We Gave the Covers of Romance Novels an Inclusive Makeover

The first time I saw the cover of a romance novel by Johanna Lindsey, I was in the checkout line at Stop & Shop. I remember it vividly. The sun was setting dramatically in the sky behind a very chiseled couple. The damsel looked half in anguish, half aroused—being hoisted by the bare chest and puffy shirt adorned beefcake, grasping at her bursting corset. I had no such bursting corset, but was intrigued and disturbed all at once by my budding hormone-laden tweendom. It was like stumbling into the horror section at Blockbuster when I was kid—I knew it was wrong, but I wanted more. The imagery was unbearable and beautiful. At the time, I didn’t have a lot of—let’s say—material to crush on. So Fabio Lanzoni had to do.

As intriguing as these images were to me back then, they are problematic on a lot of levels. These days, I’m awe-struck by how painfully white and hetero they are. I’ve often wondered how much more eye-opening they’d be if they better reflected the diverse reality of intimacy, while still maintaining their sleazy wonder.

With that in mind, I reached out to the only photographer I knew who could do a formidable job—Jason Altaan. I’ve always been impressed with his total disregard for subtlety and need to evoke fantasy in everything he makes. The covers below are his interpretations of the genre, but using an inclusive casting of friends and couples he thought would compliment the assignment. In a time of constant darkness, it’s nice to embrace a little over-the-top affection and mysterious bodice-ripping.

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