New Year, New You: Women and Body Horror

It's that time of year when reminders to get healthy, get fit and better ourselves seem to be everywhere. Magazine covers might say "Get Your Best Body Ever!" while social media promotes fitness programs, supplements and other products that promise a new and better you. Women and femmes in particular are targeted by these ads and may feel more stress over conforming to mainstream beauty standards.

Transformations can be empowering and desirable, or they can be horrific and bizarre. In the following books, the authors explore all kinds of transformations through the subgenre of body horror. Body horror explores what it means to be in control of your own body, and the relationship of one's body to society, and it is often, well, pretty gross. If you're feeling the strain of diet culture this time of year, perhaps these books will help you see that "transformation" isn't always for the best.

Natural Beauty explores the dark side of the so-called wellness industry. When an up-and-coming pianist is forced to abandon her dreams and take up a job in retail, she is introduced to all sorts of creams and treatments that will make her, and their customers, smooth and supple. No surprise, however, that there is a high cost to all this perfection.

In Chlorine, teen swimmer Ren's desire to become a mermaid, her ideal physical form, drives her every action, but it also explores the physical and mental stress put on young athletes. Her story is full of heartbreak and dread with deeply unsettling moments for fans of both literary fiction and horror.

An unhappy, unfulfilled wife and mother finds release as her body takes on a new form every night in Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder. She takes natural parenting to weird new heights.

"Cleopatra Brimstone" is a frequently anthologized story by Elizabeth Hand featured in both Poe's Children (edited by Peter Straub) and her own collection Saffron and Brimstone. In this disturbing tale, a young entomologist deals with the aftermath of a traumatic sexual assault in a uniquely scientific way.

A Darker Shade of Noir includes 15 stories by Tananarive Due, Cassandra Khaw, Raven Leilani and more.  In these stories, women are both perpetrators and victims of bodily horrors. In one particularly memorable tale by Margaret Atwood, a snail is reincarnated into the body of a human woman with amusing and melancholy results. Lisa Tuttle's "Concealed Carry" is a dark satire in which a woman in Texas finds gun and pregnancy laws taking over her body in freaky ways.

Take it easy on yourself during this season of resolutions. Read some female-centered body horror and have a whole new appreciation for the body you have, imperfections and all.

Have a favorite body horror book? Let us know in the comments.