I love makeover shows. I’d like nothing better than to wake up some morning and be ambushed by Stacy and Clinton to go off on a $5000 shopping spree in NYC. At this point, I’m probably not enough of a fashion disaster to make the cut. But there was a time when my children were small, sleep was scarce and my beauty regimen consisted of showering. When I watch these shows I can definitely relate to some of the moms in their baggy sweatpants and bad 80s jeans!

But once in a while, when friends of the fashion victim say she deserves the makeover because “she does everything for others and never thinks of herself” it almost seems like a reward for martyrdom. It almost makes me want to go back into those Mom Jeans and see if someone will nominate me! 🙂

Which makes me think about the Caregiver Heroine. In Regencies, this is often the lady whose father gambled away the family fortune. Now she’s taking care of the estate and a bunch of younger siblings. Maybe she’s selling herself into marriage with a wealthy rake (or even submitting to a Fate Worse Than Death). Or she’s scrimping and saving so a younger sister can have her London Season. Georgette Heyer’s FREDERICA is a classic example.

With caregiver heroines the hero can provide that whole take-me-away-from-it-all fantasy which can be fun. On the other hand, the caregiver heroine can be a cliché, a shortcut to characterization. I’m glad to see that more recent releases feature heroines who are striking out for themselves in some way.

A caregiver heroine can still work for me, though. It’s part setup and part attitude. I want to know she really doesn’t have better alternatives and isn’t just enabling poor Papa’s gambling problem. At least let her be angry with him about it! I want to know she’s not putting her own needs on a backburner just because she doesn’t value herself. FREDERICA works because the heroine is a happy person. She enjoys the shopping and parties involved in giving her sister a Season; I’m sure she’ll have even more fun once her burdens are lightened.

So what do you think? Do you enjoy reading about caregiver heroines? Do you have any favorites? Where is the boundary between a heroine who is bravely dealing with a difficult situation and one who is just making a martyr of herself?