As part of Diverse Books Month I want to talk about why I decided to write a differently abled character in the Darkness Falls series. This post will contain spoilers for Jax, so if you haven’t read it, skip this post until you have.
Phoebe was an unusual character for me – I needed someone that was strong but vulnerable at the same time. There’s a lot of emotional darkness in the Darkness Falls world and to really empathise with the other characters, especially Jax, I needed a woman that had literally gone to hell and back.
The idea to make her a double amputee was born after reading a fascinating article about a club of female amputees. Their stories were so uplifting and inspiring and it struck me that we just don’t read about amputees that often. I can’t name a single book I’ve read that had an amputee in it and that in itself is kind of shocking.
I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of the stereotypes in erotica – all the female characters are either slim with big boobs or “curvy” but still beautiful (and for some reason that has to be specified, because if it’s not explicitly stated everyone will somehow think curvy means ugly). I’ll hold my hands up and admit that I’ve been as guilty as everyone else of pandering to it. My characters might be damaged and complex emotionally, but externally they’re beautiful in a societally normative way.
In some ways it’s kind of offensive that we’re too scared to write characters that aren’t perfect in case they don’t come across as sexy enough. When did sexy become confined to physically perfect specimens? In real life, some of the sexiest people I know are the ones with the biggest (societally perceived) flaws.
Body mods are another weird thing. Tattoos have become societally normative. Piercings have become societally normative. Why can’t scars? Just because something is inflicted rather than chosen, why should it make a person any less beautiful than if they’d chosen to modify themselves? Why do social media outlets such as Facebook and Instagram censor images of inked over mastectomy scars?
Why is it different between men and women? Why are scars sexy on a man, as evidence of his rugged background, but they’re never mentioned on women unless it’s as a means of bringing in some necessary back story rather than something that’s sexy about them?
Who defines beauty anyway? Why do we care so much about what’s on the outside? Why do we write fiction that makes it seem like adventures and romance only happen to slim, big-boobed women with all their limbs?
And so Phoebe was born. She’s a physically tough woman out of necessity. It’s not about soft curves and big boobs for her, it’s about the strength to move herself around and deal with her prosthetics. It’s about being scarred and still being an amazing and beautiful individual. It’s about wearing skirts because they’re easier to get her prosthetics into rather than because they’re pretty and girly. It’s about having the fortitude to bounce back mentally and emotionally from the kind of trauma that nightmares are made of. It’s about dealing with the insecurity over her scars and stumps that society has instilled in her. It’s about being sexy because she’s in command of herself and not because she puts out.
Because she is amazing and beautiful and deserves a happy ending, like any other fictional character.
As one of the organisers of this event, I’ve been lucky enough to read most of the posts in advance. One of the comments that keeps coming up again and again is, to loosely paraphrase, “I was looking at the shelves and didn’t see myself reflected in any of the fiction there, so I felt I had to go out and write it.”
If we don’t write diverse fiction that incorporates all walks of life, people of all sexualities, colours, religions, economic means and abilities, then we are a huge part of the problem damaging future generations, because we are the ones propagating the myth of “societally normative beauty”. If a girl with an amputated limb can’t pick up a book with a character she can relate to, she feels outside and other and somehow wrong. The same goes for people of all the walks of life I mentioned above. If their reflections are hidden from mainstream fiction, you can’t blame them for feeling ‘lesser’ and marginalised. If the fairytales we spin only happen to middle class, model pretty, white people, can we blame anyone not in that category for thinking fairytales don’t happen to people like them?
How can any of us claim to be feminists for writing strong women in healthy relationships, when we’re blatantly ignoring the big put down we’re dishing out to 95% of the female population in conjunction with those strong characters and healthy relationships?
So my challenge to you as authors, as editors, as agents, as readers and as bloggers is this: write, edit, represent, read and promote the hell out of books that actually reflect humanity in ALL its amazing and wondrous glory. Let’s reflect the world back on itself so that it can see it’s beautiful in all its many shapes and forms. Let diversity be the new societal norm, without boundaries and unattainable standards.
Let us love and be loved equally, whether we have big boobs and all our limbs or not.