Categories
Books

Who Cares How Much Stephanie Plum Weighs?

I remember the moment in college when one of my professors pointed out the difficulty inherent in having a book’s narrator describe their physical appearance. It was something I’d never thought much about before he mentioned it, but since that time, I can’t help but notice it in most of the books I read with first-person narration. And since I started reading One for the Money, I haven’t been able to get the idea out of my head.

Not too long ago, my fiancé suggested I read Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, and because he knows me pretty well at this point, I downloaded One for the Money–said series’ first book–to my Kindle, and got to reading. I’m now about halfway through, and I still have no idea what Stephanie Plum looks like.

I do, however, know how much she weighs. Oh, and how tall she is.

What color is her hair? Her eyes? I don’t know. And not knowing those things wouldn’t bother me if it weren’t for the fact that her weight and height are very specifically mentioned. Stephanie Plum even makes a point of emphasizing that these stats do not make her overweight; she’s 130 pounds at 5’7″. I’m not sure who was suggesting she was overweight to begin with.

I’m very happy to picture a narrator (or any character, really) looking however I want them to look when no details are supplied. In fact, I sort of like the freedom that gives me as a reader. When I can make a character my own, my experience with the story becomes that much more personal. If, on the other hand, details about the character’s appearance are given, I’m perfectly happy to work those into the portrait taking shape in my head as I read. Really, when it comes to descriptions I can go either way. But what I can’t abide are details that are unnecessary or that really conflict with the rest of the way a character is presented.

In the case of Stephanie Plum, we’re supposedly dealing with a nondescript young woman (29? 30?) who’s been married once, isn’t overly concerned about her clothing choices at any given time, and (judging by the narrative style and what’s said/isn’t said) isn’t overly fussy about her appearance. But, you guys, she is not fat. She does admit, though, that she recognizes she doesn’t have a perfect body. She even implies that she might be on the curvier side. But at 130 lbs. and 5’7″, she’s pretty much tall and slender by any objective measure.

I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why these details are important. Are we, as readers, supposed to infer that she’s self-conscious about her figure? Or that a real woman with the same weight and height should feel that she’s overweight? I find it bizarre that this information would be given at all, and especially confusing in light of how aggressively brash and self-assured Stephanie is supposed to be in every other manner.

More than anything else, though, I can’t help but think about how these two figures wouldn’t even come up in a book with a male narrator/main character. Even though One for the Money was published in 1999, the 18th book in the series is set to publish in late November of this year–clearly we haven’t come so far in the past 12 years that this character (or this style of writing) has worn out her welcome. I guess that ultimately the world of literature isn’t unlike Hollywood; the difference is that in books, the actually-super-beautiful nerdy girl isn’t hiding behind a pair of glasses and frumpy hair, she’s loudly proclaiming how thin she is lest we make the mistake of thinking her fat.

 

By Emilie

Runner, yogini, knitter, Manhattanite in spite of myself. Also blogging at http://www.icametorun.com.

10 replies on “Who Cares How Much Stephanie Plum Weighs?”

I have read some….maybe most of these books…and find the discussion of weight, hair, and clothing plays into the thought process of Stephanie.  It shows us the level that Stephanie functions at.

However, I dislike how exactly the same the introductions are, or the first chapter is.  The repetitive information allows me to skip over quite a few pages in each book.  Leaving you to believe you can read any one at random.  But the author alludes to the escapades in future books so you can’t really skip any.  I missed one book, somehow,  and the catastrophe that occurred in that particular one is referred to in ever book after.  (But I can’t figure out which one I missed.)

I’ve read a lot of these books – and I could have sworn she was shorter & slighter. The point I always took away from it was she was this not-very-large woman chasing down bad guys because she works for the bondman. Because she can’t out muscle them, she has to outwit them. That, and she likes to eat doughnuts.

Lulu, her sidekick, it always described as fat and wearing ill-fitting clothing- because she does things like sit on the culprit. I don’t recall Lulu’s weight/height being disclosed in the same way, but you get the impression she’s a much larger person.

 

It might be a bad attempt at using tropes to develop a character.  In the imaginations of young women, 5’7″ is neither tall nor short, and 130 is neither heavy nor super thin.  Is Stephanie struggling with angst or feeling average?  Although in reality she’d probably be the thinnest girl she knows who doesn’t have that natural waif figure.

Now, I say this as someone who may or many not have read all of the published Plum novels. The discussion of the numbers goes away after the first couple of novels — I took the emphasis on her figure as an indication of where Stephanie was in that point in her life. You know, she eats a terrible diet, she can’t figure out what she’s gonna do with her life, she kinda keeps an eye on her weight but can’t really be bothered to do anything about it (in the sense that dieting and exercising are too committed for her). When she wants to be taller, she teases her hair and she dresses like a stereotypical Jersey girl, pre-Jersey mania.  To me, being from the general area, it came across as very authentic — I knew girls who think like that. Which is probably also why I have a very specific idea of what Stephanie looks like as well.

I think I read one of her books and was indeed surprised that she brought up her weight and figure up so very often. Yes .. you’re emphasizing that not every protagonist is skinny, but still. I’m not going to like you more or less if you see ‘a big, but not fat, girl’ in your mirror.

I think I started with number 16 or 13 or 14…anyways, one of the later Stephanie Plum books, and I haven’t made my way down to number 1, but as of those later books (spoiler?) I don’t recall them ever pointing out that she is 5’7″ and 130 lbs. I actually didn’t know that until I read this article! What I do know from reading the later books is that she has brown hair, which she likes to wear in a ponytail because it is easy, and that she is normal height and normal weight. Sorry if I have spoiled anything for you! :P

When I was in middle school I loved the Mary Higgins Clark books. I outgrew them by the time I was 13, and I distinctly remember that one of the reasons I was over them was because she always went out of her way to describe how attractive and slim the protagonists were.  Specifically that they always look great with “very little makeup.”  It was just so unnecessary and repetitive. Much like her books.

Bridget Jones’ Diary I thought was terrible with this.  I understand that it was part of the character, but it was still obnoxious.

Leave a Reply