Women of every shape, size, and ethnic background are beautiful and desirable. Some appreciators of feminine beauty are connoisseurs of a particular kind. Others appreciate what is popular or trendy. A thousand years ago a gap between a woman’s front teeth was considered especially sexy. Just check out the Woman of Bath from the Canterbury Tales.
This is one of the reasons that I wrote The Horned Mage the way that I did. Each of my female characters is possessed of two things, a distinct and powerful personality, and a beauty unique to herself. They all look and behave different. They’re individuals.
When writing that many characters together, especially given their relationships, it can be easy to lose sight of this–I’ve seen it happen in plenty of stories where there are multiple love interests. I’ve definitely been feeling that way with the weretigers in Laurel K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series the last few books. It was my goal not to fall into this trap and to show a diversity of beauty and strength juxtaposed with unique vulnerabilities. I don’t know that I succeeded. I hope I did. It’s a goal I will continue to strive for.
The reason I bring this up is because something has been on my mind lately. A week or two before Hurricane Harvey decided to derail everything I was on Twitter and an image popped up on my feed. It was two beautiful women in bikinis positioned side by side and captioned something to the effect of “Which one is hotter?” I then saw that the tweet was one of an ongoing series of somebody taking side by side photos and asking which one was hotter. The question seemed…pointless to me.
Despite the nature of my work it has never been my intention to objectify my female characters. Admire and appreciate them sure. Fantasize? I am writing fantasy stories so why not. But they were always intended to be written as people. And of course their beauty was compared to one another’s. Never, though, were any of them elevated to the detriment of another character based solely on their physical appearance.
My point is this, it seems to me that the nature of the “harem fantasy” is to appreciate variety and diversity and celebrate it in the feminine form in a way that we all know could never be replicated in real life. It’s fantasy. Real relationships are hard and complicated enough when only two people are involved.
I couldn’t help but feel bad for each of those women in the photographs on Twitter. Each and every one of them was beautiful and desirable and yet their beauty and sexuality, instead of being appreciated, were pitted against one another in a way that ultimately diminished both. I know that nothing I write here will change this. It is human nature to compare and contrast, but can we not do so in a way that the contrast is enjoyed and everyone comes out on top instead of what was happening with these photos? There are always going to be people insisting we compare apples and oranges because they’re both fruit but I hope that my works, and others who work in my genre, explore some better avenues of thought.
I know, I usually write about my writing and my upcoming books, but this has really been in my head lately and I would love to hear what you all have to say on the subject.