Courtney Milan asked in the comments for titles of stories with women who were unapologetic about their looks and there were some great suggestions from commenters.
In came to my mind. Woman finishes medical residency and embarks on a weight loss, spiffy up program to snag the guy she always lusted after. Plans, of course, go awry.
I haven’t read it in years, but Sharon Sala’s Amber by Night reminded me of Linda Howard’s Open Season when I first read it. One difference was that the hot version of the heroine was her secret alter ego–she became “Amber” at night to work in a club and turned back into Clark Kent for her day job. Needless to say, things didn’t go according to plan.Definitely not a romance but a black comedy, I loved the amazing Fay Weldon’s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. It was a wonderful book ruined by that piece of film excrement with Roseanne Whoever. (The BBC production was far, far better but is hard to get a hold of for American audiences.
The heroine of Rachel Gibson’s latest novella has implants.
Might have made a few rash decisions—like the Lily tattoo next to her hipbone and her breast augmentation. But it wasn’t like she’d gone stripper-huge. She’d gone from a B-cup after the birth of her son to the full C she’d been before. Now she hated having spent money on a tattoo, and was also ambivalent about the money used on her boobs. If at a better place in her life, she might not have done it. If she’d had the confidence she had now, she might have spent the money on something more practical. Then again, Lily liked how she looked and didn’t really regret it.
True Love and Other Disasters by Rachel Gibson recommended by Dabney
Faith Duffy in Gibson’s True Love and Other Disasters is an ex-Playmate and proud of it. She’s even proud of her stripper heritage.
It does conform to the “hero was attracted to her before the makeover” trope, though.
Natural Born Charmer by Susan Elizabeth Phillips recommended by cleo
Natural Born Charmer by SEP has this. The heroine gives herself a makeover – iirc she dressed tough, wearing baggy clothes, as armor or camouflage and then showed up in something feminine (after already winning the hero). There’s a secondary romance with the hero’s estranged mother, who’s 50 something and pretty unapologetic about having a little work done (again, iirc – it’s been awhile, and she may keep it a secret). This is not my favorite SEP – she recycles a lot of plot elements from other books, but it’s not bad
The Bellini Bride by Michelle Reid recommended by Tabs
How about Michelle Reid’s The Bellini Bride? The beautiful heroine is notorious for having been a famous painter’s mistress/muse. Both the heroine and hero have to work through their various issues with shame in regards to the nude paintings. As a bonus, it also features one of my absolute favorite “grand romantic gestures” at the end.
Snapped by Laura Griffin recommended by Annabeth Albert
The Heroine in Laura Griffin’s Snapped knows she looks good, loves clothes and shoes, and looking her best and really enjoys that and totally dresses to show that off, and she was refreshing for RS as she was neither the prototypical ugly duckling in manly clothing RS heroine nor was she the simpering-in-face-of-danger type.
The heroine in Lorelei James’s Chasin’ Eight has breast implants, and slightly regrets getting them b/c of the loss of sensation but is otherwise completely unapologetic about being a close to 6? gorgeous amazon of an actress. She has a number of other heroines who are totally fine with their looks including Keeley in All Jacked Up who is totally fine with being a wild child and dressing for attention.
I just finished Elizabeth Hoyt’s “To Seduce a Sinner” in which the heroine is not only plain and dresses unassumingly, but both she and the hero acknowledge it and do nothing about it. I kept expecting a transforming visit to the modiste but ended up appreciating much more that the obligatory makeover never appeared and that the characters were appreciated in other ways.
and from Annabeth Albert
I think Elizabeth Hoyt was already mentioned but To Seduce a Sinner was so fabulous because there was no makeover. She desperately needed one by some accounts, but she was fine with who she was and in later books where she makes a passing appearance, she’s still that same woman–not magically transformed by love.
Not exactly the same thing but Beast by Judith Ivory is a great book with a heroine who is fully aware of her beauty and not the least bit apologetic for it.
Miranda Neville’s THE DANGEROUS VISCOUNT has a confidently attractive heroine and a geeky, bookish hero.
The heroine of Judith Ivory’s BLACK SILK, Submit Channing-Downes, is described as funny-looking on more than one occasion. She’s kind of hairy, with crooked teeth, and a lot of the hero’s friends find her creepy. She isn’t bothered about how she looks, and there is no obligatory makeover. The hero is attracted to her because he’s attracted to her. Aesthetics don’t much come into it
I liked the heroine of Mary Balogh’s Slightly Dangerous because she kept thinking of herself as attractive enough, but not at a level to capture the hero’s interest. She was comfortable in her own skin and her unfashionable clothes.
I can’t believe we haven’t thrown out Loretta Chase’s play on the “French modiste-Cinderella motif” with Silk is for Seduction. (Where there heroine IS the modiste, who wants to make over the hero’s fiancée.) And definitely glad to take ownership of her own looks and use them to her best advantage.
Honestly, I think that others finding–and revealing–beauty in a heroine who doesn’t have that faith in herself will always be appealing, for so many reasons, (don’t we all have days of doubt and wish that our beauty would shine through to others?), but I am definitely glad to see so many more alternatives to that mindset these days. Cinderella is my absolute least-favorite fairy tale. I can’t stand her allowing herself to be downtrodden, and then saved by a pretty dress. But it is a huge favorite for many.
On a final note, I just wanted to throw out Jane Goodger’s A Perfect Wife as an example of a female MC who is responsible for her own physical/outward transformation. Can’t believe I forgot that one when I first posted. (It’s kind of a bittersweet story for me, tho.)
The Charm School by Susan Wiggs recommended by Annabeth Albert
Susan Wiggs has a number of heroines who are totally fine with being plain–my favorite is The Charm School because the heroine comes more into herself, but she never becomes a raving beauty at all, she just stops trying to be something she’s not.
More of a makeover story:
The Bride’s Awakening (think it has a different title in the US, sorry) has a woman who not only rejects the hero’s attempts to give her a makeover, she then takes control and decides to have a makeover on her own terms, for her own reasons. Meantime, he falls in love with her in her work clothes – grubby jeans and shirt, if I remember rightly. It’s really awesome.