Saturday, May 19, 2012

Curvy Girls and Me

Today's post has been percolating ever since editor, erotica writer, and cupcake maven Rachel Kramer Bussel asked me to be part of her "Curvy Girls" book tour.  

I jumped at the opportunity to review Curvy Girls.  My girlfriend is self-proclaimedly "fat" and I love every delicious curve on her body.  I tend to be attracted to quirky curvy geek girls and artists.  I like curves.

And maybe that's because I don't have very many.

Even though I tend toward sex-bloggerism, I never writing about my body--about its response and action yes, but about its basic form? No.

And there's a reason for that.  In fact, I'm sharing thoughts and feelings with you today that I've never shared with anyone else.  Why?  Because even in my head it seems so "poor little rich girl."  I hope it doesn't sound that way to you.

As I waited for my review copy of Curvy Girls to arrive in the mail, I got... the fear.  I don't know if you're as generally paranoid as I am, but I have this ever-present fear that people are going say things that hurt or offend me.  So when I constructed in my mind what Curvy Girls was made of, I started to wonder/worry that maybe its method of elevating big women would be to denigrate small women.  

I am small.  I'm short.  I'm skinny.  I have the body of a 14-year-old boy waiting for a growth spurt.  I get the idea a lot of women who are bigger envy my body type, but throughout the years a lot of people have managed to make me feel really crappy about the way I look.

I've been told (repeatedly, by one of my sisters) that I look like a crack addict.  Others have told me my cheeks are too sallow, my belly curves the wrong way, they're grossed out by my ribs and my spine.  I look homeless.  I look like a kid.  I look anorexic--or better yet, I'm told that I am anorexic.  Or, "Are you anorexic?  So-and-so said you're anorexic. Are you sure?  All the girls in the lunchroom say you're anorexic." Sometimes it's phrased as a compliment, which I can't get my head around, and sometimes as an insult, and sometimes with grave concern for my health and well-being.

Even though none of these "well-meaning" (or not) jabs are true, guess what I see every time I look in the mirror?  A homeless anorexic 14-year-old crack addict.  I hate this shame I feel for a body I should rightly treasure.
"It just isn't healthy to have a body like yours."  

I bet that's one thing curvy girls and I have in common--the number of people who have decided we are not healthful.  They're so concerned about us, because our bodies aren't right, aren't normal, aren't aligned with their standard.

I know that's a lot of backstory for a book review, but it goes to show what deep emotional reach Rachel's book had for me.  Even before I'd laid eyes on the thing, it had already brought up this stir, and even the trepidation that I might encounter those familiar jabs about my body's inferiority.

The book arrived in the mail, and I dove right in.  The cover is gorgeous and I really like the typeface, paper weight and especially the black lace impression in the corner of the page at the start of each new story.  Aesthetics is important in a book.

And so is content.  The foreword by April Flores started this collection off eloquently and powerfully.  Her very first line spoke to the heart of me, as you'll understand after having read my preamble above: "For the longest time, we have been told the lie that being thin equals being beautiful, happy, and desirable."

Sommer Marsden's "Runner's Calves" is fun and fast (it's about runners, after all!), setting up what becomes almost a theme pairing throughout the anthology of a bigger woman with a thinner man.    

"Before the Autumn Queen" by Angela Caperton is sensual and literary, followed by the sexy threesome story "Champagne & Cheesecake" by A. M. Harnett, which made me laugh right off the bat with its mention of "victory tits."

"First Come, First Served" by Lolita Lopez is expertly voiced, and happens to speak to my fetishes for 1st person erotica and lines like "Would you come on my tits?"  Umm... yes, please.  "Small Packages" by Tenille Brown is infused with appreciation, worship, and lust for the curvy form.  

"Decadence" by Satia Welsh tripped me up a bit. Its multiple POVs, even during sex scenes, felt head-hoppy despite the section breaks.  The voicing in Nina Reyes's "Excuses" is excellent (I'm a sucker for 1st person present tense), and its impromptu photography session provides a playful backdrop for a cheeky and sly story.

"Recognition" by Salome Wilde and Talon Rihai is so relatable, so human, and lives up to its title so well my queer heart had to forgive the head-hopping.  By that point in the anthology, I needed some lesbian action. *smirk*  Speaking of relatable, Gwen Masters's character talking to herself in the mirror in "Passing the Time"? Spot on.  I've had many mirror conversations with myself.  Such a great story of frustration.

"First Date" by Louise Hooker was engaging as hell.  I love anything involving a webcam.  "At Last" by Jessica Lennox is letter-style lesbian confession erotica. The sparse dialogue was so apt and excellent I wished there had been more, though the ending was a little abrupt.

"Wenching" is brave piece by Justine Elyot, and took me where I wanted to go: to the heart of shame, the fire of it, and the phoenix rising (and in costumes!), all while confronting MY personal fear of being cast as: "Mean. Insufficient. Meager. Miserly."  Perhaps I ought to take offense, and instead I took each of those words as deserved slaps because, true or not, I've allowed myself to believe my body is my fate.

Starting with the title, "What Girls Are Made Of" by my fellow Torontonian Evan Mora reminded me of a story I once wrote called "Painted Nails and Puppy Dog Tails," with its strong butch/femme dynamic.  Of course, Evan's work kicks WAY more ass than mine.  This story... wow, truly a pleasure to read.  Just what my queer heart was begging for!

"Appetite" by Elizabeth Coldwell is relatable from the get-go (I hate it when other customers stare at my groceries and then look at me like they're in deep analysis mode--makes me so self-conscious!).  The piece uses fat and cheap fabrics assertively, saying "this is sexy" like it's challenging us to disagree.    There's fire here.  And then... then it's time for the BIG treat.

Kristina Wright's "In the Early Morning Light" hit me with its sheer honesty.  This is my favourite sort of writing.  This is literary erotica at its best: engaging on the very deepest level, plain-spoken, wonderful.  The next time I hear someone bad-mouthing the genre of erotica, I will refer them to this story because it is quite simply perfect.

"See and Be Seen" by Arlette Brand takes everyday eroticism and pushes it to the boundaries of comfort, bringing up questions of "should" and propriety.  Rachel Kramer Bussel's "Big Girls Do Cry" takes a theme of "wanting" and makes you squirm while you wait, setting up a promise of kink, of spankings to come.  I was lying on my couch reading this story, and it actually made my toes curl and my feet kick against the cushion because I wanted that promise fulfilled.  That's what a good spanking story's all about.

Isabelle Gray's "Marked" is artful, but I'd have loved to feel more pain in a story about new tattoos.  And at the end is "Happy Ending" by Donna George Storey, a story I found relatable on the "guy" side--the jealousy, possessiveness, lust, and utter inability to articulate how attractive I find my girl in a way she can properly hear.  Ultimately this story, and I think the book as a whole, describes a journey toward acceptance.  For Ellie it's about learning to love her "big ass," for me it's learning to see my Self in the mirror instead of a crack addict, or any of the other names I've been called. 

What I took away from Curvy Girls was the idea that we pretty much all have things about our bodies we'd like to change.  We all cater to our shame, and the best way out of it is to celebrate what we have--without disparaging the bodies of others.  

Because there are people in those bodies too. 

Follow the Curvy Girls virtual book tour at 



  1. Hi Giselle

    Many thanks for this wonderful, insightful commentary on the book, which has provided much food for thought. Maybe in the form of donuts ;).

    What you had to say about my story has really made me consider how deeply semantics feed into all our attitudes towards body image. When Richard says what he does to my Wench, he is making that point. But he leaves a lot out.

    For a start, all the wonderful descriptive language about ample female flesh harks back to a time when it was fashionable and considered universally attractive. As a historian, he would know that - and he would know that times have changed substantially since then.

    Also, for every 'lush' there's a 'gross', just as for every 'meagre' there's a 'svelte'. He could have pointed this out - but he is in the business of making his Wench feel desirable and attractive, so he doesn't.

    I'm sorry if anything I said in my story made you feel uncomfortable - that really wasn't my intention. I suppose I feel that bigger people have taken so much flack for so long that perhaps an element of overcompensation is understandable. But I didn't mean to upset anyone who feels caught in the crossfire of the new positivity about curves.

    For what it's worth, I hate all this guff about 'real women' - all women are real. All people are real. And all through my youth I longed for a boyish figure - in fact, I still do.

    Thanks again for a terrific read.

    Justine x

  2. I'm so glad you commented, Justine. I'm so glad somebody commented! I was starting to feel like this review came off super-negative when that's not at all how I intended it. The negativity and hurt is my own and comes out of me.

    Justine, I really enjoyed your story, even if *a character's* words did throw me off-balance. I understood your wench. Her sentiments felt familiar to me. Those words which I focused on (as April Flores did in her Foreword) represented recognition more than anything else, since those are all words I have been called or call myself.

    Seriously--I call myself a miser ALL THE TIME. I've been called MEAN by strangers on the street. More than once. It's recognition that slices into us. If jabs were not apt, at least to some degree, they wouldn't hurt.

    Thanks for opening a dialogue, Justine. I was really hoping someone would. I'm coming at this book from such an uncommon perspective, I think, and that's why I wanted to share my voice and experience. As I said in the post, I never talk about my self-consciousness because I'm so afraid no one will understand. But, then again, I'm afraid of everything.


  3. Hi Giselle,

    I'm just starting to get caught up on the other posts on the Curvy Girls virtual book tour (don't like to read any before I write my own :)). I love this post. What a beautiful response—and I smiled when I read your line about "a lot of backstory." I had a line like that in my post too, though I ended up scrapping it as it didn't seem necessary (mine was less personal backstory than rambling commentary, lol, so I just continued on; but I did have a line like that originally!). But I also seemed to include a lot of buildup before talking about the actual book. I think it was because this anthology somehow seemed so important to me subject-wise. There was something really opening about it, at least to me, and the topic seemed to call for a certain exploration, which I really feel the book did justice. Strikingly so, as far as I'm concerned.

    As I interpret what you wrote here, it seems it had a similar effect on you, which seems very cool. Thanks for sharing this so personal take on a subject that seems so very relevant (to me anyway).

    All best to you,

  4. I loved your post too, Emerald. I was very curious to see what other writers on the blog tour had to say.

    I think the universal relevance of this book has to do with the fact that we ALL have bodies. If we're human and alive and living on earth, we've got 'em. Being part of this blog tour sort of gave me a podium to express thoughts about my own embodied experience that I'd always been afraid of sharing.

    Thanks for stopping by. :-)