Romance novels are rife with clichÃƒÂ©s: a gorgeous woman clutching her bodice as the wind tries to reveal her breasts to the world, a white horse lurching in the background, and usually (almost always) there's a shirtless man, reaching out with his eyes or his hands or both, as if to say, "I'll save you."
But who is this man, really? Where did he come from, and why is he shirtless? Sure, he's just a fantasy in the books, but there's a real, live guy posing for all of those covers. And his name is often Jason Aaron Baca.
Baca has modeled for the covers of dozens of romance novels. Just like Fabio before him, it's Baca's job to be the shirtless man of mystery, penetrating the imaginations of the men and women perusing the erotica section at Barnes & Noble (or covertly downloading it on their e-readers). What goes on inside the mind of the man who goes to such great lengths to get romance-novel readers hot and bothered? We interviewed Baca to find out.
WomensHealthMag.com: Okay, first things first: How did you get started modeling for romance novels?
Baca: I was walking into a bookstore one lazy night when I happened to see a romance book, and I suddenly felt as though I was transfixed on it. It had a guy on a cover that was much more in shape than me. He was tougher-looking and very confident and I felt an instant interest in wanting to be that guy. At that moment I became so very interested that it became a part of my entire thought process. I began working out, thinking about becoming a cover model, eating healthy, and imagining that each bite of food I ate was putting me one step closer to becoming a model.
I then began contacting a lot of the romance authors seeing if they had an idea of how I could do this. After a couple months I was contacted by a graphic artist who had one of my e-mails forwarded to her. She liked the photos I'd sent them, and told me she wanted to shoot me for a novel. And that is how it all began!
Your personal-care routine is probably pretty intense. Can you tell us a little about it?
Well for the fitness aspect, I put my all into it. I realize I'm never going to get this opportunity again, so I work out hard. And I mean hard. If I want my wishes to come true, then I need to dominate in this department, and that means working out hard.
I knew in my heart, though, that this was my moment. There was no, "I'll work out later" or "I'll get serious about all my diet and workouts tomorrow." No, it was now. I've always had the motto: If you're going to do something, DO IT ALL OUT.
So if you are going to do all this working out, you're going to sweat, and when you sweat, your pores open up—opening the door for dirt and black heads to come. I believe in taking care of myself as it is. No sense having a nice body but all clogged-up oily skin and a dirty face. I wanted to not only have a nice body but great-looking skin! Hey, a nice body opens doors, but nice skin tears off the hinges!
I shower daily using a refreshing deep moisturizing body wash with green-tea extract, which helps jump-start my body and gives me that cleansed yet moisturized feeling my skin needs to look its best. After toweling off, I apply a body moisturizer. For the face, I use an anti-aging eye balm followed by a revitalizing gel cream. Then, finally, a vitamin C daily face moisturizer, which is 30 SPF.
And I imagine you have to eat healthy, too?
It's all about sacrifice. Though...I do have a confession to make. I love Reese's peanut butter cups.
One time, I had finished a shoot and I had been dieting and eating chicken breasts for a few weeks there. I just couldn't take it anymore. I went to a nearby Walgreens, where they had those bags of Reese's Halloween candy marked down like 75 percent off. I figured I'd buy a few bags to take home and store away. But storing them never happened. I got home and could not keep the luscious bags off my mind. I began to sweat as my desire grew stronger for the creamy, warm, chocolate-y, decadent cups. I tried not to give in. But slowly the bags moved closer to me on my couch, and my fingertips caressed the bag, and I dug into the plastic and dug those fingers in. I just wanted to get a taste—to whet my lips was all—but I ended up having my fill. I ate all of the bags, and I was left with Reese's wrappers all over my rug...
Had someone walked in at that very moment and seen me lying down surrounded by Reese's wrappers, they would have made me King of Reese's. The CEO of Reese's would have made me their new spokesperson!
Whoa...Have you ever hooked up with anyone on-set?
Sorry to disappoint, but no, I haven't. All the shoots are done in a professional manner. I pride myself on making the co-models feel comfortable in my shoots. There's nothing worse than having a bad rap in this business, and I've heard of guys that do hook up. And they get talked about. These are the people that don't last long anyways. You eventually stop hearing about them.
How does being a romance novel cover model make you feel about yourself?
It allows me to really get in tune with myself, to take a closer look at myself both inside and out. It gives me that hope that every person wants in their life and gives me something to put action into. The confidence it gives me makes me feel really great.
How did it make you feel about women?
Some of them have really fascinating imaginations! I want to ask them, "Do you really think a guy thinks like that? Do you really want me to tell you what us guys think of besides sports?"
Are you in a relationship now? If so, how does (s)he feel about your modeling career?
Yes, I am. She's pretty immune to it all now. She understands the process of this and that I am in an embrace with a woman and that this is what it's all about for romance novels—the look, the hold, the passion behind it all.
What’s the weirdest thing that has happened to you on a shoot?
Well, I have had weird moments throughout all of my shoots it seems. The weirdest had to be when they had me holding a woman up with her arm behind my neck. Suddenly, the lighting fixture above us began to fall. So I did what any guy would do, and I quickly carried her over to the other side of the studio as fast as lightening [sic]. The thing came crashing down moments later, glass flying everywhere. But she was safe and unharmed. I guess you can say at that moment I was a true hero!
What’s the career trajectory for a romance novel model?
It depends on the type of face cream you use! How often you go and get facials and how often you take care of yourself. A lifespan in this business can go on and on if you stay at the top of your game. Or it can be tiny if you neglect yourself. But I don't believe in the whole age thing as a timeline. Or like if someone says, "By age 40, I will do no longer do this." My question to them is, "What if by age 40 you are doing all the things right to yourself and are looking better than when you were 30? Are you going to limit yourself just because of a number?"
What is your favorite part of modeling?
My favorite part of modeling for romance novel covers is seeing myself on one. Going through all the hard work for months and months, all those mornings of waking up at 6 a.m. to go do a rigorous workout, all those blistering moments in the evening when my friends wanted me to go out with them on a Friday night for a Coors but I was in the gym doing my cardio. And this was it—this was the reward—being on the cover of a romance novel.