The news about fat representation in romance looks decidedly mixed, but this post is dedicated to identifying what’s great about it—the increasing range and depth of perspectives in the genre and the green shoots of body positivity that are growing. As I described in a previous deep dive into the subject of fat representation in romance, more doesn’t always mean greater fat acceptance or positivity. Frequently, books that center fat characters get bogged down in fatphobia, body shaming, and other practices that overwhelm the love story and stifle the lift one would normally get from a happy ever after.
That said, experiences vary widely and so do tastes. The important and very good news is that, increasingly, readers who want more diversity in their romantic fiction don’t always have to make a terrible trade-off between romance that ignores fat people and romance that traumatizes them or reproduces traditional social hierarchies about size and gender.
To recognize that progress and help folks find what they need, I’ve made a list of must-read recent romances with fat or plus-size main characters. This list blends romance that celebrates and embraces their MCs with those that delve into the challenges of being fat in this world with sensitivity and care. What’s especially nice about the romance genre in this moment is its range. This selection encompasses many different types of diversity: race, gender identity, sexuality, and also sub-genre. There are romcoms, erotic romance, and suspense in the mix.
Must Read Romances With Fat MCs
Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Harbor centers three people brought together in the aftermath of a tragedy that affects them all, who find themselves inexorably drawn to each other nonetheless. It’s a serious meet-disaster, and yet author Rebekah Weatherspoon still manages to infuse the story with softness and levity in a very humane way that really makes the whole thing work. This is polyamorous Black romance with elements of suspense, which also deals with grief and mental health. One of the things I loved the most was the rapport between Shaw and Vaughn, long term lovers contemplating adding a permanent third to the mix. I loved the intimate way they spoke to each other. For example when Shaw steps out of line, Vaughn knows just what to say to reel him in: “Can I ask you something?” Vaughn says. “Sure.” “Negro. Are you high?”
That cracked me up. They were funny, steamy, tender, and soft all at the same time. In conversation, the two acknowledge that society isn’t supportive of Black women no matter how beautiful and brilliant and generally confident they are. And so Brooklyn, the woman at the center of their new triad, is all that, but that outside pressure sometimes takes a toll. It’s realistic yet wonderfully nuanced and balanced.
Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon
In this funny, multicultural, and surprisingly emotional marriage of convenience romantic comedy, the terms of a will dictate that Xeni must marry a man her aunt chose for her in order to inherit a very sizable estate. In this case, that love interest is a warm, big-hearted bear of a man.
Xeni is great fat representation and great romance for several reasons. First, because the story acknowledges Mason’s size and the way people sometimes fail to accommodate. Second, the text accomplishes that without centering or pathologizing his weight. Moreover, Xeni and Mason have a playful rapport, and are kind and lovely to each other. Though the forced marriage situation adds a touch of unreality, their banter and connection is very genuine. And, last but not least, Xeni stands out for its upfront and matter-of-fact portrait of bisexual lead characters.
If The Boot Fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Oct 27, 2020)
Rebekah Weatherspoon puts a modern twist on the Cinderella story in this second installment of her Cowboys of California series. Struggling screenwriter Amanda McQueen’s got 99 problems, and her exploitative, abusive boss is the biggest one. With the help of a well-connected friend, she plans to escape that drudgery of assisting a temperamental diva for at least one night.
Meeting a handsome Hollywood star at the Vanity Fair Oscars party and dancing the night away is just the icing on the cake and no more, or at least that’s what she thinks. But Sam Pleasant is more than eye candy, he’s a total sweetheart. Despite their different positions in the world, Sam and Amanda really hit it off. It’s clear they share the same values and tastes and have red hot chemistry. They also have solid banter and a real relationship that we see develop organically on the page. Sam cares about her as a person, and he opens his home, his family, and his heart to her with ease.
A caveat: By making its protagonists part of the entertainment industry, it places Amanda in an an environment where she can not be fully insulated from toxic standards. Readers who want romance to explore some of issues that women face in Hollywood, but also want a robust romance that doesn’t let those conflicts overshadow the love story will really appreciate the balance this book strikes. The book may not be a good fit for those who want to steer away from negative tropes surrounding size.
Get A Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
“Slowly, slowly, she sank to the ground. Put her clammy palms against the cool tiles. Breathed in. Breathed out. Breathed in…Breathed out, her whisper like cracking glass, ‘If I had died today, what would my eulogy say?’ This mind-blowing bore had zero friends, hadn’t traveled in a decade despite plenty of opportunity, liked to code on the weekends, and never did anything that wasn’t scheduled in her planner. Don’t cry for her; she’s in a better place now. Even Heaven can’t be that dull.”
It gets even better from there. A wealthy and sheltered young Black British woman has a not-so-near death experience and decides to radically change her life for the better. Chloe Brown doesn’t look or sound like any character I’ve seen before. She’s intelligent, genuinely witty, and she’s also a fuller figured woman living with chronic illness. Her challenges go way beyond the typical negative self talk and stubborn miscommunication and they don’t center on her size. The writing is vivid, full of rich, specific detail, crisp and quotable. The thing I admire the most is that this book doesn’t just tell the reader how special Chloe is; it shows you. As in the passage above, Chloe’s interior monologue is funny, her voice unique.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Talia Hibbert practically perfects her signature blend of joyously fun, insightful and emotional romance in the second of the Brown Sisters series after Get A Life, Chloe Brown. This one updates the fake dating, friends-to-lovers and sex-only arrangement tropes in a social media–mad society. When the somewhat unnecessarily heroic Zaf rescues Dani from a fire drill, their moment is captured on camera and broadcast for the world to see via social media. The reaction is swift and largely positive. The attention creates an opportunity for Zaf to gain exposure and much-needed funds for his sports charity, so they decide to play along for a limited time. Their fake dating reveals unspoken feelings and in a way shows that really they’ve been pining for each other all along.
What makes this special is that wonderful blend of froth and depth. Zaf is a cuddly bear, but he has deep emotional scars and anxiety. Dani is cuddly too, to some extent, but prickly as well. She too has scar tissue from past relationships with partners who really didn’t understand her drive. Zaf does too. They both already know and care for each other as friends, plus Zaf has the emotional intelligence and has done the work to know how to be an excellent partner. It’s a pleasure to watch them work it out. This one has real conflict, but none of it revolves around size.
Guarding Temptation by Talia Hibbert
I’ve seen several people describe Guarding Temptation as an ideal COVID-19 romance read—a fast, fun and tropetastic novella for when your mind is scrambled and you need something quick and dirty (double meaning fully intended). I wholeheartedly agree. The key players are James, a big man who’s just a little rough around the edges, and Nina, who is the classic forbidden fruit: his best friend’s little sister. In addition to being temptation incarnate, Nina is a radical and an idealist who’s too busy saving the world to get into a serious relationship, which is what James really wants.
In truth, commitment is truly what they both want, but pride and preconceptions keep getting in the way. When Nina takes refuge in James’s home and under his care and protection, forced proximity finally forces them to realize they’ve both been pining for the same thing. Romance lovers will appreciate the skill with which Hibbert deftly weaves together several beloved romantic tropes into one compact package. And those craving a fat leading man will appreciate the way that Nina thinks about James. The writing in those sections is scrumptious. Hibbert delivers sex and body positivity without qualification.
The King of Bourbon Street by Thea De Salle
Thea De Salle has gifted the world with a scorching hot cross between erotic romance and romantic comedy. When a sheltered heiress on the run from an overbearing society mom shows up at Sol DuMont’s boutique hotel in the New Orleans Garden District, it’s pretty much true lust at first sight. Sol DuMont is a newly divorced and openly bisexual 37-year-old hotel chain proprietor who’s lost more than a little of the pep in his stride due to some family loss.
The truth is Sol was stuck in his grief for a while. When he sees an adorable, plus-size Disney princess–looking woman in his lobby, he’s intrigued. He thinks Arianna Barrington, AKA “Rain,” just might be the distraction he needs, and he provides the adventure that she didn’t know she was missing. Even after finishing her masters in social work, Rain’s mother still sees her as a pawn to marry off to the most strategic match. Though she’s determined to forge her own path, first what she really needs is a break. The two enter into a short-term relationship that is initially driven by attraction, restlessness, and curiosity. Sol introduces Rain to kink and power play. He becomes her dom and she his submissive. They’re lovely together and soon discover that there’s more to them than chemistry.
That sexual exploration is the central driver of the story, but at the same time “His instinct was to take care of her however she needed to be taken care of.” What little conflict there is stems from outside, the unstoppable force of her ambitious momma who is determined to bring her daughter to heel and back into the family fold by any means necessary, even if she has to ruin her daughter’s new boyfriend to do so.
The King of Bourbon Street is renowned among some reviewers for its positive and loving representation of its fat heroine. The text neither ignores nor downplays Rain’s shape. We often see her through Sol’s eyes. Though the story is told in the third person, we’re privy to Sol and Rain’s thoughts. While she has a few moments of insecurity, overall she knows who she is and that how he cares for her is how it should be. She’s smart, kind, and beautiful. He relishes every inch of her from her thighs to her bounce and it is glorious to behold. The only thing that doesn’t work is the cover which doesn’t look anything like these characters, but that’s not under the author’s control.
Private Eye by Katrina Jackson
This is the sexy, queer, body positive, multicultural spy romcom you didn’t know you needed. Private Eye resembles nothing else on the market, and thank goodness for that because it’s a total pleasure to read.
Maya is a “cam girl” with a regular client, Kenny, whom she quite enjoys seeing in their weekly sessions. It was never in either of their plans to catch feelings, but here they are: there are real feelings on both sides of the camera. Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to her, Kenny originally started seeing her when he was surveilling her for an operation. That he’s been a client complicates things. The fact that he’s been hiding who he really is makes it far worse. Eventually, he has to come clean. Maya could be the key to finally taking down his true target, and the stakes are high. The guy is an international arms dealer.
Their chemistry is even stronger in person than it was online, but the deception is a real barrier between them. Nonetheless, they have to pretend to be a couple for the sake of the mission. It’s a great setup and Jackson executes it well. Private Eye is a real fan favorite. I especially like blogger Jazmen’s description: “Think Fifty Shades of James Bond—but classier and way less misogynistic.”
Teach Me by Olivia Dade
Teach Me is a quiet triumph—a gentle, wonderfully sweet romantic comedy about two teachers in Maryland, both divorced, both in their 40s and a little bruised. Rose is warm with her students and a little frosty to the rest. Martin, a newcomer to the school, at first seems like a rival, but he soon becomes an ally. Though Rose is initially skeptical of him, his charms are too obvious to ignore: “Adorable. Simply adorable. So sweet she might as well call him dessert.” Martin is a textbook cinnamon roll hero. This is author Olivia Dade’s specialty and she’s unabashed about it. But Martin is also very specific and real.
The way Dade writes love scenes between these two is authentic and humane. It’s all the more romantic for acknowledging the awkwardness. Plus, Martin may be rusty, but he gets an A for communication and consent right off the bat.
Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade (Oct 6, 2020)
Dade sets the story in the world of TV fandom and gives us a hero who’s Hollywood handsome but far from an alpha. Spoiler Alert is the rare romance that has a fat heroine dealing with public fat shaming but is otherwise filled with joy, sensuality, and adoration for the character, so the reading experience is an unmitigated pleasure nonetheless. Plus, it’s the rare romance with a gorgeous and clearly fat woman on the cover.
This smart, funny, and steamy book centers a scientist who writes fan fiction of her favorite show and cosplays in her free time, and then ends up dating the star of that show. Marcus looks perfect but has his own pain to deal with. In the beginning it’s April who has a hard time seeing below the surface to the real, intelligent human beneath the shiny facade. It’s a thoughtful, surprising, and emotionally satisfying contemporary romance that does a lot of things incredibly well.
Their Troublesome Crush by Xan West
Their Troublesome Crush defies every traditional romantic convention. It’s queer, polyamorous, and kinky. It centers Ernest, a trans man who’s fat and autistic. Nora, the love interest, is fat and disabled. Ernest and Nora share a connection through the dominant they both love, but now, as they plan their shared partner’s birthday celebration, they realize they might also have feelings for each other. The event forces them to contend with feelings that may unsettle their current arrangements. It’s a lovely blend of intimate, thoughtful, and tropey, combining friends-to-lovers and forced proximity.
This novella exemplifies the concept and significance of own voices. The author wrote about the intricacies of what it’s like to be fat and trans and disabled because they experienced all of those things themselves. They also enjoyed an insider’s understanding of dominance and submission. It’s great representation because it’s just wonderfully humane and specific.
There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon (YA)
Sweetie stole my whole heart. She’s a driven high school student who loves both music and running track and knows her worth despite the negative messages she has to field about her size within her own home. Sweetie’s mother is wracked with insecurity. She’s convinced her daughter will never be happy, never be loved, the way she is. Luckily, Sweetie isn’t buying what her mom is selling, so she sets out to prove her wrong. Her love interest is a popular kid from a wealthier family within their community who’s smarting a bit from being dumped. Their connection is great: he treats her well and fully understands she’s a star. What I remember most about this book is Sweetie’s spirit, her confidence, her compassion, and then there’s her amazing girl gang. Again, it’s possible to both acknowledge some external friction and preserve a character’s dignity.
For More information on Fat Representation in Romance see:
The Troubling Gap Between Fat Representation and Fat Acceptance. Part 1 of this two-part dive.
Corey Alexander’s Fave Fat Rep I Read In 2019 is a great resource if you’re looking for romance that doesn’t fall into these sorts of negative tropes. [Alexander, also known as Xan West, recently died, but their legacy lives on with their wonderful body of work, much of which focuses on inclusion.]
Olivia Dade’s YouTube presentation on fat representation in romance.
Book Rioter Jessica Pryde also compiled a list of romance with fat main characters.