Maybe like me, you’ve noticed a trend in romance toward, if not exactly the proliferation of, imperfect, real life-sized heroines, enough of them that we take note. Many a romance fan has remarked online she’s amazed and extraordinarily pleased when she finds a heroine whose body “looks real,” like hers.

These readers seem to appreciate a heroine who is perhaps very curvy, is described as weighing more than is “fashionable,” and who either finds no reason to think there’s anything wrong with herself for not meeting a one-size-fits-the-ones-who-count standard of beauty, or is proving to herself—and sometimes others—her value is not related to her appearance.

That she proves this while falling in love with a hot guy is beside the point; this is romance, where we inspire each other through acceptance of our imperfections, and allow heroes enormous character flaws to make up for the fact that we want them gorgeous and ripped.  

Like many, it took me no time at all to realize how positively romance reading can affect—and in many cases, effect—self esteem. And I adore seeing the inspirational role the genre plays daily and long-term among the lives of readers and writers I meet, and, of course, in my own.

Yet as interesting and refreshing as readers today find an “imperfect” heroine, we still like slipping into the more-common placeholder role of an exquisitely beautiful or pretty or outstandingly accomplished heroine, even when her beauty is her curse. For while we might dream of whether it’d be fun to look like her or live her life—and, you know, it’s really OK if you do—we enjoy her because good authors give her the personal, emotional, and relational imperfections and strengths that keep us reading her story, and rooting for her HEA.

Capri Timmons of AlTonya Washington’s sweet, sexy, and funny The Doctor's Private Visit is one of that kind of “perfect” heroine. Petite, pretty, curvy and, yeah, nice. Capri’s a photog with a fabulous career in a top Miami agency, has great friends, and sports the fresh-faced looks that keep guys offering her the same tired lines, all of which would tug her just one direction: to their beds.

Ready for a change, Capri takes up her good friend and boss’s offer to hook her up with a close friend who’s got a cottage to rent on the suburban estate he inherited from his beloved, late grandmother.  

Tiberius Evans, MD, is beside himself when sweetly sexy Capri moves into the place next to his. Tibe is all work when he’s on the job as an intensely caring and talented obstetrics doc, but all play when it comes to beautiful women.  

Yet the good Dr. doesn’t seem to be “in” with Capri, and can’t figure out how she’s turning him into her best friend without benefits.  Poor Tibe; Capri’s got a secret she’s not sharing. And despite the fever that rises between them when she gives him a little taste of it, what ails Capri might be something that even Tibe’s not sure he can cure, even after Capri decides a house call from him would be the very best medicine.

Kimani novels are cool in that they tend to represent women in many shapes and sizes without drawing judgment regarding those bodies through storyline; the women simply “are.” And just like any romance, it’s lovely to see women appreciating—or learning to appreciate—themselves at the same time they’re letting love into their hearts and lives.

How do you feel when you read about heroines who seem to represent physically the way you see yourself? What sort of influence do you think the physical appearance of a heroine has on the reader in general—or you specifically? Is it unfair that we admire physical imperfection in heroines, yet generally require a level of physical attractiveness in heroes?


Michelle Buonfiglio writes daily about romance fiction at BN's Heart to Heart and Catch her Tuesdays at Unabashedly Bookish.

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎02-01-2010 02:28 PM

I do like reading books about heroines in different shapes and sizes, BUT I've noticed something weird. I'm tall and far from slim, and I find I'm more critical of heroines in my shape and size because I see myself in them. And I want to be slimmer, if not shorter (not much I can do about that). Whereas, when the heroine is totally different from me, I'm more accepting of her flaws.

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎02-01-2010 02:55 PM

I love it when I read about a size 10-12 heroine who's over 40 at least and isn't perfect at all, that's ME!!! Sometimes when I read a romance where the hero or heroine is too perfect I just sort of say to myself, yeah right like that would ever happen.

by PrincessBumblebee on ‎02-01-2010 06:40 PM

Me, I love to read about women who are petite, tiny and pretty, cause, yes, since I look that way, it is totally believable to me. And, although I think it definately shows more acceptance of 'normal' sized women, I really don't like to read about those 'normal' or 'plain' women. First of all, I simply can't relate, no offense, and secondly, as one other reader and I agreed, they just aren't quite as interesting. At least not to us. However, as QB already pointed out, the romance industry is very accepting of our imperfections. More power to you however you look!

by on ‎02-01-2010 09:22 PM

You know at least with height, the further the difference between me and the character the less I like it. Those 5'2 characters I just can not relate to. I was last 5'2 at 12.


by Moderator becke_davis on ‎02-01-2010 09:24 PM

I was already 5 ' 7" at age 12. Of course, I only grew another inch after that, but it really sucked at age 12.

by on ‎02-01-2010 09:41 PM

Umm well I put on close to 11" after that, and didn't stop till 26 so..

For me 11 and 12, I didn't grow upwards much, body spent too much investing in puberty. So it was they only time I was in the general region of everyone else's height. That just didn't last long.


by Author Eva_Gale on ‎02-02-2010 07:27 AM

What a sensual cover! Just gorgeous. 


I'm going to give the total 'woman' answer. I need both heroines. Sometimes I get really sick and tired of the perfect heroine and I roll my eyes. Then I need a complete opposite to set my reality meter back into balance. 


What I DO find is that when I read, these physical descriptions fall to the background, and their character is what remains as a descriptor unless something about thier physical appearance plays a major part  in thier character arch. 

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎02-02-2010 08:43 AM

Wow, thanks everyone for your honesty on this one.  I kind of fall into everyone's category!  One of my fave things to do -- and authors, I know this is awful, but a popular author whose name I shall not reveal once said she does the same -- is adjust the heroine to suit my needs unless her physical characteristics are absolutely tied to plot.  So, I totally like to shrink down the heroines to my height. The minute I read," she ws tall for a woman, but still, he topped her (shut up) by several inches," I'm all, "oh, I wanted her to be shorter.  Becke and TiggerBear, I'm the 5'2" one who kept waiting to catch up w/everyone else. 

And, Deb, I'm starting to get to a point where the youngest heroines and heroes are seeming a little young. Not too young to enjoy. But I'm definitely shifting into a 'reminiscent' mode when reading.  This probably is more evident for me reading contemps than historicals, because everyone was 'mature' earlier back in the day anywayz.


Principessa, what you write reminds me of something I'd started exploring in this piece, but pulled out for space.  I was explaining how in other conversations online and 'in person,' I've felt empathy for women who are 'thin,' maybe can't gain weight, are 'ok' with wearing what we consider smaller sizes. There isn't a right/wrong size, and I don't want in talking about how good it is to depict women in all sizes to somehow malign or marginalize women who wear any size or who happen to have features considered classically attractive, at least by our society.  That seems unfair w/in the construct of the way we who love romance support the 'perfection of imperfection.' Thus, the 'don't hate her cause she's beautiful' idea. There are a couple titles of romance books that are very pro 'real sized' bodies, which I think malign women who wear small sizes. I don't think that marks progress, rather I think it uses the old model to support women who've not been seen as ok before. We can do better than that.

Eva, what if your answer isn't the total 'woman' answer and is more the 'total woman' answer? Like the old Whitney remake of the Chaka Khan song, "I'm Every Woman?"  It's not so much about the prerogative to change one's mind, but perhaps more about feeling the need to slip into different roles just for fun.  I was thinking the other day about women who've kind of barked at me online, ie, "historical heroines are so ridiculous. they're so weak and unrealistic." And I think, "huh.  Where'd you learn to shoot 23rd century laser rifles again? cause that must be a cool addition to your 21st C. skills set."  This is fantasy, and we readers get to try on whatever makes us happy and feel most womanly on a particular day.


And your last point is the one probably most readers agree w/. : )

by Moderator becke_davis on ‎02-02-2010 08:51 AM

And I'm the one where the heroine (in books written by petite authors) playfully leaps onto the heroes back (in a contemporary) or into his arms (in a historical) and my first thought is, well there goes his back and knees, poor sod.

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎02-02-2010 09:29 AM

Oh girls I'm definitely in the tall camp and was also 5'7" by the age of 11 and really well developed for a girl in grade school. I finished growing by age 12 and am 5'8.5". It's hard not only being the tallest in the class but the one with breasts too.


by on ‎02-02-2010 11:06 AM

Becke, no you're not the only one. My second thought is always "why was the part where the both go tumbling down deleted?"


dhaupt, I'm with you there. A C cup in 6th grade sucked. So did in one week going from a sub A to a C cup. My chest didn't develop, it exploded.


I just can't make the adjustment for height. Weight no problem, a girl can dream. But with height there is just too much logistical mechanics involved. Which is why when a heroine is carried in his arms across a threshold I tend to check out. They always leave off the bit where he knocks her out cold on the door frame.




by Moderator becke_davis on ‎02-02-2010 11:12 AM

I was skinny when I was a kid, and being a beanpole wasn't much fun. But my daughter had your problem - she needed a bra by fifth grade and by high school her chest preceded her into a room. Luckily, she quickly developed a sense of humor about it.

by Author Eva_Gale on ‎02-02-2010 06:49 PM

"It's not so much about the prerogative to change one's mind, but perhaps more about feeling the need to slip into different roles just for fun."


Very, very true! 

by Blogger Michelle_Buonfiglio on ‎02-03-2010 05:32 AM

I'm with all of you on the sweeping her off her feet thing.  It always makes me uncomfortable, no matter what her size. It must be representative of somethign for a lot of readers, but it's not the most romantic thing for me. Now, the hiking her up so she can wrap her legs around his waist is another thing entirely and doesn't make me concerned for anybody's back; it's a center-of-gravity thing. : )  otherwise, I worry fr the guy, too, unless he's got paranormal strength...  I'm just kind of glad I haven't read any heriones sweeping the hero off his feet, tho I'm sure theyr out there and they're fantasy for some women. 

by Kara45 on ‎02-03-2010 08:46 AM

I love a heroine of all shapes and long as she is written well. Added to favorite would have to be the plus size, ordinary heroine. Gives me hope that Happily Ever After can happen for us plus size girls. But I also read and enjoy the small, petite size heroine as well as a historical one.


On the other hand...a not so perfect hero is a joy to read to. The geeky, nerdy types are my favorite. Now don't get me wrong...the perfect alpha male is such a joy to read about...but you have this "back to reality" thing going to. There are a whole line of "perfect" males out there for all us women. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...and this beholder likes an imperfect hero every now and then.


I love the feelings I get when I read romance whether it is the perfect hero/heroine or the not so perfect. It is how the romance is written, the emotions it pulls from the reader, and, of course, how they get their happily ever after.

by Moderator dhaupt on ‎02-03-2010 09:25 AM

Oh Kara, I love the geeky nerdy heros like the one in Nora Roberts Vision in White Carter.


by 1lovealways on ‎02-05-2010 01:25 AM

Hi Michelle!


The first time I read about a heroine not being a size 2 was in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Night Play.  When I read the short review of the book, that is what attracted me to it.  It was a great story with a hero to die for! And I loved the heroine too.  It was the first time I'd ever read about someone who was a plus sized heroine and who represented more of the type of body type that I am. 


I was in seventh heaven and could hardly wait until I received the book.  Kudos to Ms. Kenyon.  She did it in up in style.  She showed that plus size women have the same feeing, have brains, are sexy and as attractive as any normal sized heroine. 


On the other side of the equation, I have no problem with the normal sized heroine either.  I can take the heroines either size.  It's just wonderful to see a plus sized woman given her props and getting her HEA in books.  It totally goes to show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Love ya Vane& Bride! 


I have no problem with beta heroes or flawed heroes either.  In fact Laura Kinsale wrote about some of the best flawed heroes I ever loved.  The Prince of Midnight, The Shadow and the Star and Flowers from the Storm had some of the most flawed heroes in romance.  None of those flaws stopped them from being loving or being loved in return. 


More recently, there's J.R. Ward's Lover Awakened.  Her hero Zsadist is scarred outside as well as inside, but the moment he opened his mouth to sing, he had the voice of an angel.  It took a special woman to see beyond the physical scarring of Zsadist face to his heart.  Brava Bella!


That is the point.  If you're looking for the true worth of a person, you look inward.  Not outward.  You may find a gem among the ashes.  :smileywink:

by elizam on ‎01-20-2011 10:29 PM

I read romance to escape, so I want my hero and heroine to be handsome and beautiful. It does not make me shallow, just that it is my preference for reading. I love my main characters to also have redeeming qualities. I read a book in which I completely hated the hero even though he was handsome. He whined and was such a selfish jerk through much of the book that I refused to finish the rest of the book. I kept hoping the he would change but no such luck.

by SoozeSC on ‎02-04-2011 10:51 PM

Confession: I uesd to scoff at the genre. But now I am a converted FAN. I do a LOT of eye rolling with some books. Maybe the characters are just a tad too whiny or maybe the book's plot seemed trite. 


 I agree with a previous poster about how well the characters are written sort ofmakes you forget what physical attributes [age/size] that have been established by the author.


 I go back & forth in dislike-ing when the heroines are 22-25 years old and are worrying about their LIFE Crises...sheesh--they are too young for such drama! and they sound superficial. I think when the heroines are at least 25, going up the hill to 30 and "gasp" even close to 40...its  more believeable for me as a reader. . And when the heroine seems physically regular--curvy, not "rail thin" it reads better. The male heroes can be barrel chested, tall, rugged, slender,swimmers build, or whatever--they all sound believeable. I like it when some of my fave books have had the opposites attract--geeks M or F, non-glamour gals and the hunkalicious guy, or plain Janes & Joes with the heart of gold. 


Most of all I love the romance, the humor pr sweep-me-off my-feet action makes me think of the RomCom movies I love so much!


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