The abs-olute truth

A friend recently asked for comments on an idea she had for a romance novel. I gave it a thumbs-up, but suggested she give the hero normal abs.

Now, who in the world would say such a thing?  Except a guy who has normal abs.
Abs to a guy are like breasts—and every other body part—to a woman. Plenty of romance novels feature femmes who hate their “curves” or lack thereof; who snarl at their hair for being too dark, too light, too curly or too straight; who think their legs are too short, their butts too big or their breasts too small or too large or a little of both. The dudes, on the other hand, tend to resemble Greek gods.
I get it: Romances are fantasies. The heroine has to be normalish so that your typical reader will identify with her. And the hero has to have Olympian qualities because, face it, who fantasizes about a normalish guy? But, apart from the Presidential Physical Fitness Awards, I don’t get how the measure of a man could be how many sit-ups he can do.
My hasty and ridiculously incomplete Internet research revealed that zero percent of the five lists of what women look for in men listed ripped abs or six pack abs—or abs of any kind. I further found that in one hundred percent of the only Yahoo Answers conversation I checked, gfhfhgv said, “They aren’t important but they’re nice. :)”
So, abs aren’t essential, but you wouldn’t kick them out of bed for eating crackers.
I also found an advocate in—of all people—Six Pack co-founder James S. Fell, who, after matter-of-factly noting how blown away lady doctors are when they see his washboard torso, says, “Maybe there are some women for whom the only requirement for seeing them naked is you sporting a visible rectus abdominus, but not only are they in the minority, these Snookis of the world should not be high on your list of people you wish to impress.”
His highly unscientific survey found that when asked how important rock-hard abs are in making women lose their ability to resist a night of unbridled sin (a slight paraphrase on my part), about three-fourths echoed gfhfhgv, and the rest said they didn’t give a rip.
Hell, 10 percent of the respondents said they didn’t care about a man’s body at all, which indicates there are actually women in the tribe of “men who would sleep with anything as long as it has a pulse.” On the other hand, the most popular responses were, “As long as his belly doesn’t stick out, I’m good,” and, “He must at least have a flat belly.”
So abs snuck in through the back door.
Compare that to Arabia’s Lifestyle blog, where writer May Rostom tells men that what matters are teeth, nails, feet, facial hair and “your back.” “As sexy as your abs may seem and as hard as it is to get those six packs at the gym, the minute you turn around we take a long hard look at your back,” she says. “What we’re hoping to see there are muscles, no hair or just a few, and soft shiny skin.”
Finally, an article at Ask says that what a woman looks for has nothing to do with shoulders, teeth or midsection protrusions, but whether the man looks like he has a job, if it’s a good one and if he’ll be able to hold it long enough for her to benefit.
Always good to include the cynical point of view.
That same article, though, makes one very good point. What a man thinks when he spots a woman in a nightclub—or anywhere else—says writer Rodney Battles, is, “What would she look like naked?” and “What would she be like in bed?” Having been a man for the last forty years, I can say with great confidence that this guy is on to something.
The good news for all women is that even when a man does get to see you au naturel, he never really stops imagining what you might look like naked. So if you, like the heroines in your favorite romance novels, curse your “curves,” hate your hair or belittle your breasts for being whatever they aren’t, chances are, in your man’s head, all that stuff is perfect.
As are his abs. Because, if he’s managed to get a naked woman beneath him, sit ups aren’t at issue. It’s all about how many pushups he can do.

2 thoughts on “The abs-olute truth”

  1. "But, apart from the Presidential Physical Fitness Awards, I don’t get how the measure of a man could be how many sit-ups he can do."


    Seriously, this put me strongly in mind of how women get judged by their appearance, too. Remember how Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli got roundly criticized on the internet for having the temerity to WWNB? (Win While Not Blonde) According to an astonishingly large number of safely anonymous and immature individuals, Ms Bartoli didn't deserve to win, regardless of her demonstrable skill and talent and the years of training and practice she put in, solely because she is not tall, not blonde, and not model-beautiful. Really? Has it come to this?

    It is, I have to admit, cold comfort to know the shoe is sometimes on the other foot, and that men get this sort of judgment too.

    But yeah, I get it too — romance is fantasy. But how much are we perpetuating our own body image problems?

    OTOH, how many of us female romance readers want to fantasize about normal-looking guys?

    On the third hand (on the internet, nobody knows you're a six-armed alien), who wants to think about these issues all the time?

    I have to raise my hand and admit I fell right into this trap myself as a writer: a hero who's Greek-god handsome, a heroine who's reasonably pretty but not stunning — and I won a national award for that book. Makes you wonder. The thought of what stereotypes I might be broadcasting never even crossed my mind while writing it.

    And I've read Palm Springs Heat — you fell into it too, at least with respect to all the gorgeous women.

    I would love to know if your friend writes a romance with a normalish-looking guy, and then see how it's received and how well it sells. Romance, for me, is escape, but if it's too unreal, I don't like that either. On the fourth hand, if it's too real, it gets either boring or wrenching.

    Oh dear, oh dear. What to do?

  2. Thanks, Christie. There are lots of beautiful women in the Fast Lane world because Fast Lane promotes stereotypes about beauty. Lara's insecure about certain aspects of her physique, and does a lot of work to make herself over to have a chance at fitting in. Sushma's really short, has breast implants and refuses to wear her glasses in public. Her insecurities are hinted at in Palm Springs; in Malibu Bride you find out more about them–and get a chance to see her without the "remedies" she employs to "correct" her "flaws."

    One thing I've written about on the blog a number of times is that men aren't as obsessed with female perfection as some women–and certainly media aimed at women–seem to believe. My goal is not to perpetuate stereotypes, but to make a point that while men like Clay and Holt spend all their time around "beautiful" women, these men fall in love with women for more reasons than just physical attractiveness

    (You might say, "But, Dave, your wife is beautiful," and I would say, "You're right." But I would add that I was physically attracted to every other women I dated in high school and college, too, but I didn't marry them.)

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