She looks at herself like she has so many times before. She sees the face the world sees. The perfectly plucked eyebrows. The confidence. The “I’m going somewhere” look in her brazen but soft honey-colored eyes. She sees the face of the twenty-nine-year-old who’s accomplished her to-do list, who’s achieved her carefully planned goal list.
Sure, she sees some things the rest of the world probably doesn’t notice as much as she does. She sees the tiny crinkles around her eyes, crinkles that look more like furrows to her. She sees the mole on the side of her cheek that screams to her every time she looks in the mirror. She sees bags under her eyes, imperfections, skin dull enough to be the “before” on a skin care commercial.
Tonight, though, she’s starting to see more than just crow’s feet and fine lines. She’s seeing something she hasn’t seen before, not fully.
She’s seeing the cracks.
They’d been there before, at least in the hairline variety. They’d been splintering carefully, delicately, so sneakily her observant eye missed them.
Or maybe she just wanted to miss them. They’d been cracking and fissuring, slowly cascading down her face, waiting for that moment.
That moment had come.
It wasn’t a big moment, an earth-shattering moment. It wasn’t a moment anyone else would recognize or she would talk about. It wasn’t one of those “Oh my God, did you hear” water cooler moments in the office. It was nothing, really.
Yet, it was certainly something. It was the final hammer, the final incitement. The cracks had finally connected. The fracturing of her had happened.
And she finally noticed.
In hindsight, this wasn’t something new. It’d been building, bubbling for a while. From the outside, she looked fine. Her perfectly glossed lips, in pink of course, and her gleaming white teeth fooled the world… and they fooled herself, in truth. She was the woman who had it made. She wasn’t famous. She was an average American Dream achiever. The house, the modest car, the husband, the family. She had everything she could want. She was collected and rational. She was responsible and energetic.
She was the face of contentment.
But… she wasn’t content. Not completely.
There were symptoms thinks were about to go wrong. The friends who were “friends” until something went wrong or until she needed help. The “friends” who were friends until she achieved something or had something good happen to her, leading to the jealous mockery, angry sneers. There was the constant pull for approval, the need for recognition. The constant need to make him proud, to make him respect her. The push and pull, the escalating pressures of being what she was perceived to be.
Sometimes, she felt tiny thoughts creeping in, thoughts she quickly stomped out, thoughts she put a hammer to. Thoughts she didn’t want to admit.
Thoughts of feeling alone, isolated, of feeling starkly insufficient at relationships. She had thoughts of disappearing, of starting over. She had thoughts of going it alone, of going into the woods all adventurer style and living in solitude.
Okay, so that wasn’t realistic, she knew.
But what really scared her were the thoughts she had on her morning commute, serious thoughts of stomping down on the gas pedal and driving away, never to return.
Women like her, though, didn’t do these sorts of things. Women like her laughed off these feelings, played them up to hormones or a bad burrito or a rough time or a lack of sleep. Women like her, successful and selfless, didn’t throw themselves pity parties or think about doing the unspeakable act of leaving. Women like her smiled through the pain, painted on more lip gloss, covered the cracks with some spackle and kept on moving. Women like her thought of others first. Women like her looked inward to fix the problem, tried to be better, nicer, smarter, wiser, funnier.
But then tonight happened, and suddenly, the cracks were so obvious, she couldn’t believe she didn’t see them before. A part of her felt freer, cleaner, better just for recognizing what she’d been pushing away.
A part of her, though, felt dirty. She actually pulled her gaze away, lowered it to the floor, and headed for her nightly, ritualistic shower. Turning the faucet on, she realized how tired she felt. She climbed into the stream of water, let it cascade down her back, jumping at the shock of the cold before reveling in the steamy warmth.
She stared at the water swirling down the drain, hoping in some ways these thoughts would swirl right down with the water. Like so many other nights, she would wash away these feelings, would emerge from the shower the person she always was. She would face the world as the smiling girl again.
These feelings, though, weren’t going anywhere. Staring at the water swirling down the drain, it was the same color it always was. Suddenly, though, it looked murky. These feelings were as palpable as the condensation on the shower wall her fingers were tracing. They were as real as the stream of water droplets pelting her skin.
No, she couldn’t unsee the cracks. Tomorrow, when her alarm went off, she would probably try to patch them up. She would put on that pink lipgloss.
But it wouldn’t be the same. The world might not see the cracks, but she knew they were there now. She knew, like a ticking time bomb, they were waiting to spread, to radiate outward and upward and every which way.
Tomorrow, she might pull it off. She might be the girl she’d been for almost three decades. She might fool herself again, fool everyone, just for another day.
Then again, she might not. Tomorrow she might stomp on that gas pedal. She might go to the wilderness. She might wallow in her isolation, wallow in the knowledge she wasn’t who she thought she was.
Because when women like her crack, they can never be the same woman again.
This is purely a fiction piece… but in many ways, I think there’s a lot of truth behind it. Today’s women are taught perfection is attainable. We are to be confident, selfless, jovial, energetic go-getters at all times. To admit sadness or struggles is viewed as selfishness. So many women are dealing with identity crises and feelings of isolation but are afraid to admit it. I hope this piece gives some of you the strength to realize no life is perfect. We all suffer with cracks and self-doubt and desires for a new life. There is nothing selfish about trying to find what makes you truly happy
“What do you write?”
“Contemporary romance and women’s fiction.”
“Oh, I see.”
I never realized there was a stigma with “chick books” until I started writing them. For me, I’ve always been a fan of women’s fiction/chick lit/any other genre for women. From Debbie Macomber to Liane Moriarty to Jojo Moyes, many of my favorite writers pen books in this sometimes loosely defined genre. Looking at my book list, many of my favorites could be labeled as chick books.
Once I published my first two “chick books,” though, I quickly realized people do not always understand or appreciate the genre. There is a misconception that a chick book cannot hold the weight of a “real literary” piece. There are labels such as “mindless” or “light reading” thrown around in the genre, all of which are far from the truth.
Misconceptions About Chick Lit
1. Everyone gets a happily ever after.
2. There are a lot of women being “saved” by men.
3. The only decisions grappled with are what man is hotter, what makeup is better, and which outfit to buy.
4. It’s all about sex.
5. They are glorified soap operas in writing.
Chick books are often treated like the drugstore beauty brand of lipstick standing beside the designer brand. They are looked down upon…but why?
As both an avid reader and writer in the genre, I’ve come to realize the misconceptions sometimes stem from a lack of reading of modern books in the genre. Despite their reputation, chick books cover the same depth of issues as any other genre.
Realities About Chick Lit
1. Many chick books deal with heavy issues like suicide, loyalty, identity, self-realization, infertility, marriage, monogamy, death, and loss. Not everyone gets the rosy, rainbow ending. There is often a lot of drama, even if things do eventually turn out okay.
2. There are also strong women in chick books. Jojo Moyes writes about a lot of strong female characters, as does Janet Evanovich. Louisa Clark from Me Before You does not strike me as a weak woman needing saving. She’s bold, sassy, and perhaps the stronger character in the book.
3. Sure, there may be discussions of hot men and makeup, but there are so many other issues grappled with in chick books. Modern chick books deal with the tension of opposites women face—how do you balance the call of motherhood and domestic life with the desire for a career and other successes? How do you find who you really are when society is always trying to tell you who you should be?
Chick books go beyond the obvious “girly” topics and delve into situations and choices that real women face. My favorite chick book, What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, deals with memory loss but also the main character’s identity crisis. What happens when you wake up in the middle of your life and don’t recognize who you’ve become? What happens when you realize your life isn’t what you want?
4. Chick books often focus on the emotional development of characters and relationships. In my own writing, any sex scenes are closed door scenes and few and far between. My focus is on the magic of the development of the relationship—the first look, the first kiss, the first argument.
Real love doesn’t become apparent during a rated R moment. It happens when a character opens her heart again after the tragic death of a husband. It happens when a woman regains her confidence and goes for hot chocolate after an ugly divorce has stripped her of her confidence. It happens when a character realizes a physical disability doesn’t have to prevent him or her from finding connections.
5. Okay, I’ll admit: I’m a fan of soap operas, so this misconception doesn’t bother me. Chick books, though, get this stigma of being cheesy, corny, and unrealistic. This is simply not true. I’ve read gut-wrenching chick books that speak to me at the core. I’ve read chick books about affairs and lying, about confusion and death. I’ve read chick books that speak to inner questions we as women often face. While in soap operas every woman gets a new man every few minutes, chick books are much more true to reality, where sometimes we find ourselves all alone.
Foundations of Chick Book Stigma
The stigma surrounding chick books (and chick flicks, for that matter) perhaps stems from the false, antiquated view that women only care about superficial, lighthearted issues. In a way, it stems from longstanding beliefs that a woman’s intellectual ability and, thus, life issues are inferior to the heaviness of issues in the other gender.
Certainly, we know this is not the case. I would argue that the modern woman is, in fact, facing more difficult identity issues than in the past. There is a constant battle between being the social acceptable child bearer and wife our culture values and the strong willed, “go get it,” achiever our culture also promotes. Somewhere in the crosshairs, many women find themselves confused about what they want out of life and who they should be. These issues are far from superficial, and chick books give these scenarios a platform to express themselves in combination with other conflicts presented in other genres.
Thus, in a society that has come to realize women are, in fact, an equal gender, I think it is important to re-evaluate our views of literary genres geared toward women.
Improving Views of Chick Lit
A part of the solution must stem from both the authors and readers of chick books. We must stop shying away from the genre and stop contributing to the falsities drowning out the value of these books. We must own our reading preferences and start seeing them in a positive light.
My newest book, Then Comes Love, will be classified as chick lit…and I couldn’t be prouder. Sure, there will still be some who squirm at the genre, who dismiss it to the doldrums of “mindless” literature.
But not me.
I’ve read enough life-changing chick books, books that speak to me as a woman, to know the beauty and value of the genre.
To give a woman the chance to find herself in a book, to see her own life issues mixed with a touch of humor and fun, is a truly beautiful thing. Literature is about creating connections. For me, I will continue to make those connections with fellow modern women who are able to juggle identity crises, love, and everything in between.
How about you? What are your favorite chick books?