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Poll: What do you like in your heroines?

[poll id="200"]

To give equal time to the women, I present the heroine poll. Do you like your heroines perfect or flawed, physically? Personally, I like both but if I had to choose (and I am making you if you want to vote) for the physically flawed heroine because perfection can be boring.

Really beautiful heroines have their own problems and some authors choose to deal with it such as in The Guardian by Joan Wolf or even to some extent in Surrender of a Siren by Tessa Dare.

From The Guardian:

I bit my lip in indecision, and then I told her something I had never told anyone else-’ not even Stephen. “I have this test I apply to people. I think: If I had smallpox, and my face became scarred, would this person’s feelings toward me change?”

Eugenia said, still in that softly gentle voice, “And that is how you select your friends?”

“Yes. For example, I know that no matter what I looked like, Sir Matthew would still want to hunt with me, and Susan Fenton would still want to gossip with me, and…” I let my voice trail away. “Do you see what I mean?”

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

34 Comments

  1. Sabrina
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 12:07:21

    I love that example! I like the Physically Perfect heroines who don’t care about looks and instead fight against them. Or, they don’t realize how lovely they look. Something about that pulls me in.

    I want the hero to think she is the most beautiful creature ever, not to notice flaws…even if she has them.

  2. Danielle Yockman
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 12:09:37

    Okay so they don’t always have to physically flawed…but too much perfection gets annoying. I love Tessa Dare’s Sophia who is beautiful but she has a birthmark and I think I saw an outie belly button which while not a “flaw” is not something you often see described. Nice change of pace!

  3. Janine
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 12:31:38

    I like both, so it is hard to choose. My favorite really beautiful heroine is Louise Vandermeer from Judith Ivory’s Beast. I love the way her beauty isolates her.

  4. cassandra vert
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 12:39:32

    Like Janine, I don’t mind a beautiful heroine as long as she’s not a Mary Sue. Beauty has its own problems, and those can be interesting (as in To Beguile a Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt).

  5. Diana
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 12:54:55

    This poll question reminds me of some old-school 70s and 80s romances I read where the heroine was the physical reincarnation of Helen of Troy: gorgeous, beautiful, stunning. Of course, her beauty was referenced, like, every single page. Her personality, on the other hand… Less than awesome; you know what I’m talking about – dumb, selfish, a total moron, passive to the extreme. I always had such contempt for these heroines and their heroes, because you knew exactly why the heroes were pursuing them, and it wasn’t for intelligent conversation or a quick-witted mind.

    It’s gotten so much better now, of course. I’ve read a lot of novels that have beautiful heroines who are also awesome and intelligent, so that you can see why the hero loves them and it’s not all about someone’s outrageously beautiful good looks. Still, I have a lingering soft spot for the plain/scarred/flawed heroine – especially the heroines who are not beauties, but have sparkling and fabulous personalities. I find it romantic to see heroes fall in love with heroines that they would not normally notice because of the heroine’s kindness, wit or otherwise great personality.

    So, in conclusion, I like both, but the intelligence and personality has to be there to back up the looks (or lack thereof). There’s nothing more annoying than reading about a gorgeous moron or a plain girl who has the charisma and charm of a wet blanket.

  6. kirsten saell
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 12:59:25

    I’m okay with both physically flawed and unflawed heroines, but if she’s gorgeous I’d like to see something in her personality or history that would possibly turn off a suitor.

    But I hate hate hate pseudo-flaws, like “her mouth was too wide” or “her eyes were to big” to be considered classically beautiful. Or how about, “she was too curvaceous to blah blah blah” or “her willowy figure was not in fashion”? Grr. Those aren’t flaws. Unless having Angelina Jolie’s lips and eyes, or Salma Hayek’s or Kiera Knightley’s figure are now considered horrible burdens, lol.

    Give me facial scars, or a disfigured leg or wild, frizzy hair and a missing finger (like Bettie Sharp’s Ember). Give me a harsh, abrasive, self-hating personality like Ann Aguirre’s Jax. Something other than “she was too self-sacrificing” or “she enjoyed mannish things like hunting”.

  7. joanne
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 13:36:44

    I like it if their physical appearance ia nor a major part of the story. Ditto the heros appearance. (this does not apply to Roarke from the In Death series who should remain perfect, please). There has to be more to the characters than them being beautiful or fat or strong or slender or whatever.

    I think Amanda Quick did some fun flawed heroines. Many wore glasses, one had slightly bucked teeth. The looks weren’t paramount to the story/romance but those small things kept her heroines interesting.

    Shelly Laurenston’s Sara from the Pack Challange series has a seriously ugly scar running down the side of her face and it made her a target for some terrible verbal attacks and scared some other characters but the hero kept talking about her pretty face. Sigh.

  8. Tee
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 13:38:39

    Some of the polls lately have been missing that necessary quotient–it’s called “something in-between.”

  9. Janet W
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 13:48:04

    Thank you Tee! That’s what I’m voting for and I searched around for two great examples of books that streeeeeeeeeeeeetch the gap between gorgeous and gormly!

    http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=2276

    Skylark, Jo Beverley — this is a cool book. The heroine is stunningly attractive and popular and has always relied on “knowing” that about herself. She has to disguise herself as an old crone, complete with a hairy wart (!) in order to try, with her childhood love, to discover who is attempting to kill her little son. It’s not easy being ignored, as she discovers.

    http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=2398

    To Wed a Stranger, Edith Layton — this is even worse. The hero is truly the Belle of the Ball and not particularly kind to other women. She gets extremely sick on her honeymoon and almost dies — she has to have her hair cut off, she’s bled. What a mess. And almost harder to bear is how she’s regarded by others when she’s recuperating.

    No worries: these two historicals have HEAs but they really explore what INNER “beneath the surface” beauty means.

  10. Amie Stuart
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 14:10:54

    Honestly I don’t care about looks *that* much BUT… I can’t stand me some stupid, effin, wandering-into-the-dark-basement-in-her-panties heroines. Same goes for asshole or stupid heroes.

  11. belldandelion
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 14:14:23

    I’m not fond of perfect anything, but so long as you’re not dealing with Marsha Brady as the heroine, some sense of normal humanity is all that is required. I tend to prefer my physically perfect heroines to have some decent flaw, whether it be social, mental or emotional, just to spice it up a bit and keep me on my toes caring about her.

    That said, I do have a guilty pleasure in a physically flawed heroine (and I’m talking a rather big flaw – not “oh no, I’m a size 8 in a size 6 world :P). This has a lot to do with my own personal experiences dealing with society and people’s opinions as a whole. I was born with pretty big facial disfigurements – it’s enough to have people stare at you when you’re shopping for groceries or picking up your son from Kindergarten. Now, I’ve managed to carve myself out a pretty decent life: married, have a kid, worked in customer service (ahhh- the stupid questions, gotta love the stupid questions!)

    It’s always interesting to see how well the author can identify with the stigmas that society can place on you and the emotional imprints that can be hard to overcome. Kudos to the ones that do it well, but whatever the heroine is like, I’d rather read a well-written and believable scenerio than some dribble that has me rolling my eyes and muttering, “Yeah, riiiiight.”

  12. HaloKun
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 14:23:43

    Flawed, all the way. Thanks Kirstin, for bringing up the heroine of Ember. She made that story for me. I love flawed heroines, it’s just more interesting. Why do I care about someone with beauty and popularity who will obviously get the man she’s after? Now, a flawed heroine, or even someone who is just average but with a unique personality adds suspense to the story.

    Plus it’s like Kevin Smith wrote in Clerks, “There are a million pretty girls out there. But how many of them will bring you lasagna to work?”

  13. Eve Paludan
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 14:24:19

    I like the heroine to have pretty hair, but other than that, her looks don’t really matter to me. She has to be smart and have courage and other positive attributes.

    One of my recent reads was Dancing In The Moonlight by RaeAnne Thayne. The heroine is a disabled vet who is missing part of her leg. The author really did a wonderful job with this character and also with the hero. What a great read.

  14. Sharron McClellan
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 14:34:48

    I think it depends on the character. I wrote one who was a TV reporter–of course she was hawt because it was her job to be hawt! But she had issues so she wasn’t what I would call perfect.

    On the other hand, I LOVED Minerva from Bet Me. A size 18 in a world of perfect people–she rocked! And not just because she was a size 18. But because by the end of the book, she realized that it didn’t define her.

    And that’s what I like–characters that grow and change–and not just because of how pretty (or not!) they are.

    So preference? Not really!

  15. Shiloh Walker
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 14:46:03

    I’ll take flaws. Perfection in a hero or heroine gets rather boring.

  16. Vivienne Westlake
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 16:16:46

    I don’t necessarily want a physically perfect heroine. I chose physcially flawed, though I do like heroines who are beautiful as well. I think it depends on the heroine’s attitude. In paranormals, I like heroines who are sassy and sexually confident and know without a doubt that they are sexy and aren’t afraid to use that to challenge the hero.

    But, in other genres, I would go for the heroine who is imperfect and finds a hero who loves her “just as she is”. Who didn’t fall in love with Colin Firth/Mr. Darcy in Bridget Jones when he tells her he accepts her and likes her “just as she is”?

    I think a flawed heroine works as long as the hero finds her beautiful. That being said, I don’t know if I would read a lot of books where the heroine is severely flawed/”ugly”. It might distract from the fantasy element. Average, a scar, burns, not a beauty but charming (as Scarlett O’Hara was described in the novel version)… those things I’m totally comfortable with. I think the difference is whether the physical flaws distract from the heroine’s other attributes. If she’s dynamic, witty, and smart, it is easy to overlook those things and see why the hero loves her. But, if ugliness is her main attribute and there’s not some sass or wits to drown that out, then I would not read on. I don’t want a heroine I would pity.

  17. Maili
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 16:56:56

    Didn’t vote because I don’t know what ‘physically flawed’ is. Not conventionally beautiful, or a person with a physical disability (including scars, birthmarks, etc)?

    If not conventionally beautiful, I vote for physically flawed.

    If a person with a physical disability, I vote for anything but this.
    It’s not because the heroine has a disability. It’s because the author tends to go overboard – the swan-diving off a mile-high cliff kind – with the angst of having a disability, which usually irritates the hell out of me.

    Physically beautiful characters – female or male – generally bore me. Again, it depends on how the author does it. If she harps on about the heroine’s beauty, into a bin the book goes. Same for physically flawed heroines. If the author repeatedly points out how plump the heroine is, how skinny she is, how twitchy she is, how ordinary she looks or whatnot, it’s putdownable.

    That said, I think I do have a psychological hatred for “handspannable waists”, which used to be part of what made the heroine so perfect and beautiful. You know, “…so tiny that his hand – JUST ONE HAND, MIND! – could easily span her waist WITH STILL ROOM TO SPARE!” Oh, please. I can’t even span a three-year-old’s waist with both of my hands. Either his hand is freakishly massive or she’s literally a lamp pole.

  18. Moriah Jovan
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 17:32:23

    “handspannable waists”

    Corset training. It was possible and desirable in the Victorian era.

  19. Maili
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 17:42:10

    @MorahJovan

    Corset training. It was possible and desirable in the Victorian era.

    Good try, but it was from the days when Native American, Viking, Medieval, futuristic roms and contemporary roms were popular. Also western and ante-vellum(?) historicals, if I remember right.

    But even so, it still would not be possible for a typical male hand to span a waist. It’s just not physically possible. If a typical male hand can curl around a typical mug, look at the size of the mug and tell me again it’s possible for a waist to be that size. Two hands? Possible, but one hand? Nope. Won’t believe it. :D

  20. Christine Rimmer
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 18:08:28

    This is my fantasy. That means the heroine is not perfect. Because I can relate to her and I’m not perfect. Okay, I don’t mind if she’s beautiful, as long as she’s really been tested as a woman and a human being.

    Kudos to Meredith Duran on this. In Written on Your Skin, the heroine is beautiful. But she has so paid her dues. And she’s scarred. I love a scarred heroine almost as much as a scarred hero.

  21. Moriah Jovan
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 18:47:43

    @Maili:

    Good try, but it was from the days when Native American, Viking, Medieval, futuristic roms and contemporary roms were popular. Also western and ante-vellum(?) historicals, if I remember right.

    I misunderstood, then. I thought you were saying it wasn’t possible with two hands in any era. Of course, I could learn to read more closely. ;)

  22. Edie
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 20:11:40

    I would actually like a little less focus on the looks of the characters in romance books. Not saying there shouldn’t be descriptions, just over-tired of the emphasis placed on them where every second paragraph has one character rhapsodising about the other’s looks. Their changing eye colour, luscious locks, svelte figure, manly chest..
    I did vote for flawed.. but only if the author doesn’t go on and on about it and give the heroine a full bloomin complex about it. ie I do not understand why it is so rare for a heroine over a certain size to be comfortable with herself.

  23. Becca
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 21:29:42

    If looks are part of the character or plot – either physically perfect (Roarke!) or otherwise – then I care about how the characters are described. But otherwise, I agree with Edie @22: how the character looks don’t really matter to me. (in the Hero’s eyes, of course, she should be beautiful. It doesn’t matter how anyone else sees her.)

  24. kirsten saell
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 21:51:10

    I always thought the hand-span waist was if the guy placed his open hand on her belly, the tip of his thumb would touch one side and the tip of his (probably middle) finger would touch the other side. Not that one hand would go all the way around–that would be “encircle” not “span”.

    Before I had my horrible children, I had a 20 inch waist–and dated a couple of tall guys who could span it with one hand. And encircle it with two. *sigh* Kids ruin everything.

  25. Zoe Archer
    Sep 03, 2009 @ 22:57:01

    I like my heroines to have character and spine. Their appearance doesn’t matter to me so long as they are as fully actualized and rendered as the heroes. I cannot abide doormat heroines who are servile and needlessly self effacing, nor reckless, thoughtless “headstrong” heroines who make moronic choices.

    Whether she’s physically beautiful or plain, faultless or flawed–it doesn’t matter, just make her strong and smart, as I aspire to be.

  26. Kaetrin
    Sep 04, 2009 @ 01:42:55

    I voted for physically flawed but I do like “physically perfect” too. Of course, my definition of perfect is likely to be very different from someone else’s.

    I don’t usually understand what it means when a books says (for example) “her mouth was too wide for her to be beautiful”. Does that mean she looks like Julia Roberts? I think she’s beautiful.

    Recently I finally came across a man that I would describe as “not handsome but compelling and sexy” (Australian actor Callan Mulvey) but even then I feel it is very much in the eye of the beholder. However, for the first time, I could imagine what that sort of phraseology means.

    In any event, by the end of the book, if I like the characters, they have become, if not perfect, physically beautiful.

  27. Sherry Thomas
    Sep 04, 2009 @ 10:00:40

    I assume a romance heroine is attractive enough. That’s a baseline assumption.

    But if her appearance is pointed out as especially perfect or especially flawed, then it had better be important to the story.

    If not, I don’t see the point in dwelling on her looks.

  28. Dani
    Sep 04, 2009 @ 10:10:39

    I don’t care what the heroine looks like. It’s her personality that matters most to me. If she’s a complete moron or if she’s an utter bitch, her looks won’t save her for me and I’ll think less of the hero for wanting to be with her. I’ve tossed more than one book in the trash for this offense.

  29. Susan/DC
    Sep 04, 2009 @ 11:55:22

    I voted for flawed, but I’ve loved lots of books with beautiful heroines. It really doesn’t matter too much, except when the author says someone isn’t beautiful because back in the (insert era here) a wide mouth (or whatever) wasn’t beautiful. I don’t like it because I read this as a wink at the 21st C audience which has different standards of beauty, and it pulls me right out of the book. I also don’t like the 1970s style heroine with her Barbie figure and looks, whose eye and/or hair color is described ad infinitum and ad nauseum. Every heterosexual male lusts after her, and that lust is also described in far too much detail. (She also tends to constantly stamp her little feet and hit her little hands against the hero’s chest, but the heroine’s childishness is a different reason to dislike these books.)

    OTOH, I want the hero to believably fall in lust as well as love with the heroine. She’s got to have something to appeal to his animal appetites. Her charm, integrity, inner beauty, intelligence, etc are certainly the key drivers, but I like it if she has beautiful skin or eyes or some other physical attribute. It’s not required, just a personal preference. An example is Laura Lee Guhrke’s Guilty Pleasures, where Daphne is plain but has the body of a goddess.

  30. Emily
    Sep 04, 2009 @ 12:01:28

    I picked flawed but like a lot of people I generally enjoy both, as long as the author doesn’t beat me over the head with either. I don’t need to be told every third page what a beauty the leading lady is or have the heroine whine about not being perfect every five minutes either. You know what I mean?

    I don’t read books with characters who completely define themselves by those things all the way through because its just not interesting. Looks can have a big effect on a person and if handled correctly those issues can be fleshed out without all that nonsense.

  31. DS
    Sep 04, 2009 @ 16:18:14

    Don’t care what she looks like as long as she is interesting. So I didn’t answer the poll.

  32. Magdalen
    Sep 06, 2009 @ 13:20:33

    I didn’t take the poll, even though I LOVE to take polls, because it’s a false dichotomy. Most (all?) good romances lack the omniscient narrator — you get the hero’s POV or the heroine’s or some mix thereof (or, occasionally,the heroine’s first person account). So as readers we never know precisely what the heroine looks like, but rather what the heroine thinks she looks like or what the hero thinks she looks like.

    So if you had asked me whether I prefer heroines who like the way they look vs. one’s who think they are flawed, I’d have picked the former option. I have a couple reasons for this. First of all, a heroine obsessing about her looks is boring. Even one who obsesses about what’s she’s eating is boring. Grow up already. Accept your imperfections (we all have them) and move on to something more interesting and less narcissistic. (Put another way, I don’t think a heroine’s poor self-image is a good reason to keep the hero & heroine apart; it’s just too self-indulgent.)

    The other reason is that having a character’s physical attributes described in overly-flattering or overly-disparaging ways is like a thumb on the scale: it distorts what’s real within the fictional world. I had a problem, for example, with Catherine Montefiore in Kathleen O’Reilly’s Sex, Straight Up. In her own mind, she was unattractive. I finally decided to ignore her own self-deprecation because it annoyed me. My guess is that she was very beautiful but not a size zero. That’s okay because women who are size zero are occasionally very very unhealthy indeed. But apart from the heroine’s self-assessment (definitely negative) and the hero’s attraction to her (quite obviously positive), we readers didn’t get any more reliable information.

    Mostly, though, I think it’s okay if characters in romance novels are all acceptably attractive because the alternatives are too distracting. People with physical attributes outside the statistical norm (I count myself among that number) fall in love, but their love stories don’t read like romances. My husband tells me I’m beautiful not because I want to hear it but because to him I’m beautiful. That’s a pretty harmless bit of self-delusion, but in a book — flattened to fit on the page — it would look odd and need a lot of explanation. In real life, I just laugh at him.

  33. A
    Oct 13, 2009 @ 05:48:45

    I really don’t have a preference. Traditionally, romantic heroines tend to be beautiful — if not drop-dead gorgeous, at least attractive enough to pass muster.

    I feel sorry for romance that lately beauty is “out of fashion” (LOL.) There’s nothing wrong with being good-looking and pretty people fall in love same as anybody else.

  34. deirdre
    Nov 05, 2009 @ 14:44:06

    I don’t mind flaws other than the trend of plus-size heroines. Picturing a woman with rolls of fat paired with the ripped stud hero is a turnoff I can’t get past.

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