Shelf Love

024. Body Image in Romance Novels with Kennedy Ryan and Esme Brett

Short Description

An exploration of weight loss and body image themes in romance novels. First, I talk to Kennedy Ryan, RITA-award winning author of Long Shot, as well as Block Shot, which we talk about in this episode. Then, I share a related clip from a previous episode with Esme Brett when we discussed plus-size representation in Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean, plus some ways in which fat women are treated differently in the world.


genre discussions

Show Notes

Guest: Kennedy Ryan

Cameo appearance from previous episode: Esme Brett

Books mentioned:

  • Block Shot by Kennedy Ryan
  • Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean

NECRWA Conference info:




Hello and thanks for joining me for this minisode, episode 24 of Shelf Love, the podcast that uses romance novels as the text to explore themes like identity, relationships, and society.

I’m your host Andrea Martucci and on this mini-sode, we’ll be exploring weight and body image. First, I talk to Kennedy Ryan, RITA-award winning author of Long Shot, as well as Block Shot, which we talk about in this episode. Then, I share a related clip from a previous episode with Esme Brett when we discussed plus-size representation in Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean.

As I talk about in this episode, this topic is something I’ve thought a lot about in my personal life. Even as a pre-teen and teen, I always felt like the biggest kid, and definitely the biggest girl, in the room. I felt both conspicuous and invisible because of my weight. My size and my feelings about it shaped my personality, my sense of humor, and the way I approached relationships.

I know this is a tricky topic to talk about. Finding the right words in the moment is hard because these are nuanced issues. So I’m going to give a bit of a preamble where I can make sure I cover some points that I think are important for context:

To be clear: every single person deserves to be given dignity and respect by others, no matter their size. Everyone is worthy of love, no matter their size. You cannot make judgements about health based on size, and in fact some people engage in behaviors that are not healthy to maintain or lose weight.

With all that said, my personal story of putting on weight included behaviors that were very much not healthy. I was completely sedentary, and I often ate for emotional reasons rather than nourishment. As a result I started to have aches and pains by age 30, including sporadic back pain that made it extremely painful to move at all for days or weeks at a time.

I’ve struggled with how others perceive me socially and professionally because of my size, and honestly: it made me angry and resentful of the messages I received daily - from other people, from media, from the healthcare system --  that I should become a different size for THEM. For a long time, this clouded the messages my body was sending me to make better choices for ME. 

It took a lot of work on myself to get to the point where I could let go of my anger and rebellion against those messages, because it felt like choosing to lose weight was also a rejection of the hard-won belief that I was worthy BEFORE I did so. 

Please enjoy my conversation with Kennedy Ryan about how she explored this in Block Shot and I hope this explains a bit more about why it meant so much to me to read this story.


And, now here’s an excerpt from my conversation with Esme Brett. This is from episode 4 in which we discussed Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean. The focus of this excerpt is how plus-size individuals, particularly women, are perceived and treated. 

Multiple studies back up the reality that women in particular are treated differently based on their size, especially if they’re larger. Fat women are paid less, get fewer opportunities for growth, and definitely feel the impact on their social and romantic lives.

By no means am I saying every novel with a plus size heroine needs to explore these issues, because it’s not the defining experience of every fat woman, but I also appreciate that romance novels do exist that acknowledge and explore these issues. 


Thanks for listening to this minisode, Episode 23 of Shelf Love: A Romance Novel Book Club. 

Thank you so much to Kennedy Ryan for taking the time to speak with me. Lots more from Kennedy on upcoming episodes including a full episode where we talk about Emergency Contact by Mary HK Choi. 

And, thank you to Esme Brett for speaking with me many moons ago - you can find the rest of our conversation about Brazen and the Beast in episode 4.

You can find me on social media @ShelfLovePodcast on Instagram, and @ShelfLovePod on Twitter, and my website is

My next guest is Tamara Lush, who joins me to discuss The Love Riots by Delhi Belly on Wattpad. Spoiler alert: it’s not a romance novel, but we talk about how it’s subverting genres and using the platform to do interesting things. After that, Katrina Jackson returns to the podcast for our much-anticipated polyamory conversation! We also talk about financial conversations in relationships.

You can find links to Esme’s episode about Brazen and the Beast and Kennedy’s minisode about the RITA award in the show notes.

Thank you so much for listening and don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on whatever platform you’re listening on so you don’t miss one of these fantastic episodes.

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