May 21st, 2012

Expanding Our Reality with Curvy Girls

When I first heard that an anthology titled Curvy Girls was in the making, I thought it was a fabulous idea. (I wanted to submit something to it myself, but alas, I didn’t manage to get that done at the time.) However grand of an idea I thought it was, though, the book has exceeded my expectations—to a striking degree. Curvy Girls, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by Seal Press, is an exceptional anthology, and I’m honored to be taking part in its virtual book tour that will be going on through the rest of May.

At a party last Friday night, I had a conversation with a fellow guest about the inevitability of internalizing pervasive attitudes and prejudices of the culture(s) in which we grow up. It seems to me that even if we reject these perspectives intellectually and are aware of their falseness or repugnance, it is unavoidable to have been affected by cultural undercurrents of ingrained perspectives such as sexism, racism, and other disgusting “isms” as we develop. While I could go on and on about how I perceive this phenomenon and feel it is best addressed, that would be rather outside the scope of this post. :) The reason I bring it up here is because I feel perceptions of “fat” and the correlative judgements, associations, and implications one may experience around it signifies one of these areas where the influence of cultural attitudes seems virtually unavoidable.

For example, if I find (my perception of) our mainstream culture’s standards for the shape and form of the human female body fiercely dubious and reject that a large part of a woman’s value is in her body size being comparable to that of a supermodel or that only women who fit that description appear physically beautiful, I can be quite aware of that and proclaim it as such and truly feel that I am sincere in that perception. Yet within the same hour, I can look in the mirror and grimace at some part of my own figure that does not seem to fit into the very standards I just disparaged and feel some sense of shame or inferiority because of it.

It’s possible I’ve actually done those very things. It may also be that I’m not unique as such.

Where do these standards come from? Who upholds them? How can those of us who intellectually reject them still feel affected by them on some level?

Before I talk more about this book in relation to such things, I want to back up and mention something I really liked about this anthology: its aesthetics. The first thing I noticed about Curvy Girls was how gorgeous it is. It has a riveting cover with bold colors and a beautiful design. (I’ll say up front that my only complaint was that I was dismayed as usual to see the tagline “Erotica for Women” appended to the title. As I’ve mentioned before, I find this phrase arbitrary at best, and it seems to me to undermine the potential appeal the book may have to unrestricted audiences.) I even found the inside font beautiful. Add in the charming little black lace pattern at the corners of the first page of each story, and I truly found that the aesthetic loveliness of this volume added to my overall delight with it!

As I have alluded to, I found what was inside magnificent as well. To return to my earlier musings, even if we eschew what seem to be our culture’s prevailing (and increasingly preposterous) standards about how a woman’s body should look—and how it is most beautiful—we still may find them manifesting in our experience, sometimes without our even noticing. Intellectual recognition, alas, is not the same as conscious assimilation.

Which is what I found so refreshing about this book: the stories here embody the understanding of this phenomenon—beyond the intellectual awareness, rejection, analysis of something that can still show up in our subconscious in ways we may not even be aware of. We’re aware of them here. These stories tend to come either from the angle of a larger woman who experiences comfort and contentment about that or from one who struggles with the standards postulated by an abstract society, bringing us as readers face to face with those unconscious judgments and compelling us to confront them from the inside out.

All of which I see as of great value.

These characters are not abstract. And there is no question that the lovers in this book find the protagonists sexy—breathtakingly so in many cases. The overt and often verbal appreciation the protagonists’ admirers have for their beauty mesmerized me in story after story. (I also want to add that I much appreciated the references to condoms in so many of them. Depiction of condom use is an intense preference of mine in fiction, and its inclusion invariably enhanced my appreciation of the story in question.)

I noticed early on that I found many of the stories in Curvy Girls more arousing than I’ve often found erotica. In general, I don’t read written erotica to get off, appreciating it rather because it explores and focuses on one of the areas I find most fascinating in life (sexuality, in case that wasn’t obvious). To be frank, I don’t know why these stories seemed to turn me on so much more than usual. It seemed there was something different about the feel, maybe the energy of them somehow. Did the authors put more into describing the attraction in the context of the theme, making it more arousing for some reason? Did the theme add some element that tended to lead the description to be different? I truly don’t know. I just know that I noticed it, and while I have been contemplating what the reason for it may be, I have not yet put my finger on it.

Regardless, kudos to the authors, I guess. ;) “First Come, First Served” by Lolita Lopez was simply one of the hottest stories I had read in some time. I found the absence of actual intercourse interestingly refreshing, and I felt the author’s capture of the attraction between the characters and the sex that did take place between them was beautifully done. “Decadence,” by Satia Welsh, changed my breathing as I read it—just flipping through it as I was composing this post started to distract me so much I had to put the book down! Nina Reyes elicited a similar effect for me with her “Excuses”; I was nearly driven to reading it one-handed, which I’ve rarely experienced from the written word. And editor Rachel offers “Big Girls Do Cry,” an intense tale of spanking and self-awareness mixed with a burning lust that sparked in me too as I read about yet another male protagonist I’d like to meet myself.

Of course, eroticism is not the only thing these stories have going for them. Lush prose, delightful entertainment, and skillful portrayals of the headiness and intensity of connection abounded, all of which I appreciated every bit as much as the heat. “Before the Autumn Queen” by Angela Caperton comprised some of the most captivating and resplendent description I had read in a while, and I was duly enchanted throughout. I was not surprised to find “Wenching” by Justine Elyot both sizzlingly hot and seamlessly rendered, not to mention amusingly entertaining. I have experienced most of what I have read by Ms. Elyot that way, and this delight of a story proved no exception. I found “In the Early Morning Light” by Kristina Wright a powerfully affecting narrative from the point of view of a brand-new mother and the bodily changes that have corresponded as such. The honesty and complexity of this tale still strike me now as I recall it. The book ends beautifully with Donna George Storey‘s “Happy Ending,” an uplifting tale of bodily and personal empowerment that makes its title fitting indeed.

While this book may be fiction, it seems to me that as with much fiction, it is reflective of some part of reality. Despite various media’s constant bombardment to the contrary, there are obviously individuals who perceive this way, who see non-supermodel-shaped bodies as individually beautiful and unique, and to whom it would make no more sense to fetishize such than it would captivating eyes or luxurious hair (not that those things can’t be experienced as fetishes, but fetishization has not commonly been perceived as their only potential attractiveness, which has sometimes seemed the case with larger-sized women).

On the back of this book, the extraordinary Jaclyn Friedman states, “This lush collection won’t just quicken your pulse, it’ll widen your definition of sexy.” I dare say I agree with her. The actualization in these stories, far beyond some kind of detached commentary or analysis, reaches the reader (or this reader anyway) on the same level, serving indeed the potential purpose of truly expanding one’s perspective—a feat neither small nor always easy. I truly commend the authors in this collection for doing striking and beautiful justice to its theme.

If you so desire (and of course, I highly recommend it!), you can pick up or download your copy of Curvy Girls on Amazon now. And you can follow the rest of the Curvy Girls virtual book tour from the book’s website right here. Thanks so much for stopping by, and happy reading! :)


“But he thinks she’s as pretty as a picture when she wipes down tables in her apron strings, and sometimes he forgets a chorus ’cause she’s shining like a beauty on the silver screen…”
-Joe Diffie “Bigger Than the Beatles”

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