Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lookism and Literature.

Annie Oakley.  One of my favorite quotes from her as there is still the myth and sexism today about women and their shooting skills.

I want to address something that's lying heavy on my heart.

 I read a lot of books. I own between 1,000-2,000 books. In the last few years, most of my new books have been Christian Fiction specifically.

I am super-blessed to be a part of many blogging programs, where I get to read the best new books coming out in so many genres. Every time an envelope comes in the mail, I feel like it's Christmas!

But recently I've been noticing something. It's something that greatly disturbs me, and I don't even know if It's obvious to anyone other than me and the women in my family. I'm going to mention it anyway. Please, take this with the grace I want to wrap it in.
I'm seeing lookism in modern Christian Fiction.

I love a description of a character, because it lets me visualize them. That description should include physical details. God made every hair and eye color, he made designed every shade of skin.
He knew that we would delight in the way hazel eyes sparkle in the sun and brown hair gains copper highlights. He knew that some of us would be drawn to blond hair and blue eyes (or black hair and black eyes) and some of us would immediately notice the redheads.

(Frankly, appreciating the beauty and diversity of people in books helps me see more of the beauty and diversity in the people around me.)

In Hallee Bridgeman's books for example, I know that Robin is a tall blond with beautiful blue eyes. That gives me a basic mental picture of her outsides. Then when I read further and see that her abusive childhood left her with many walls around her heart, I can see pain and distance in the deep blue eyes and I can see a "I must take care of my self- leave me alone" attitude in the toss of her blond hair and the way she walks and talks. The description didn't stop at the physical. Yes, it was mentioned that she was slender, but as I read I wasn't assaulted over and over with the idea that She. Was. Thin.
That's what I'm trying to say here.

In way too many books I've read lately.... by authors who craft stories and worlds and people that I absolutely love, there is this obsession with pointing out the thinness and weight of the characters, as if it is a badge of honor or worth or value. Exactly what NONE of us wants to believe, or would want our daughters to believe.

successful women

And these references crop up specifically in Romances, which is where they should be least present. Because True Love is not about looks, and Love sure don't come only to thin women.

I'm a woman. I know the struggle not to look in the mirror and think "Well, other than *that* I think I look OK." Or, "I just hope I meet somebody someday who will love me in spite of *this*."

And I see the women in my family struggle to conform to the culture that says "Look this way. Be this weight. Change yourself achieve beauty." And I DO NOT LIKE it when a book seems to capitulate to that deadly attitude. I know women.... beautiful, precious, smart-as-a-whip ladies who are all sizes, shapes, and weights, who are Totally Miserable with their own bodies. And I can't imagine how reading a book where the character is constantly described with variants of the word "thin" will help them. Even for a lady who is "thin" it feels like that's the only thing worth being. Thin. As if the worst thing that could happen to us is for that to change.

It's as if being thin defines whether your story is worth telling (or living) or not.

Jennifer Lawrence And The History Of Cool Girls - "This article is more about how the media portrays Lawrence than how Lawrence really is - because the truth is, we don't know what she's like when the cameras are off and that's the point. This article is spot on about how the media perpetuates certain myths about women. It's the media's gimmick." but anyway, i'd love to know more about J-Law :)

In one book I received last week, there were at least two full handfuls of "thin" references. And it turned my stomach.I love the authors who collaborated. I love the publisher.  I love the stories! I hate the lookism!

I don't need to hear every ten pages that "She may have tipped the scales at 100 pounds."
And "I've lost my baby fat."
And "She had a narrow waist..."
And "She weighed hardly anything."
And "Oh, I can't eat that, I want to stay thin."
Or "Oh, she eats anything and stays thin."

I'm tear-my-hair-out tired of the constant idea that thin is pretty.

I gave this book to a young friend who is growing up in a culture obsessed with the size and weight of her body. This culture will drive her to hate her own flesh if it can. It will steal her health and vitality away and convince her to chase "thinness" at any cost... and I can't give her a book that unwittingly supports that!

So to close, I'll probably be wishing soon that I had said everything so much better.
I want you-whether as an author or a reader- to know that I only want to say something I think needs saying.

When I read about a heroine, I want to get inside her mind, spirit, and psyche. I want to hear her heart beat and see what makes it beat faster. I don't want to hear how much she weighs. I don't want to reenforce the idea that it even matters what she weighs. That's all I'm trying to say.

Let's change the conversation -- no more self-criticism, especially with other women and in front of our little ones!


  1. YES. This is what I dislike about so much of the modern fiction - even and especially Christian fiction - that I read. Great post!

  2. Yes, yes, yes. thank you so much, Faith! This is one of the major things I don't like about modern fiction. Not only the lookism in reference to thinness, but the over descriptiveness of EVERYTHING. the authors get so bogged down in describing in agonizing detail every single thing, that they gloss over what they could have been conveying-- the message, the moral, the experience.

    This is why I do not read modern fiction very often.

    Thank you for this. :)

  3. Ladies, thank you both! I was so afraid that this would come out wrong. You blessed me greatly with your comments.