I’ve just read this article in The Guardian. Apparently, chick lit publishers are now actively developing a new sub genre, known as ‘bigger chick lit’ with which to market their books. The premise of these novels? That the heroine is *shock! horror!* FAT!
Mainstream publishing houses, previously so keen to deluge the fiction charts with Bridget Jones-esque tales of how perfection hinges on first perfecting ones body are now *deigning* to tell us that, actually, it’s okay to be fat and have a life with it. No longer do we have to undergo a Jemima Jones style transformation in order to get the job, the man, the family or whatever else popular culture equates with success these days.
Well, how very generous of them. According to the talking heads quoted in the Guardian article, this isn’t a cynical marketing ploy to appeal to a readership who would give their eye teeth to be forced into buying a size twelve or fourteen, which seems to be one of the chief disasters in your typical chick lit. No, this is about *empowering* women. Jenny Hutton, modern romance editor at Mills & Boon comments that:
Through the journey taken by this new breed of heroine, the discovery is made that it’s not weight that was the issue behind her lack of self-esteem.
Is. She. Serious? I mean, honestly, can you imagine a similar press release about a new genre of men’s fiction? Picture the scene: a fiction editor from Orion Publishing proudly unveiling a new Rebus offering from Ian Rankin and telling the waiting newsbuffs that the great thing about this particular instalment of the series is that Rebus has gone bald, in a move to help bald men accept their baldness. Doesn’t really translate does it?
This is why I think this development has more to do with boosting pre-Christmas profits than boosting any woman’s self esteem. Why is appearance mentioned so disproportionately in chick lit? Why should the heroine’s weight be an issue in the first place? And surely using such a crude hook on which to hang the whole plot, as Jenny Hutton describes, is just an excuse to avoid making the effort to build rounded, convincing characters?
I suspect this new trend has more than a whiff of the Jeremy Kyles about it, especially considering the words of one of Mills & Boon’s own ‘bigger chick lit’ authors, Trish Wylie:
All women have body-image issues, no matter how slim they are. The ultimate fantasy of most women today is simply accepting themselves, whatever their body weight. That’s what we, as authors, are responding to.
So, in other words, no matter how bad we feel about having that extra bag of crisps, or how embarassed about having to buy our work clothes from the outsize shops rather than the high street, we can feel better by reading about women even bigger than ourselves and thinking ‘well at least I’m not as bad as her’. And THAT is supposed to be female empowerment? I’m certainly not convinced.