Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Women and AA/IR Romance

So for the past few weeks I've been gorging myself, literally, on African-American romance. I do have a question though--why are the majority of the women in these books possessing high cheekbones and long hair that flows around the shoulders. I've seen plenty of black women in my day, and the majority of them do not have high cheekbones or hair that flows around their shoulders. What's wrong with having "regular" cheekbones and hair that stops at the nape (or shorter, natural). Because admittedly, I'm seeing "weave" with that earlier (Eurocentric) expression, and I don't think that was the intention of these authors.

And why are they all skinny (small waists, full breasts, slender hips)? All of them? I've only read one who wasn't like that--Chamein Canton's Not His Type, but she was also light-skinned and had good hair, too. Not that that's a problem, but where are thick girls who are more dark than light, who have typical African features and hair? It's not that I have a problem reading about all the shades of black women, but when I, essentially, read about the same woman appearance-wise I get a little wary. In fact, I think my slimmest woman that I've written is probably Coralee. Maybe Margot, but she's preggers, so she doesn't count. Jada isn't fat, but she'd never be called slim. Tyler is plus-size, and so is Rosalyn, if a little smaller than Tyler; and Samara is also plus-size. I think the lightest one is Samara as well. Jada has the most Eurocentric hair in terms of texture (although it is curly), then Rosalyn, and then Tyler. Coralee's hair would be nappy if not for the hot comb, and Margot and Samara have nappy, "natural" hair (although I try to make sure all of my female characters have natural hair, but I'm not above introducing a weave or two :-P). I guess my standards of black beauty were pretty diverse and pretty strong, but I know how it is to see black women who look closer to the Eurocentric ideal of beauty than not, and I try to be very conscious of it when I write. Since I primarily write IR, I don't want these black women to have prominent Eurocentric features to be seen as a "reason" why the (usually) white man would be interested in the first place. It bothers me so much when I read that, especially when white authors start writing black women (I haven't read a black heroine from a white author who has two black parents or isn't so light and bright regardless of parentage that I have to flip back at the initial description of where the author says the heroine identifies as black. If anyone has, please point me to it.). There's nothing wrong with a woman being (unambiguously) black and beautiful and attractive to both black and nonblack men. She doesn't need hair all the way down her back or a slender figure or honey/caramel skin (and I have honey/caramel skin). Dark, "natural"-haired, more-African-featured-than-not, curvy/heavy sisters need some love, too, after all. We're sure not going to get it from Hollywood!

ETA: I didn't mention Addy, mainly because I'm not finished with her story, but since her look, I don't believe, shall be changing any time soon, I'll say this--I think she's the tallest of all my heroines; definitely heavyset, but it's better balanced because of her height; has relaxed hair to her shoulders; medium-brown skin (more dark than light, but not dark dark). And Eric loves her to pieces. Boy Eric . . .

ETA2: There is also Working Man by Melanie Schuster that also features a plus-size heroine, and I think she's darker than Canton's heroine, too.


Anonymous said...

Amen. It's about time romance novels get realistic to African American culture. I'm not dissing my light sisters, however I think every women of color needs to be appreciated for her own unique beauty.

Bana said...

I'm not dissing them either, but it's becoming disconcerting to see every description of an AA woman being the same type of description. There is diversity in our beauty, and I just wish romance novels would reflect that. Heck, in my own circle of friends, I'm the lightest, and I'm by no means high-yellow (at least I don't think so). Everyone else is darker, and I think, gorgeous as all get out (except, you know, my white friend lol). Then I got up to college and there were light-skinned black women who I called close friends (one is biracial, and the other just has light skin and parents with light skin). They are beautiful as well. Diversity is all I'm calling for. If the men can be diverse (some are bald, some have afros, some have curly hair, some have close-shaven head, some are light-skinned, some are dark-skinned, some are black-black; some have chest hair, some don't, etc), then I think the women can and should be, too.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Amen.

I must say that JJ Murray, a white male author of IR romances, surprisingly writes pretty realistic black female characters.

Personally, I write about black women I've known or see around me, from the milk chocolate Twiggy-thin high butt young woman with three feet of dead-straight weave to the honey-toned sista with brown-blond nappy hair she's wearing in a low afro. I've included all heights, shapes and sizes but have been trying to present a healthier black woman, even one struggling with it.

The school my child attends has a growing population of IR couples and their kids. I have yet to come across any Tyras and Becks as a couple. They are attractive to just ordinary people. The kids have added another layer of diversity expressed in all kinds of combinations, but most appear black. There isn't a very light, straight-haired, Euro-features, can pass for white one among them.

My only issue has been... the hair. Sistas and non-sistas alike. Black hair care 101, ladies?

Bana said...

Hi! Welcome to my blog! What kind of stories do you write?

I have read JJ Murray, and while he's not on my automatic buy list, I did like Something Real, and the heroine in that story was biracial who was someone who couldn't pass AND was full-figured. It would've been easy for him to make her light/bright with long, flowy hair and willowy body, so I appreciated that. I just . . . I just wish there were more examples of "regular"-looking black women who are thought of as insanely gorgeous by the men who love them. I think that would be romantic (or maybe I'm just projecting! lol)

Shere said...

Hi, again.
I posted as anonymous recently when I couldn't remember my millionth password. :0

I found your blog through that of another favorite of mine.

Congratulations on your success!

I read an excerpt of Being Plumville recently. Great story. Great book. I was on my way to B & N last Saturday and thought I'd find it there. I had to ORDER it. lol. I'll skip the rant about who they do and don't carry on their shelves.

I've been writing a long time but only about seven years AA and IR romance. A friend likened my e-mail humor to Carl Haaisen and suggested I write. So I write romance instead. Go figure! I have a fear of the other "R" word, but my goal this year is to finish one of three almost-completed works and submit it.

My very first attempt was a black woman who thought she was not only regular and overweight after having a baby but had a minor disability. She thought no man would overlook these things. The guy who fell for her saw a pretty black woman, made even more beautiful by her warmth and kindness. It was the least important thing to him. It was a self-image thing, as it often is when we try to be ourselves while the rest of the world appears to want Tyra and Halle. Lord, remember the uproar recently when a few well-known ladies appeared to add some curves to their bones? Nope. Don't wait on Hollywood to change. They acknowledge mostly in satire or humor. More stereotyping.

Perhaps we can change that image, one plus-sized, regular, beautiful black heroine and one romantic love story at a time. :)