Is reality beautiful, or is it just too real?

Y’all know how I feel about romance novels (unless you’re new to this blog and have no idea, in which case, let me tell you: when they are done well, I love them, and when they are done poorly, I hate them with the burning intensity of a thousand suns; in other words, I have a fitting passion for the romance genre), but there are some aspects common to most romance novels that just burn my butt.

In this post, I’m going to focus on the way breasts are handled (ahem) in romance novels.  I think it’s still accurate to say that most readers of romance novels are women.  Most women have breasts.  Why, then, do authors need to describe breasts in minute detail?  There is some variation of description, sure; sometimes the breasts in question are ‘coral tipped globes’ and sometimes they are ‘creamy orbs,’ but they are almost always “perfectly formed” or otherwise “perfect.”  Just once I would like to read a romance novel that describes the heroine’s breasts as “uneven” or “lopsided” or ” a bit droopy.”  Honestly, if we must describe breasts, can’t we at least be realistic about the business?  It’s not as though it actually matters what the breasts look like, anyway.  Men are going to look regardless.

An engraving by W. Ridgway (published in 1878) after Daniel Huntington’s 1868 painting ”Philosophy and Christian Art’,’ U.S. public domain

I went on a bit of a reading binge this week and plowed through Tessa Dare’s Twice Temped by a Rogue, Courtney Milan’s Unveiled, Unlocked, Unclaimed and Unraveled and Miranda Neville’s The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton.  5 of those 6 books use the word “perfect” or “perfection” in describing either the whole of the heroine’s bosom or some aspect of her bosom (her skin, her nipples, etc.).

I know… I’m being silly.  I enjoyed all six books immensely – those three authors represent some of the best talent in the romance genre today – but by the time I got to the sixth book (The Amorous Education), I found myself distracted by the heroine’s “well-shaped and pert, and practically perfect” breasts.  I longed for both variety and reality.

So this is my question: can reality be beautiful?  There’s the adage that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but that beholder’s eye is shaped by her culture.  Our culture celebrates artificial beauty: the shellac of makeup, the pastiche of Photoshop.  Women are bombarded with images of ideal beauty, most of which are manufactured in some way.

The romance novels that I enjoy are ones that celebrate women, that give commentary on some of the issues that are of import to women, that celebrate an active and confident sexuality, that break down double standards, that promote healthy relationships with an even balance of power, that are, at their core, rather feminist when you get right down to it.  Is it too pie-in-the-sky for me to hope to encounter, at some point, a book that, in addition to all of these traits, embraces a tad more realism in its physical descriptions (or, better: leaves off the detailed breasty descriptions altogether.  If I need to know what a breast looks like, I can just look down.)?  Does anyone have a good theory as to why there are so many detailed descriptions of lady parts (breasty and otherwise) in books primarily marketed to women?

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8 thoughts on “Is reality beautiful, or is it just too real?

  1. Normally I would never butt into a conversation like this uninvited! But when this link came through the google alerts with the tag “breasty description”… gee, it was impossible NOT to look. What a fascinating post.

    I will say for myself, I’ve written heroines with breasts of varying shapes and sizes–yes, even mismatched ones. Susanna in A NIGHT TO SURRENDER has breasts of noticeably different sizes, and she and the hero have a whole conversation about it.

    But I’m pretty sure (without going back to check) that Bram calls Susanna “perfect” too. For me, the point is not to say only “perfect” breasts are worthy of love and literary description, but that “perfection” is in the eye of the beholder. To paraphrase a wise friend, Victoria Dahl: for any given guy, the sexiest pair of breasts are the ones he’s currently touching. 🙂

    That’s my take on it, anyway. Thanks for reading and analyzing!

    • Dude! I had totally forgotten about Susanna and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. Her breasts ranked pretty high on my list of things I loved about that book (of course, Susanna as a character ranked even higher, and I loved (LOVED) her handling of those awful ettiquette books, but I digress…). I’m still holding out hope for encountering some droopy bosoms, but it is a relief to consider that most breasty descriptions are from the hero POV and are not necessarily a reflection of the feminine ideal. Thanks for commenting! (Victoria Dahl is hilarious!) Cheers–

  2. HAHA I’d die if we started reading romance novels that described lopsided breasts.

    Reading through the comments though – I agree with Tessa Dare. Susanna did have uneven breasts and I loved her all the more for it!

    I agree with Dahl’s comment also. Men do love what they currently have.

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