as a black woman. In another example of acceptance and representation, they’re both bisexual and bond over their experiences of explaining their sexual preferences to their families.
In Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, Chloe has fibromyalgia and her chronic pain flares up from bad to worse depending on how much she exerts herself in a given day. She’s plus-sized, wears cute glasses, takes her wardrobe very seriously – whether she’s wearing cozy pajamas or prim cardigans – is great at her web designing job, and wants nothing more than to live a little after protecting herself from doing too much. Chloe is a bit prickly and has built up walls around herself, but when she meets Red, a tattooed, motorcycle-riding artist, Chloe has found someone she may want to let inside. They get off to a strained start, but as they start to work on Chloe’s mission to get a life, Chloe understands that she deserves more than just the things on her bucket list – she should have this new life because she’s deserving of it, and she’s deserving of someone loving her, even when her physical – and emotional – pain is at its worst.
I listened to an interview with Linda Holmes, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour host and author of Evvie Drake Starts Over, on the Nerdette podcast, where she discussed her main character’s body image (it’s near the end of the audio at the link). In this book, after a difficult and confusing period of grief dealing with her husband’s death, Evvie begins seeing Dean, a former professional baseball player, who has a robust dating history. In the podcast, Linda and Nerdette host Greta Johnsen discuss how Evvie looks up Dean’s ex-girlfriends – who are models and rock stars – and then goes to the bathroom, looks at herself in the mirror, and assesses her current situation. I remember reading the book and then hearing this podcast interview, pleased to hear from the author that Evvie isn’t comparing herself to these former girlfriends, but reassessing herself after being shut down physically and emotionally for so long. She’s nervous because for the first time in a long time, she’s interested in someone and he’s interested in her, and she has to figure that out… Evvie isn’t nervous about him seeing her body per se, but nervous about everything that comes along with that. For me, this made Evvie even more relatable – I was at the beginning of my body acceptance journey and was probably still trying to convince myself everything was going to be ok. To read about a character like Evvie Drake during this time was incredibly helpful.
I recently started listening to a podcast called Fat Chat. It’s run by three women in the UK who are well ingrained in the body positivity movement and so far in these early episodes, they have done a wonderful job of dissecting diet culture and how to navigate the world when you’re considered overweight. But what I have loved the most is when they talk about accepting and loving the body you have and doing what makes the most sense for you to feel safe, healthy, and loved. This podcast made me think about the sort of body representation I want to see and read about in books, particularly in romance and fiction with romantic elements. I’ve seen the arguments that novels, romances in particular, are an escape from reality, so everyone can have “ideal” bodies and it doesn’t matter otherwise. But fiction is often a reflection of what’s happening in reality, and I’m thrilled to see, especially at this time of year when we’re bombarded with often harmful and unrealistic expectations, that the books I read reflect the outlook I want to keep for myself.
I put a call out for body positive romances on Twitter, which lead me down a rabbit hole of like-minded body-positive romance novel seekers (P.S. Follow me, @dj_dresser). I haven’t read all of these, but here are the books I saw mentioned numerous times during my search and in other searches before mine:
Teach Me by Olivia Dade
Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean
Misadventures of a Curvy Girl by Sierra Simone
Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
Advanced Physical Chemistry and Remedial Rocket Science by Susannah Nix
Wanna Bet?, A Girl Like Her, and Sweet on the Greek by Talia Hibbert (along with just about every book she has written!)
Fit by Rebekah Weatherspoon (another author who had multiple recs for most of her backlist)
Soft on Soft by Em Ali
Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner
Cream of the Crop by Alice Clayton
The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
His Until Midnight by Reese Ryan
Fresh Fiction Editorial Manager Danielle Dresser is an avid reader, lackluster-yet-mighty crafter, and accomplished TV binge-watcher. Once upon a time, she was a publisher publicist and continues to cultivate her love of books and reading by chatting with the best authors in the business. She lives in Chicagoland with her very own romance hero husband, darling daughter, and two tempestuous cats. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram, @dj_dresser.