(Trigger Warnings for Body Issues, Eating Disorders, Self-Harm)
Writing and reading romance is really a singular experience. As someone who does both, I can attest that there is nothing like it. The talented, prolific writers found in the genre consistently roll out books and characters that I fall in love with, and get lost in their world. The incredible readers we are lucky to have are voracious and discerning, while also compassionate and kind. I belong to a tight-knit community of wonderful people. And I found it no less than exhilarating to see the response to a recent unfortunate incident concerning a certain well-known cover model and his ill-conceived, malicious social media post.
It’s not irrelevant to mention here that we in the romance community are more or less used to a certain amount of judgment and criticism from the world at large, other writers and readers, publishers and even our very own friends and family. We wage an almost daily battle against all sorts of preconceived notions and are put in a position where we are forced to defend our work and preferences. But it’s not all bad, because this antagonism brings us together and inspires us. In part, this may have something to do with the fact that the audience for romance is largely female. If anything, this makes our struggle more compelling and it also affects how we relate to the books and to each other. Allow me to just quickly add, romance is not alone in being viewed as somehow inconsequential. Even writers in the historically male-dominated genres of science fiction and fantasy may have the same criticisms lobbed against them. As woman enter that genre, and may combine it with romance, they are potentially doubly dismissed. I will elucidate why this is important a little later.
Now to the matter at hand. If you aren’t familiar with the incident in question, a cover model named Paul Blake was compelled to post a facebook status which was an ignorant and ill-informed attack on body size and the body positivity movement. Mind you, his impoverished sense of the English language resulted in a poorly phrased post, which led to much confusion among those who read it, and caused some to believe at first that he was actually AGAINST body-shaming.
The inaccuracy of any belief that he may be standing up for victims of shaming became clear as the conversation continued in the comments, and he emerged as a mean-spirited, cruel bully. As if his anger at body positivity and his assertion that it directly compromises the health and wellness of others wasn’t bad enough, he began a war with commenters who pointed out the fallacy of his argument, shared their personal experiences with weight and body image issues, and occasionally expressed consternation at the ambiguity of his original post. During this back and forth, Mr. Blake became more aggressive and much more tasteless, insensitive and even dangerous, including the comment that really garnered him negative attention, (and here I must include a trigger warning) where he addressed someone directly and said "you should go eat your last Dairy Queen Blizzard and then go hang yourself in the closet."
So at this point I imagine you must be pretty disgusted with Mr. Blake and the entire situation, and of course I can’t blame you. But here’s the silver lining. The romance community reacted in the best possible way. As I implied earlier, romance readers and writers are nothing if not resilient. We put up with a lot from those outside of the community and we have to pick our battles. Suffice it to say, it was impossible to sit this battle out. Standing up for women who have experienced attacks on their appearance, those who struggle with self-love and self-acceptance, and those who have or are in recovery from eating disorders, the community filled social media with counters to the harmful and ignorant statements made by Paul Blake. We banded together to run him out of the community and showed him who’s boss. One of the most delightful things we saw was, in direct response to the Dairy Queen Blizzard comment, people changed their profile pictures to that ofthe delicious treat. Some even mobilized to visit the ice cream chain en masse, which, in a humorous turn, caused those who weren’t aware of the incident to comment, “What’s with the Blizzards?” I guess in a way Dairy Queen owes a debt of gratitude to Paul Blake for the boost in business, but as a professional organization they probably have the decency and good sense not to (subtle hint to you, Paul).
I have personal experience with body issues as I am the mother of teenage girls. If you are with me in this boat, you may have seen your child struggle with body issues that could directly affect self-esteem and happiness, and worse. If you or your children have been victims of body-shaming, you know that it’s one of the most painful things that could possibly experience. It could stand in the way of our opportunity to enjoy the best of what our world offers to us; love, joy and our connections to each other. The romance community places a great value on those things. We appreciate compassionate, heartfelt stories that provide us with the hope andgratitude we need to tap into those wonderful emotions and that tie all of us together. That’s partly why I believe there was such a vehement response to Mr. Blake. And it’s not only readers and writers, but other cover models who spoke out against him, and even provided their services to authors who may have had Mr. Blake on their covers. This was an especially significant gesture, as many in the community vowed to boycott anything with which Mr. Blake was associated. While this is understandable, it may unfairly affect writers who were unlucky enough to have had him grace their covers.
In conclusion, I take nothing but inspiration and positivity away from this whole messy occurrence. We rallied together against a truly unfortunate message that was thrust into our fold and we handled it (for the most part) with fellowship and aplomb. We asserted ourselves as readers, writers, women, survivors, consumers and participants in the community we love and which unites us. What could be better than that?