by Katie Harper
As a romance novelist, you know I love my cover models, but have you ever actually analyzed the people gracing the jackets of your books? I know you can pull the image of your favorite novel from your memory with ease, look a little closer at that cover and you’ll see a completely different image. The stereotypical romance novel cover stars a hero and heroine who are clearly high, probably on pheromones, and are so attracted to each other it would literally take an act of God keep them apart. In fact, I’m willing to bet that some cover couples are freak dual-gendered Siamese twins. The couple is usually perched atop a bluff or frolicking in a hidden forest or mounting a horse. It doesn’t really matter where they are as long as they have wind. Wind is key to a romance novel cover. The hero needs something to keep his long dark hair out of his face so he can focus on the heaving breasts and hooded eyes of his heroine.
All romance heroes have the same wardrobe consultant, personal trainer, and hairstylist. Their wardrobe consists of Regency wear, buccaneer gear, vampire fangs, tuxedos, and more pairs of black leather pants than any man should legally be allowed to own. Oddly, their closets seem to be completely void of shirts. Maybe it’s their herculean arms or their massive rippling chests, but no self-respecting romance man lets anything but the soft skin of his heroine touch his torso. All male cover models have the same hairstylist. And while he always looks like he just climbed off his Harley, sailed the globe or stepped out of the shower, romance men have the I-didn't-try-to-look-this-way look down. In reality, what does their hair say? It says the male in question uses shampoo, conditioner, deep conditioning hydrating hair mask, detangler, mousse, gel, hairspray, blow dryer, flat iron, curling iron, and, possibly, those little pink sponge curlers we used to sleep on as young girls.
Romance women are almost an afterthought to the romance hero. Her qualifications are simple: long hair, large breasts that can be molded to spill out of the top of a dress or shirt with engineered precision, and the ability to throw their heads back to mimic the look of climactic ecstasy. Their wardrobe is filled with dresses that are three sizes too big so they can slide off the shoulders of the heroine with ease, men’s dress shirts (maybe that’s where all the heroes’ shirts have run off to), and bed sheets that can be wrapped around the heroines’ vital parts. The romance woman has a much simpler hair ritual. It’s basically shower the night before, go to bed, wake up, and go. Her hardest job is the “look”. You know the look I’m talking about. The one that says, “I just had the most amazing sexual experience in human history, without taking my clothes off, under this purple sky in a gale-force wind.” It’s not as easy as it looks people. That look takes years of training!
Why do romance novels adhere to these clichés? Because no one wants to see a man with a pot belly, early onset male pattern baldness and pock marked skin caressing a gangly, hook-nosed mutant librarian with dull mousy hair. We don’t read romance for reality. REALITY SUCKS! In the real world the most exciting thing in our lives is the flavor of syrup we add to our morning coffee. We read romance to escape into a world where life is more exciting than a plane crash, the parties so debauched they make Bacchus sit back and say,“Whoa”, and where the hero and heroine will live forever having explosively monumental sex until the end of time.