When I went looking for fat heroines in historical romance, I quickly learned to be skeptical of book covers. A main character might be plump, abundant, generously rounded, or my favorite, “a lady of healthy appetite,” but the model on the book cover will still be thin.
A reader of fat histrom has to be a detective, examining each cover for clues:
Is most of her body covered by a sheet?
Is there a flower on the cover instead of a person?
Is only a half of the heroine visible, the rest demurely hidden behind the hero’s naked back, or off the page entirely?
Book blurbs rarely give us hints to characters’ size, even when the story includes fat-positive representation. I understand this as a marketing decision to get the widest audience. But for me, obscuring the fatness of characters implies their bodies are shameful, and best hidden. Despite these difficulties, I persevered, and I’m sharing a few of my favorite historical romances with fearless fat heroines.
But first, I want y’all to know how much I loved the suggestions in the comments on my Fat Representation article last month. Especially the hot stories about being carried and thrown around by lovers as a fat woman, despite my skepticism! I have no problem admitting when I am wrong. Clearly, my love for short kings and wispy goth bois has limited my perspective, Bitches. I needed to expand my experience.
So I watched Michael Strahan give a fat beauty an acrobatic lap dance in Magic Mike XXL. You know, for research purposes.
More than any other subgenre, I read historical romances for pure escapism. I don’t care about historical accuracy, unless I need to pull out stats to argue that POC were indeed hanging out in England before 1900. I live blissfully free of potato rage, but like many readers, I still love historical details.
The survival bias in historical clothing means Western costume museums are filled with tiny gowns, and we have few existing examples of what larger women wore. That’s why I revel in the gorgeous photos of vintage fat babes from @historicalfatpeople on IG. I recommend scrolling through when you need a reminder that size diversity is not a new trend.
My ideal fat historical heroine begins her story having already learned to value her body or at least, treat it with indifference. She may have insecurities and challenges because she lives in a fatphobic society, but she’s not trying to lose weight. She accepts that she is desirable to potential partners, and her body is worshiped by her lover.
If she’s overcoming self-doubt or trauma, please let’s make it unrelated to her body size. She’s focused on her plans for societal domination, her annoying relatives, or any other plot device that has very little to do with her being fat. And while I can handle a few passing mentions of bullying or size discrimination, that crap better get smacked down quickly. You wouldn’t believe how many fat heroines get humiliated in the first chapter of their books, y’all!
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If my ideal historical heroine is what you’re looking for, here are a few recommendations:
The first book in Bradley’s Liar’s Club series is an old-school romp with a fake relationship, and entertaining euphemisms for the heroine’s body.
Agatha “an armful not a handful” Applequist is stubbornly determined to find her missing brother, so she moves to London and hires a chimney sweep to pretend to be her husband.
But sheltered Agatha fails to realize that her unusually tall chimney sweep is a spy who thinks she’s her brother’s mistress. These two are often clueless, but stop just short of TSTL. There are too many misunderstandings—and seduction attempts by Agatha—for her weight to be a focus.
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I love this lighthearted novella about women’s rage. Mrs. Bertrice Martin is a 73 year-old widow and misandrist who’s done with her useless nephew. Violet is his beleaguered landlady, a middle-aged fat woman who feels disposable and unseen by society.
The two embark on a scheme to teach their mutual adversary a lesson, and they fall in love along the way. This book is both bitingly funny and sweet. Bertrice’s descriptions of Violet’s body are so tender and adoring, they made me sigh.
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Set during a house party mystery, this f/f pairs Pat, a shooting champion and the Edwardian version of a sporty dyke, with Fenella, a ray of sunshine in ruffles. Fen’s the fianceé of Pat’s friend, but it doesn’t take long for the two of them to fall into love, and mystery-solving, together.
Charming Fen is depicted as highly desirable, and nearly every man at the party is struck by her. I loved the contrast of “angular, plain Pat” with vibrant “delightfully plump” Fenella. They have a little grumpy/sunshine energy, and the mystery is engaging without distracting from the romance.
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Sweet Disorder is one of my favorite romances of all time, and the fat representation is stellar. Starting with that cover!
A sharp-tongued fat widow is embroiled in a nineteenth-century political drama when a wealthy man tries to marry her off to a merchant in order to influence a local election, but falls for her himself. The historical politics are as juicy as Scandal and the banter is top notch. Phoebe’s suitors openly appreciate her body, and the main obstacles to her relationship are class differences, and her disinterest in marriage, not her ability to attract a lover.
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I often struggle to find contemporary f/f with fat characters, but they’re abundant (pun intended) in historical romance. I wonder if it’s easier for us to imagine the plump White women in old paintings as romance heroines since they fit dominant standards of beauty at the time. Which brings me to the main gap in my historical romance reading, finding fat characters of color.
Where are my plump brown girls in ballgowns and bloomers? I love reading fabulous historical romances with Black women, Asian women, Native American/First Nations women and more, but they are still a minority in the books I see in this genre. Most of these are generally body positive, but fat heroines are rare. Are two points of marginalization just a bridge too far?
Bitchery, have you read any great fat historical romances lately?