There’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere and on Twitter lately about romance’s perfect hero “problem”. About how they’re all TALL, and MUSCULAR, and HOT (essentially, Hugh Jackman, Hugh Jackman in a wig, Hugh Jackman with a shaved head, you get the picture). And I thought, well of course they are, because we see him through the heroine’s eyes. And SHE thinks he’s hot. Right?
Let me go to the personal side for a few examples. My best friend and I are very similar (arty, educated history geeks, close to 6’ tall, with quirky senses of humor that owe a little too much to Joss Whedon), but we couldn’t have more different taste in men. She likes BIG men. BEEFY men. Thick, solid, hard bodied, bullnecked MEN. Hugh Jackman at his biggest is just barely within her scale of manly. When I look at her current boyfriend, I see a husky, wide, unattractive Neanderthal.
She refers to the men I like to date as Great Danes. They tend to be tall, thin, more elf than dwarf if you know what I mean. I use descriptions like swimmer’s body, whipcord, lean. My BFF on the other hand has been known to describe them much as Guy Richie did Madonna (gristle and bone). She does not find my type attractive in the slightest. Hugh Jackman, at his slimmest is pushing maximum density for me.
So, it’s not that every hero in Romancelandia is the hottest guy on the planet, it’s that for the heroine of THAT story, he’s the hottest guy on the planet. And I think that rose-colored-glasses kind of thing is part of falling in love (or it always has been for me). The other women passing him on the street may well be thinking “That guy needs to lose a few pounds” or “Dude, drink a milkshake.”
The other issue that limits the normalization of heroes is that when in their POV, writers don’t tend to show them obsessing about their bodies or looks. He can be self-deprecating about his looks, or apologetic if he’s “rugged”, but he can’t worry his jeans make his ass look flat the way a heroine can.
So I find myself in disagreement with those advocating for more normal or realistic heroes (or heroines for that matter). Because I don’t think that our heroes are examples of impossible standards, I think they’re expressions of how every woman looks at her man when they’re falling in love.