The following is syndicated from prevention.com and is posted here with permission.
Last week, The Pacific Standard reported on a new study that suggests chick lit—the novels you typically bring to the beach—is partly why women suffer from low self-esteem.
The study, published in the journal Body Image, asked a group of 159 women to read one of two excerpts researchers manipulated in terms of the character’s weight, wardrobe and kinds of comments she makes to herself, and others, about her body. Afterwards, participants answered questions having to do with their own weight and sexual attractiveness.
The results? Women felt considerably crappy about their bodies when their protagonist was overweight and making negative comments about herself. Hence the idea that, “Chick-lit is hazardous to women’s health,” and, “Psychological danger lurks between beach book covers.”
But prior to this study, chick lit didn’t exactly get rave reviews. “These kinds of novels are believed to be lite stories about women looking for true love in the big city, usually with pink covers involving some kind of high heel,” says Slate writer Jessica Grose, “Which is not to say that some of those books aren’t great, just that they’re the kind of books that critics look down on.”
Yet, when chick lit is praised, it’s done in a backhanded way. Like when The New York Times profiled the up-and-coming genre in 2006, citing it as “extremely adaptable,” and “eclipsing local writers in terms of sales,” yet titled the piece, “The Chick Lit Pandemic.” Pandemic. You know, because those are super positive.
Or, in February 2012, when New York Times writer Douglas Brinkley reviewed Jodi Kantor’s best-seller The Obamas and asked to, “Call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it’s about marriage, or at least one marriage, and a notably successful one at that.” Woof.
Back to the study, I know that, as readers, we go on a journey with the heroine. But what I don’t know is where the rest of this research is. Were the readers’ feelings unchanging from start to finish? What impact, if any, did the happy ending have?
Curious, I sought out romance novelist Maya Rodale. Not that I don’t think I could have saved your beach books myself, but I knew it would help to have someone who does not own two copies ofTwilight weigh in.
Here, why Rodale thinks you shouldn’t take the study at face value, plus her picks for great chick lit. Happy reading!
How would you define chick lit?
Maya Rodale: What defines chic lit is the emotionally satisfying ending. A key part of that is the heroine feeling confident about herself—not just because of the hero’s love but also because she’s fallen in love with herself, too.
Why, then, do you think it constantly comes under fire?
Because it’s so popular. The same goes for romance. This is what women are reading in such huge numbers and sharing with their friends and family.
Were you surprised by the study?
Yes! When you slam stories about women, you slam the idea that women are interesting—valid—and I completely reject that. To take these excerpts out of context of the narrative makes an interesting point about the way readers relate to characters, but it’s not a solid basis for dismissing the whole genre.
Is some chick lit better than others?
Chick lit is not inherently bad. People have this perception that it all focuses on dress size, but I don’t think it does. Sure, readers may feel the heroine’s dissatisfaction with her weight in chapter 2, but by the end of the novel, they’ll also feel the heroine’s happiness, self-acceptance and satisfaction.
What is some chick lit you have read and loved?
Good In Bed by Jennifer Weiner. Confessions of a Shopholic by Sophie Kinsella. Jennifer Crusie is always writing amazing, imperfect characters that are not your standard beauty queens, and are funny and normal. Lisa Kleypas’ contemporaries are great, too. Her characters are really strong and overcome obstacles and insecurities deeper than not being able to find jeans that fit. (For more ideas, check out Prevention’s 100 Best Books.)
Still, my favorite is Bridget Jones’s Diary. She totally obsessed over her weight, but it was hilarious. And then Darcy tells her, “I love you just the way you are.” Does it fix everything? No, but it makes you feel good. [ED NOTE: Same goes for the movie because Colin Firth.]
Love chick lit? Share your favorite titles in the comments below!