A few years ago, the editor-in-chief of a well-known publishing house gave a speech at our chamber of commerce's annual dinner for women in business. She "confessed" that reading romance novels is her favorite form of stress relief. Her talk was so convincing, I vowed to give them a second look. Okay, maybe a third, fourth or fifth look. Let's face it. Romance novels do not have a good reputation among "serious" readers and writers. They're not "literary," whatever that means. And the covers feature shirtless Fabio look-alikes embracing beautiful women in various stages of undress. Our public library shelves them in a separate section and places hot pink stickers on their spines, lest a hapless browser pick one up by mistake. The stickers also identify them to their legions of female fans, who must know something.
I enjoyed that editor's speech, but I still didn't read romance novels, until I heard about Pat Ballard's books. She calls them "motivational romances" with Big, Beautiful Heroines. Curious, I picked up a copy of Nobody's Perfect and spent several hours intrigued and enthralled.
In the novel, the love interests are Nella Covington and Samuel L. duCannon. Are those perfect names for a romance or what? Nella is a young woman in her mid-twenties who has long since given up trying to be thin. She takes good care of herself, eats healthy foods and exercises. The women in her family were heavy and she is no exception. But Nella goes beyond just accepting herself. In this novel, she uses her size to her advantage.
We see her save a child from drowning by using her strong arms and skillful swimming. She helps a young wife frustrated by constant dieting make herself over with makeup, a new hairdo and clothes, without losing a single pound. When the woman worries she might go back to feeling discouraged about gaining weight, Nella gives her a gentle pep talk. "You see what you can be if you want to, and it's your decision whether you spend your days looking your best, or looking your worst. That's a decision we all have to make each day. You're no different than anyone else."
Of course, romance novels have a predictable formula. That's why so many women love them; it's reassuring to know the good characters will win. After a few adventures and problems, the heroine always gets the good guy, and this book delivers that, too. But first, we have evil in-laws, a family home in jeopardy and a little boy who needs a mother. Nowhere does Nella play the helpless female. She is strong yet vulnerable, powerful yet seductive.
And Pat Ballard sure knows how to write a good sex scene. Be forewarned: this story is definitely rated R, and the heroine's large size adds to her attractiveness. What a switch from the message aimed at women in magazines and television!
Although the ending was pre-ordained (remember, it's a romance novel), I didn't guess how the author would wrap it up. I lost myself in the story and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. In other words, I had fun. If you read Nobody's Perfect, I predict you will, too. I also predict you will be left with some very thought-provoking ideas about what our society's ideal body image does to every woman's self-esteem.
(Previously published at [...])