So there I was, in my mother-in-law’s living room in Sarasota, my lips wrapped around the valve with saliva from a purple pool float, doing my best to inflate it, so I could put on a white sun hat. and a black bathing suit and slip away. at the community pool (where a large sign warned “NO INFLATABLES ALLOWED”) where I would attempt to recreate the illustration on the cover of my new book, the summer place. As she blew, she inhaled and blew again; As the world wavered and black dots appeared in front of my eyes, I had two thoughts.
The first was, I don’t think Ernest Hemingway’s publisher forced him to do this.
The second: I am very lucky.
Because, twenty years ago, if I wanted to recreate one of my book covers, using my own body, it would have involved losing 100 pounds and my head too.
I started my career in the era of cover photography, where a publisher would buy a stock photo and that image would become their cover image. The idea was for the covers to be aspirational, to feature slim, society-approved bodies, never showing one of those models’ faces, so readers could imagine their own features on top of those lean arms, legs, and torsos. I didn’t find these covers particularly attractive, but I saw them everywhere and trusted that I was an outlier, that the people at my publisher knew what they were doing.
In the more than twenty years of my career, publishing has changed.
Things got off to a promising start with good in bed, my debut in 2001. That cover featured a pair of legs crossed, on a bed, against a dreamy blue background. Only manicured toenails could be made out in the foreground and a piece of cheesecake on a plate to the side. The legs weren’t particularly large, but they weren’t exactly skinny either. I was happy
then came In his shoes. For that cover, my editor chose an image of two pairs of feet, in pastel strappy high heels. Both feet seem to belong to women of the same size, although the sisters in the story are not the same size at all… but, just as in the dark all cats are grey, from the ankle down all women look kind. Of the same. I was happy Until I discovered that my publisher hadn’t bought the exclusive rights to the image, and that the same feet, in the same strappy shoes (in a different color palette) had also been used on the cover of a book titled Best Fetish Erotica. .
For small earthquakes, in 2004, the cover featured a glorious profusion of golden curls, with a woman’s arm and hand obscuring her face. “Can we make her arm bigger?” I asked, and the art department was able to progressively enlarge the forearm. I called it a victory, and I was hoping that things were changing.
but then it came good night nobody in 2006. The book was about a new mom feeling desperately out of place in the suburbs, struggling to come to terms with her twenty-pound baby-weight body that she couldn’t shed (at one point in the story, my protagonist, Kate Klein jokes that when kids turn five, it’s no longer the baby’s weight, it’s just the weight.) The cover, however, featured a woman the size of a supermodel, from the neck down, because she had no faces. Worse still, the woman was oddly hunched over, contorted in a pose that she suggested the only mystery she was interested in solving was where to find the nearest bathroom.
In protest. They insisted. Skinny supermodel IBS stuck around.
The lowest point came with my 2009 novel, Best friends forever. BFF was the story of two girls, fat and skinny, former best friends who collide with each other’s lives again after a classmate disappears at their fifteenth high school reunion. When I got the cover, it was two girls, getting thinner and thinner, in pretty summer dresses, strolling down a boardwalk toward the beach. Both women were back to back, with the woman on the right clutching the back of her dress in a way that suggested she was pulling the folds out of her ass crack.
I told my editor that the woman who was supposed to be Addie, my plus-size character, was too skinny. And that she looked like she was choosing a panty. And that it all seemed like an idiotic ad.
In protest. They insisted. The shower/underpants selection ad stuck.
2010: skinny faceless women sitting on the beach on the cover of fly away from home.
2011: skinny faceless woman sitting at a desk on the cover of So you came.
2012: skinny faceless woman in a swimming pool on the cover of the next best thing (at least the pool and picture were beautiful and inviting like a David Hockney photograph).
And then, just when I thought I couldn’t take a slimmer cover, the trend changed to no women, just images of stuff on the cover. my 2014 book, they all fell downIt had a picture of a roller coaster instead of a human being. In 2015, with Who is your love, I have a red clip instead of people. My paperbacks were repackaged, with all those skinny ladies replaced with pictures of things: pairs of shoes, a baby in diapers, a white picket fence, a hat, and an umbrella by someone’s front door. I didn’t get it, but, as always, I trusted the people at my publisher. However, he had almost given up hope that he would ever see a woman on the cover who matched the woman on the page. But still, the objects, even the strange ones, were infinitely better than the parade of size zeros.
But then in 2019 I got my wish. Instead of photographs of people or images of objects, publishers began to use illustrations. And the women on the cover of Mrs. All they were not small. They were plausibly large in size. They looked good. They paired up. She could have wept with joy.
Today, I am delighted to say that I am on my fourth book in a row with an illustration of a larger lady on the cover, and that some of my repackaged backgrounds now feature women of similar proportions. The ladies still don’t have faces, because you can’t win them all, and readers don’t seem repelled by a bigger woman on the cover any more than they were repelled by a bigger woman on the pages.
In the more than twenty years of my career, publishing has changed. The world has, too, and I’ve seen pop culture take baby steps toward body positivity, or at least body neutrality, and embrace the notion that, yes, Virginia, fat women can have happy, fulfilling lives that they include joyful and fulfilling sex. . As a teenager, I watched music videos featuring the not-so-great Carnie Wilson hiding behind rocks and strategically placed grand pianos.
Young women today get Lizzo, living their best lives in girdles and bathing suits and sometimes nothing at all. When she was young, romance novels only had skinny heroines. Today, there are shelves full of books starring fuller figure protagonists, with covers unapologetically depicting those full figures. In the pre-social media era, the only way to see bigger bodies was as “before” in gym ads or weight-loss shakes. Today, with careful selection, you can have a feed full of diverse bodies of all races, ethnicities and sizes, doing yoga, dancing, lifting weights, trying on clothes or taking care of their pets or playing with their children or traveling with their partners, or just living their life, in the bodies they have, and not postponing joy or big trips or pretty dresses until they’ve lost the pounds of filler in the blanks.
It got better. And he couldn’t be happier.
the summer place by Jennifer Weiner is available through Atria Books.