by Madeline Iva
There are certain women in popular culture that rivet our attention with their seriously stacked, uber-curvy feminine bodies. These bodies at the extreme end of the female spectrum–exaggerated and seemingly made for sex–fascinate us and drive a celebrity image.
There is something larger than life about all these women. They are not simply actresses –they are vixens, femme fetales, goddesses. Add brains to all that or a great sense of humor, or–like Adele–a vibrant personality, and the experience goes sideways — our society just doesn’t quite know how to deal with so much woman taking up so much space. (There was a reason Marilyn Monroe played dumb.)
The uber-curvy–as I think of them–are super sexualized by society–to the point where even an aspect of their innocence seems sexual. I also see these women as having a kind of vulnerability. Even for the narcissistic facing a continuous onslaught of sexualized attention has got to be exhausting. Meanwhile, these women have got to wear a bra at all times–or watch their booty–or both. They have to be careful to pick out clothes that fit in a certain way –clothes that aren’t over embellished or boxy cut or baggy–if they wish to avoid looking frumpy and fat. Kim Kardashian–the most reviled of them all–is actually the most dedicated in providing clothing designs for curvy women that flatter figures like hers.
Meanwhile, the ‘rape-y’ romances of the 80’s played up this type of women and her body by the use of what academic scholars call ‘gendered fate’. The basic idea is that those crazy curves inspire instant bodice ripping from any ‘real man’. So the heroine, because of her body and gender–her beauty essentially–would be ‘fated’ to suffer from unwanted passion. I.e. men were going to try and rape her. She could either submit to that passion in the end (with the hero) or resist it to the bitter end (with the villain). The brains & personality she had were going to provide an irresistible compelling goad to the hero, making him ‘tame’ her with his sexual prowess until she was breathless and weakly trembling afterwards with complexicated feelings.
We’ve pretty much ditched that trope. Today’s modern heroine is often not overly endowed, she’s much more trim in a ‘relatable’ way. It’s even okay if she’s sorta normal. If men are driven compulsively into her embrace it’s because she’s good with dogs, she’s sassy, and she always puts others first.
The advent of erotic romance channelled the ‘gendered fate’ of the 80’s in a different direction. The idea of consent and agency in women has firmly taken hold, and women of all shapes and sizes can find themselves surrounded by respectful sex fiends in these romances. ;>
So where have all the crazy-curvy women gone? Today we have a category called ‘Rubenesque’, ‘Voluptuous’, or ‘Full-figured’ in erotic romance. You can go to an online publisher and search for this category by genre/sub-genre. Beware: you might become confused and think you’re not in the right section because few, if any, of the women on the covers are actually full figured or uber-curvy. This apparently is the fault of women readers who are less drawn to those covers…so I’ve been told. (I’m highly skeptical of this. If you had a model like Christina Hendricks on the cover I think people would buy it.)
But what does ‘Rubenesque’ mean exactly? Is ‘rubenesque’ a politically correct way to say ‘fat’? Are we talking Crystal Renn or Lena Dunham? I read a novel by a fairly popular erotic romance author that had three love stories in it. One involved a ‘rubenesque’ character. Despite the authors best intentions there was a certain way in which she handled that character that rang a tad hollow–though props to her for trying.
For instance, unlike the other heroines, this character was always described in exactly the same way by all the men and women in the book. It was as if all the other characters saw her in this very specific, limited way relating to her size. That doesn’t happen in real life. Men are definitely drawn to different looking women in different ways–and that’s okay, why shouldn’t it be? More over, it’s completely different from having anti-fat attitudes. Someone looks at a specific persona and sees eye candy. Other get hard or wet. Others still feel a strong compelling sense of charisma or attraction — they are seeing someone they might want to mate with long term.
The author I was reading used three stock phrases to describe her curvy heroine over and over again. It was as if she had to keep reminding the audience that the character was ‘different’ to reinforce the curviness as a kind of fetish. Or perhaps she was slapping on a label to the character and didn’t really see her heroine beyond that label. This author didn’t spend nearly as much time describing the other heroines throughout the book — instead it was their reactions to the sex they were having that took center stage.
Basically, women who aren’t a standard size and yet are incredibly sexy face a roller-coaster in terms of their status and self esteem. If you aren’t a sex goddess then you aren’t being seen.
One thing that’s interesting or challenging about Christina Hendricks and her place in La-la Land is that she refuses to be called plus size or curvy or any other size-related term. Woe to the interviewer who tries. She wants to be seen as an actress first and last, letting the public’s obsession with her body remain unspoken and sizzling beneath the surface.
By insisting on being mainstreamed with the rest of the Hollywood starlets out there, she is breaking down the ghetto-ization of women who don’t fit Hollywood’s super skinny norms. Go Christina!
Madeline Iva is the twisted sister you always wish you had. She’s also the author of the fantasy romance Wicked Apprentice. Check out her other Lady Smut posts, Join her newsletter or follow her on Facebook, twitter, and Pinterest.