I'm most recently a writer. In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot. As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades. An unwilling transplant from the South, twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US. Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect. When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do. Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!
Sunday, February 1, 2015
50 Shades and Other Gray Areas
Now before you get the wrong impression and either click off or find yourself disappointed, let me assure you of something. I'm not a prude. I can appreciate a shirtless male as much as the next woman who's lived six decades and seen her fair share in every shape, size and condition. I admire a handsome masculine face and form, a bit of swagger and attitude, whether it be dressed as Mr. Darcy, Thor or--well, not at all. Like many women of too many generations to count now, Michelangelo's David set the standard for me and nothing has topped it so far. All that said, there's a risk in too much of any good thing.
As a writer, I feel compelled to keep a close watch on the market, which if your genre is romance, involves cover art featuring a vast array of scantily clad individuals. A few decades back, the bodice-ripper Fabio-inspired cover was all the rage, so a hoard of buxom females and brawny males, their clothing in suggestive disarray, dominated the shelves of every bookstore. These days couples are still popular--couples embracing, couples in anatomically impossible positions unless they happen to be trained contortionists, couples caught in the act of disrobing, or just caught in the act. But when it comes to exposed flesh, the males lead the pack. There's nothing wrong, I repeat, with a nicely honed male torso, but it seems unfortunate that this has lead to a heck of a lot of covers featuring--not to put too fine a point on it--nipples.
Just browse for books in any romance sub-genre, and whether they be Highland warriors, Cowboys, Billionaires, any species of shape-shifter, even Regency era aristocrats, the prevailing image includes a nicely developed set of pectorals. Some covered in hair, some sporting tattoos, others dripping with what is presumably sweat but might indicate a recently interrupted shower or a brisk walk in the pouring rain. We don't get much clue as to the plot, other than the assurance that one of the male characters at some point in the story removes his shirt. Since in many cases we don't even get a glimpse of his face, we have to assume from what we can see that he might also have a nice smile or a piercing glance. Apparently all the publisher thinks we care about is how much time he spends in the gym.
My concern is this. How many gorgeous male bodies can we look at before we start reaching for enough shirts to cover at least a few of them? Given the current number of semi-naked cover models, we may be headed for a serious backlash. Already, thanks to Mr. Grey, we've been reprogrammed to recognize a starched shirt, custom-tailored suit and, of course, a necktie, as the supreme image of masculine eroticism. A successful businessman shooting his cuffs likewise implies his story will leave the reader panting for more. It seems fans of romance novels want it all exposed, or all covered up, but nothing in between.
Surely there are gray areas here, room for a bit of originality. Put a period-appropriate shirt on that Highland warrior, but allow him to show a bit of thigh. A form hugging T-shirt, maybe even one with a strategic tear ala Stanley Kowalski, or a classy, clinging cashmere sweater would suggest the wealth beneath without giving away too much. And in my humble opinion, there's nothing more intriguing than the view provided by an open shirtfront.
I confess that I don't expect this exploitation of male beauty to end any time soon. My real point here is simple. Everything in moderation, please. A little more suggestion, a bit of teasing temptation, a bit less exposure and a bit more left to the imagination. And never fear, every woman who believes in romance has a vivid imagination. It comes with the territory.