Making My Subliminal Messages, Well, Liminal

You know those YouTube videos everyone watches about the hidden sexual messages in Disney movies? I’m like that. Seriously. Just like those smirking Disney animators, I’m all sneaky and smug, giggling into my clenched fist as I tuck subliminal messages into my novels.

Subliminal message #1: Race doesn’t exist. No, really, it doesn’t. I don’t mean this in a whack-job, White-supremacist, or even Colbertesque way. I mean, scientifically speaking, race has no biological basis. It’s a totally made-up concept. That doesn’t, of course, mean, race has no meaning; of course it does. It just means we made it up. So, knowing this, it’s hugely important for me to, at the very least, include a lot of racial and ethnic diversity and, if possible, maybe even challenge notions of race.

Subliminal message #2: Looksism is so 1980s. Judging beauty based solely on physical features is, well, partial. To reinforce this, I build characters that don’t embody cultural beauty ideals and that see one another as beautiful and holistic beings only after getting to know one another.

Celebrate body diversity! And, apparently, pugs.
Subliminal message #3: Fat and disabled people exist, too. Crazy, right? I sprinkle people of size and people with disabilities throughout my literary landscapes. Heck, I love body difference; in my world, this is where beauty resides. For example, in Hunted Past, Serena comes to adore the scarred half of her lover’s face. In my third novel, Hunted Dreams, the shero is fat and tough, while in the novel I’m writing now, the shero has a disability called Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease and the hero is blind. How wonderful is it to honor the variety of bodies and abilities that exist?  

Subliminal message #4: Gender is fun – let’s play with it! Since, as my younger sister has pointed out, I tend to base my sheroes on aspects of myself, it’s only logical that they, like me, are altogether pretty darn feminine. Aha! But I also make them strong. Strong and feminine? You ask. But how can this be? Aren’t badass, kick-butt urban fantasy sheroes tough, emotionally unavailable women whose deeply-buried, tender hearts only occasionally manage to poke through the prickliness? This is a trope I’m working with in my current novel, but for the most part, my sheroes are strong and feminine; they show the world the resilience of gentleness and the tenderness of strength.  As for my heroes’ gender identities, well, I’ve written about them in another post.

Subliminal message #5: Sexualities beyond straight occur in the world. Sure, I currently peddle in straight romance, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t and don’t acknowledge the amazing array of sexualities that exist. As a button I recently designed proudly proclaims, “I am one color in the rainbow of body diversity.” Oh, wait – maybe that’s a fat thing. Ah heck, it's all good, right?

Subliminal message #6: I really like dark, curly hair. What? Not all of my messages have to change the world. And I really do think dark, curly hair is just about the sexiest thing on the planet.

Okay, now that I’ve trumpeted my own, progressive horn, I have to acknowledge I’m not the Karl Marx, bell hooks, or Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick of fiction. My first draft of Hunted included a long diatribe about how Leeches are naturally the richer folks, since they have the power to reduce others’ life opportunities and inflict misery, which they consume like good ol’ milk and honey, on the common people. Bourgeoisie scum! However, after reading a how-to blog from an editor, I chose to erase most of the overt politics from my writing, especially including that paragraph or two. Now, I rely on my sneaky, subliminal messages. Is there more I could do to quietly address stereotypes and archetypes? Sure. For now, I'll keep sprinkling in my oh-so-subtle messages of diversity and inclusion. Perhaps in future novels I'll address ever more areas of identity and lifestyle diversity.

Or maybe I already have and I’m just not admitting it. Mwa ha ha! 


  1. I'm reading you loud and clear Elle Hill! Great post!

  2. I can't believe I wasn't reading this before. As usual you are so much fun in surface and deeply meaningful between and under the lines ways. (In the second FatLand book, there is a disabled fat man with whom the protagonist is in love. I was in love with him too..(I do that, fall in love with some of my characters. I guess you do, too..favoritism?)

    1. Thanks for the beautiful words. I am always honored when my writing mentor finds inspiration in my works. <3 Oh, and I can't wait for the second _FatLand_ to come out! Is it on its way?

      Do I fall in love with my characters? I admit I was smitten with Gabriel, the male protagonist in my first full-length novel. And as symbols of various aspects of me, I of course have a deep love for each of my sheroes. Nuttin' wrong with favoritism right? ;)

  3. What a great post. Can we ever say these things enough?

    1. Never. I like to think we're part of a cultural mechanism that pumps out alternative, empowering messages. High five to writers like you (and Frannie Zellman, and Lynne Murray, and others) who champion characters of supernormative size. Hoorah! :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Letting Characters Speak

Bustin' Some Welfare Myths

Becoming "Famus"