Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thursday talktime: Objectification of women and category romance covers

PHS Editor and Harlequin Historical author, Michelle Styles talks about the objectification of women and series romance books.
Recently I happened to watching a presentation on building your personal brand which was given as part of this year’s WIE (Women Inspiration and Enterprise). You can see the fascinating discussion  here. About 22 minutes, the panel discussion turned towards the objectification of women and how every woman had experienced it. It was why one of the panellists argued every woman has self-esteem issues. She went on to give an example from her own life about a man rather than looking at her portfolio, asking her to give a twirl as part of a job interview.  Another panellist went on about how her husband who is involved in the production side made sure their young daughter understood that most fashion photography because of airbrushing is more akin to painting. If you haven’t read this article about an ordinary model can be made to look extraordinary, do so.  Airbrushing and photo-shopping can create a fantasy in a few clicks.
As I am currently working on another Viking where the heroine is very tall, I happened to look up Gwendoline Christie who plays Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones.   The difference between how she looks on screen versus at a red carpet event is astonishing. Lighting, make-up and a lot of things  go into creating the images we see on the screen. See her facebook page for a quick illustration.
All this got me thinking about category romance and the message the books give out. Sometimes we have been accused of providing false images of women. After all, our covers feature professional models.  It can be difficult to find the right image/model for the book. At the moment, Harlequin is using Taylor David a lot for its medieval/Viking covers. He is currently starring on my cover and will be featured on others. My senior editor did note that it can be tough to find a rugged, battle scarred model as they are limited by modern man.
Ultimately the art department is working on providing attractive and appealing covers which scream buy me and provide a sense of what the book is about. Attractive images sell. 
The author has very little control over the image which is chosen. Art Fact Sheets are filled out but sometimes a certain aspect will capture the artist’s imagination. It is about the feel of the book.
 HOWEVER, if you read the books, you will see that there is no one standard of beauty.  Heroines and heroes come in all shapes and sizes. About the only thing I think an author can’t make work is bad breath in hero or heroine. Often the heroines will have self-image problems (doesn’t everyone?) but she is beautiful to the hero. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. It is all about the chemistry between two particular people, rather than chemistry with the world at large. Personally I find the actual heroines in the books empowering. The heroines are strong women who succeed against the odds. Yes, they do get their Happily Ever After with a man who loves them but they deserve it. They don’t settle for less.

What do you think?

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