Let’s Leave Fabio Out of It
By Kristen Ashley
“So, those are the books that have Fabio on the cover, right?”
Ah yes, the age-old (or seemingly ages old, even though it’s not) question anyone not in the biz (that would be the romance-writing biz) asks me when I tell them I write romance.
They then jerk their head back because they just received “the look.” The look from me that shares they’ve just been immensely insulting and maybe they should have rethought what came out of their mouths when I told them what I do for a living.
Now, I’m a positive person. Serious business can go down, and after I dust myself off, I’ll try to find the lesson, the silver lining.
But this always gets my knickers in a twist. Because, you know, Fabio is probably a decent human being, but not only has he not, to my knowledge, been featured on a book cover in some time, more importantly he didn’t write those books and reducing the hard work and creativity of the women behind the cover to the man on it is très uncool.
There’s no silver lining to that.
This makes one ask oneself, how did a single cover model become the face of an entire genre of fiction whose contributors include such luminaries as Jane Austen, the Brontës. Margaret Mitchell and even Shakespeare?
As I don’t have the resources to do a statistical study on this, I can’t say for absolute certain. Though I’d hazard a guess with probably a +/-.0175 margin of error that a) it’s because he’s a dude and/or b) it’s because people think he’s funny and women read romance, which they also think is funny, so they jump to the reductive in order to c) deride something a woman digs.
So, suffice it to say, I was taken aback at the very first book signing I attended, when I went to an evening function and was confronted with a life-size cutout of Fabio that readers wanted me to pose with.
Bear with me…I’ll get back to that.
“Oh, you write smut.”
Now, you might read that and think, “Goodness, no one would ever say that to the face of a romance novelist.”
You’d be very wrong.
I actually get this more than the Fabio thing. And I like it less. Far less. And it’s likely I don’t have to explain why.
My reaction to this is either walking away or replying, “No, I write love stories.”
Though, the second opens discussion, which usually starts with the response of, “But they have [sex/smut/doing the nasty…you choose] in them right?” Therefore, it’s rare I go there as explaining that “love stories” tend not to be platonic in many cases so sex would be a part of the equation. Not all of it, but a part of it. And I normally don’t feel like stating the obvious, unless it’s something like, “I love chocolate,” when chocolate is on offer, but I’d do this mostly because I want to be certain no one passes me up when there’s chocolate to be had.
If you’re a romance reader, you might be up in arms about reading your beloved genre is reduced to Fabio or “smut” (though, it’s highly likely you already know this all too well).
But think a little deeper about this. Asking these questions to a person who writes this genre, or reads it, and feeling totally okay to do that is at the heart of the matter.
Comparisons are handy. Such as, “Oh, you must dig blood and gore,” when speaking to a neurosurgeon completely diminishes the intricacy, skill and education it takes to be a neurosurgeon.
And yes, I’m comparing writing a romance novel to neurosurgery because it’s my calling, it’s my passion, I’ve worked very, very hard for years and years and years perfecting my craft (and I’m still doing that and that will never stop) and it’s what I do for a living. If, instead, I didn’t come close to passing out at the sight of blood and had any hope of acing a chemistry class (which I do not), and I’d decided to be a neurosurgeon, I’d not be a big fan of, “You must be into the macabre,” if I shared my profession.
Back to the life-size cutout of Fabio and the apparent embracing of this phenomenon by the romance-reading community.
Many readers also proudly proclaim they love smut. Yes, they do.
Considering all I’ve said above, am I okay with that?
Because I feel that a romance reader can do whatever they want. They’re my sisters, and shockingly, they’re also my sisters-in-arms.
This is because people are waking up to the fact that this genre has always been under attack solely because of the gender who produces the majority of it, and consumes it, and now we realize we must defend it. There is systemic bias about this genre, as there is with just about anything that can be considered “female” (try to be a stay-at-home mom and get some respect for making the decision to focus your life on raising the next generation, then employ an after-her-children-are-raised, stay-at -home mom and you’ll meet a woman who knows hard work and responsibility), and that directly correlates with reducing it to Fabio and “smut.”
But if romance readers have decided to adopt, rather than reject, these stereotypes of their genre—a genre that, at its heart, are love stories, but in reality are stories of the human condition, including exploring fears and desires and traumas and struggles and rage and remorse and grief and prejudice and acceptance—I support that. Mostly because it’s not “If you can’t beat them…” mentality and more of a “I really cannot be bothered with your idiocy so I’m not going to engage” mentality. Or perhaps another mentality that starts with a word beginning with “F” and that word isn’t “Frolic.”
If you’re wondering, I don’t remember if I posed with the Fabio cutout or not. It was my first event and I was a little overwhelmed with the beauty of the sisterhood I was experiencing.
But if given the option again, I won’t.
Or I will.
And both are just fine.
They’re just fine for everyone.
Unless you don’t read romance.
And if you don’t, please, leave Fabio out of it.
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About the Author
Kristen Ashley is the New York Times bestselling author of over sixty romance novels. She’s a hybrid author, publishing titles both independently and traditionally, her books have been translated in thirteen languages and she’s sold nearly three million books.
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