I put feelers out about what to write for my inaugural post here at Inspy Romance. What does a reader want to read about on a blog written by Inspirational Romance Authors? I expected to see all sorts of responses, but the one that showed up in three different places where I ran my poll was: why the two characters always have to be so perfect, beautiful, in shape, etc.?
I started analyzing my own writing when I read that. Are my heroines always beautiful? Almost always, yes. Are my heroes always handsome and successful? Successful, yes. Handsome? Hard to say – because we always see them through the eyes of the heroine, and she’s going to be biased right from the start.
But, I think it begs the question as to why — why write that way when the person reading it isn’t likely “stop the conversation when she walks into the room” beautiful?
As I read the replies to my survey, I let them steep for a while, and I’ve been doing this low-key in-depth analysis of “why?” in the back of my mind as I’ve been going through with my daily life. And it occurred to me last night (as I was falling asleep, of course) — because we’re telling a fairy tale. The handsome young prince falls in love with the beautiful young princess and rescues her from the dragon’s lair.
I know my own flaws. I’m 41-years-old and I have three children. There are very few things about my physical self that I would consider perfect. But to my husband, I’m as beautiful as the “young woman in her twenties” was on the day we met. My husband is 46-years-old and has been an Army paratrooper for most of his adult life. The wear and tear on the human body after jumping out of hundreds of airplanes over the course of decades is not something pretty. But I never see scars on legs from surgeries or such when I see him – he’s my husband and I LOVE him – my heart still races when I see him after the end of a long day.
When we read romance, most of us are just looking for that fantasy of the fairy tale. And part of that comes with identifying with and stepping into the life of a beautiful young country music singer during her journey of rediscovering her love of God while falling in love with a geeky computer specialist who has no idea how sexy he is behind those Clark Kent glasses.
That isn’t to say there isn’t a market for “imperfection”. There absolutely is. But overall, especially in this genre, the readers of romance just want that bit of escape – to stop in the middle of folding another load of laundry and ignore the sound of Elmo in the background and escape into another chapter of a fantasy life; to sneak into the lunch room during a break and wash down the sandwich with a bottle of water while stealing time to read a few more chapters in the heroine’s journey; to snuggle next to a real-life husband in the evening after kids are in bed and the house is finally settling in and finish that last bit of romantic suspense to see how it all works out in the end.
We want to read about heroes who are successful in their field and strong physically. I’ve always liked the “tortured hero” – the one battling demons of the past who are finally quieted by the heroine. We want him to go on a spiritual journey with us and in the end be a stronger man of God than ever before, and maybe slay a dragon or two in the process. We want a heroine with whom we can find some way to identify, and who can love that hero with every ounce of Biblical love she can muster. We want her growing closer to God so she can grow ever closer to our hero. And we want her to be beautiful – if nowhere else than in the eyes of her hero.
But, beauty is relative. One way to see just how the perception of what is beautiful changes over time, look at the Disney Princesses – from Snow White through now. We even managed to get one with big hair in the 80’s (Little Mermaid).
While romance novelists may write “beautiful” women, in the end, their spiritual journey is the most important.
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. ~1 Peter 3:3-4
No matter how outwardly “beautiful”we create our heroines according to the current the cultural standards, none of that means anything if we don’t give them what is beautiful in God’s eyes – a beautiful heart for God. And, while I enjoy reading about slaying of dragons, when I finish reading a book, I want my spirit fed most of all.