Warning – expletives
I’m not a huge fan of the term ‘women’s fiction’, but I can see, to a point, that it serves a purpose. There’s no doubt that some fiction is written with women in mind as a target audience, and, as a woman myself, I’m part of that target audience. I’m also forty-six, so I’m not particularly interested in reading about the trials and tribulations of women in their twenties and early thirties. I do like to read about women of my own age however, but there is something that’s been really annoying me about these women lately.
I’ve read a few books over the last few months where the main character has been in her forties or fifties. I should relate then, shouldn’t I? I should empathise and sympathise and see bits of myself, my hang-ups, my worries, my problems, in that character. But on many occasions recently I haven’t. And why? Because these women are all too often too bloody perfect.
To those younger women reading this – everything they say about reaching your forties is true. Yes, you will be more confident, yes, you will be more likely to not give a fuck (and in my case, for some reason a lot more likely to use that word). You will care a lot less about what people think about you. Those are the upsides. The downsides are mainly physical if I’m honest.
I like to keep fit and healthy. I’m lucky enough to be naturally on the slim side. But to maintain this, I go to the gym three times a week (ha – I try to go to the gym three times a week. And fail). I watch what I eat (without being too parsimonious about it). It helps, I think that I don’t eat meat or dairy. I’ve been religiously cleansing, toning, moisturising, exfoliating, face packing etc. for years. I still have wrinkles. My chin is sagging. I have jowls forming (gosh, I sound gorgeous don’t I?). I have cellulite. I have flabby arms. It’s because I’m forty-six. That’s all there is to it. I’m ageing.
So what does this have to do with books?
Well, I’m heartily sick of reading about women my age (or even older) who are perfect. Perfect physically. These women are so bloody gorgeous that younger men can’t resist them. They are flawless, perfect, the best-looking woman in the room. Well, maybe some women of that age are. But not women who, like these characters, drink a bottle of wine every night before falling into bed without moisturising then get up and work a fourteen-hour day in their high-flying accomplished career. Not women, who, like these women, seem to exist on huge restaurant meals, takeaways and (oh horrible clichés) chocolate and tubs of ice cream. Not women who, like these women, never, ever, ever exercise (unless it’s a romantic walk in the woods with a man twenty years younger).
Is it just me who wants a reality check here? Is it just me who can’t bear to read another scene where a young man removes an older woman’s clothes and gasps at her flawless beauty? I’m not saying older women aren’t gorgeous, because we are. But it would be nice if these fictional women were even slightly real. If they stressed over how they look naked, like normal women do.
Now, I’m a feminist. I wish women didn’t stress over their appearance, and I wish all men (as most do TBH) accepted us as we are – cellulite, thread veins, wobbly chin and all. But we do stress over it – even the most feminist among us. It’s human nature I think (and years and years of conditioning that tells us we’re only valuable because of our looks). Am I wrong to want to read about women like me? Women who look like crap in the morning. Women who do often drink a bottle of wine in one evening but then find it hard to answer an email, let alone work through twenty complicated case hearing files, or (for god’s sake) run their bloody cupcake shop or wildly successful internet dating site/detective agency single-handedly.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a bit of escapism. But I want to believe in these women, I want to like them. I certainly don’t want to be irritated by them. Otherwise, I find it very difficult to care about them, or what happens to them. And so very difficult to care about the book.