I am proud as punch to be hosting Marianne de Pierre’s on the next stop on her Peacemaker blog tour. I love Marianne’s work. I love Marianne, and I love her post below, on body image in genre fiction. As you might know, my forthcoming novel, Writing Clementine, deals with issues of female body image. It’s a topic very close to my heart, so I’m utterly thrilled that Marianne has written such an articulate, thoughtful piece for me to post here.
Anyway, enough of my rabbiting on. I’ll hand over to Marianne now. Enjoy!
A meandering short memoir contemplating The Female Body Image in Genre Fiction
Just so you know: my thoughts on this topic are completely anecdotal. I’ve done no research and have read little on the subject, so it’s more an exercise in reflection than a critical evaluation.
I didn’t grow up reading comics, therefore my sense of the feminine body image wasn’t distorted by their over-sexualised misrepresentations. In fact, the books I read as a young woman didn’t give me much sense of the corporeal at all. Not that I’m saying that women were disembodied (!!), but more that they weren’t really physically represented in novels to any great degree – especially, in the early science fiction I read. I think that’s why I took to A.C. Clarke over Asimov and others. In the Rama sequence, Nicole Des Jardins Wakefield was the first female character I encountered in SF who felt like she had both intellect and a normal body – not a vague face with a set of breasts and some arbitrary personality traits assigned to her.
When I moved into reading epic fantasy, female characters got very fuzzy. Many of them seemed to fall into stereotypes. The decent, neat-figured plain girl in plain clothing (our heroine), the plump matron, and the curvaceous courtesan. For a long time, I could only fit myself into the girl in plain clothing body image (because, let’s face it, we all look for characters we can relate to), but that was more a default because the others were such a bad fit. Where were all the other hundreds of body types? Didn’t they exist in these worlds? Had there been some horrible genetic accident?
It wasn’t until the I hit on Octavia Butler’s fiction that I began to meet female characters whose physical representation felt more credible and not just a device to clue the reader into what role they would play in the story. My science fiction reading broadened and deepened, but recreating the Butler experience remained a bit hit and miss. Some of the New Wave of British SF and F writers took care to present the female body in different and more realistic forms but others hadn’t progressed much in their depictions from the 50’s.
I suppose, at least, that speculative fiction doesn’t earn quite the bad press that Chick Lit garners on the subject. “Typical chick lit has received criticism for presenting negative role models for women by portraying characters who have an unhealthy obsession with their body weight and size.” Mary Ryan. But I would say that hardly puts us in the clear. We tend to get it wrong by omission or the use of stereotypes. The thing that bothers me most, though, is that it seems to have fallen to female authors (and only a handful of male authors) to correct this. So please point me in the right direction if I’m simply reading the wrong books.
Marianne de Pierres
Marianne de Pierres is the author of the acclaimed Parrish Plessis, the award-winning Sentients of Orion science fiction series and the upcoming Peacemaker SF Western series. The Parrish Plessis series has been translated into eight languages and adapted into a roleplaying game. She’s also the author of a teen dark fantasy series.
Marianne is an active supporter of genre fiction and has mentored many writers. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband and three galahs. Marianne writes award-winning crime under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt. Visit her websites at www.mariannedepierres.com and www.tarasharp.com.au and www.burnbright.com.au
Peacemaker is Marianne’s new series featuring iconic characters, Virgin Jackson and Nate Sixkiller. Peacemaker combines elements of the western genre, science fiction, crime and urban fantasy.