Harlequin Enterprises is a publisher of romance novels. I think the first and last time I had one in my hands was 1973. That lack of current knowledge about the product and its umpteen variations hasn’t stopped me from mocking the stereotypical formulaic writing.
In the past I’ve written about heaving breasts and throbbing loins and happily-ever-after endings. I’ve never quite understood the appeal of this genre but millions of readers can’t all be wrong. Apparently an author who’s mastered the template can earn incredible money churning out several titles per year.
In a front-page story in the National Post we see that Harlequin has made an unusual move. The publisher is looking for more grown-up, average-looking men to grace its covers. The publisher is finding that modelling agencies are sending “progressively younger and younger, and skinnier and skinnier” (1) male models for its covers. Who knew?
On the same day in the Edmonton Journal an article appeared about “manorexia” (2)–anorexia in men. Dennis Quaid is one celebrity who has confessed to battling this complex condition. Jockeys and athletes whose weights factor into their success are particularly vulnerable. Who knew?
All the emphasis on eating disorders and body image issues has focused on females. It was female models at recent European fashion shows that were turned away because they were too skinny. It is size 14 Canadian models who are trying to convince design schools to make their samples in more realistic sizes rather than size 0 which has become the norm. It is women that Dove is targeting with its cutting-edge ad strategies and campaign for real beauty. It was the April issue of Chatelaine that reported that 13-year-old Dakota Fanning has become the face of Marc Jacobs–a full 12 years younger than Audrey Hepburn was when she hooked up with Givenchy in the 1950s.
Lost in all this were the men. Who knew? Apparently, up to 15% of people with eating disorders are men. The shame and embarrassment is arguably worse for men, who are believed to be strong, capable, above all that. Couple that with a medical community largely unfamiliar with the condition in men, and the secrets persist.
Perhaps these related stories all appearing in quick succession means we’ve reached a tipping point. Maybe there’s enough momentum, public awareness, concern, and outrage that gradually, glacially, attitudes will change. Perhaps what is palatable to the public will move closer to healthier, more reasonable expectations of models and starlets. And put an end to the myth that you can never be too young or too skinny.
So what now? For me, just having all this new information changes me forever. Once you know something you can’t un-know it. Maybe this knowledge translates into consumer boycotts against certain companies, or increased sensitivity around men who may be suffering, or a heart-to-heart with the impressionable young people in our lives regardless of their sex. This affects us all, from where I sit.
(1) National Post (2007). ?Top models not beefy enough for Harlequin.? Retrieved April 16, 2007, from http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/news/story.html?id=d309c38e-f3fd-4f5a-97d4-645216ac1e54&k=82652
(2) Canada.com Network (2007). ?Shedding light on ‘manorexia’.? Retrieved April 16, 2007, from http://www.canada.com/topics/lifestyle/style/story.html?id=ec90796d-fe6b-424d-bf7e-9e574366794e&k=90418