Bookish Thoughts: Where My Ugly At?

Bookish Thoughts: Where My Ugly At?

Bookish Thoughts: Where My Ugly At?

For a long, long time I’ve wanted to write a post. It was one of my first drafts on A Bookish Heart, even. But for some reason, every time I would go to write it, I would just trash it thinking that everyone would just think I’m crazy.

Well, today is going to be different! Today I ask…

Where My Ugly At?

That’s right. I demand that we talk about the lack of ugly characters in YA. Surely I’m not the only one who has noticed this lack of representation?

I feel like so many YA books I read feature good-looking protagonists who fall in love with these good-looking side characters and they just go run off to live happily ever after and make good-looking babies. (Okay, maybe not exactly, but you know what I mean. Even those characters who are supposedly just average-looking end up getting all the guys within a twenty-mile radius.) Everyone has eyes you can swim in, hair that curls just so, and perfectly flawless skin.

Seriously?! GIVE ME SOME UGLY.

YA is about teenagers, and teenagers, well, they go through puberty! There’s acne, there’s hair growth, there’s some really bad attempts at hair/make-up/fashion. Why do I not ever see this represented in books? (Is it because I primarily read fantasy and sci-fi? Surely puberty would be an issue in those genres as well!)

I mean, really, go sit outside of a high school when classes gets dismissed and look at these creatures that emerge. They’re not all the same. They’re different colors, different sizes, different builds – and they’re definitely not all beautiful! (I’m not saying there’s no beauty to them whatsoever. Just that their beauty doesn’t fit the typical boxes of beauty we’re fed through the media. :P)

Why don’t I ever get to read about those kids?

Bert from Sesame Street

I don’t know if my unibrow would be THAT bad, but still.

Let me get a little personal for you. I have the hairy genes that comes with being part of my dad’s family. That’s right. I have to tweeze my eyebrows to ensure I don’t end up looking like Bert, I have to regularly bleach my hair on my upper lip, and going more than a couple of days without shaving my legs is deadly business. And you know what else? I have also had acne on my face (especially around my glasses) that I sometimes picked – which made me look even worse!

Despite all that, I still had boyfriends. I just knew that I couldn’t get all the boys in the school because I wasn’t one of those types of drop dead gorgeous girls. I would often find myself thinking “Oh, everyone says I’m pretty, but no one has ever said I’m gorgeous or sexy. I just only get the guys because of my personality, not my looks.” (Who can blame the guys though? I do have a pretty amazing personality. ;))

Don’t they say love is blind? Surely you look back at some people you thought were handsome or gorgeous back in the day and just want to vomit now?

I just don’t understand why we don’t get this kind of “ugliness” featured in books. In all kinds of books. I want to see characters building relationships even if they have a giant swollen acne bump getting ready to explode off their face. I want to see characters struggling with unwanted body hair and learning to love themselves despite their deviance from stereotypical beauty. I want to see characters saving the world with their split ends and hairy armpits and crooked teeth.

The only two books that I have personally read that feature an “ugly” character, one that does not fit the stereotypical view of beauty, is Dark Triumph and Wonder.

Dark Triumph, Robin LaFevers, His Fair Assassin series, Vengeance is DivineIn Dark Triumph, Beast is this big brute of a guy who has scars and physical damage from all these physical altercations he’s been in, and the MC has no problem stating that he’s pretty much the ugliest guy she’s ever seen. But that doesn’t stop him from being a big part of the story, and an amazing, lovable character. [My review of Dark Triumph]

And Wonder? It’s about a boy, Auggie, who has a terrible facial abnormality and has to deal with the evilness of other kids who judge him based on how he looks. While reading his story, it’s absolutely impossible not to fall in love with Auggie and want to give him a great big hug. [My review of Wonder]

Where are my other ugly lovelies at? Where are they?!


What do you think? Is there a lack of ugly characters in YA? Which books would you recommend featuring “ugly” protagonists?

Asti

Read 74 comments

  1. I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL, ASTI. Although we’re complete opposites–my eyebrows are almost nonexistent, which is also a problem…

    Anyway, I’m always on the lookout for some “ugly” in my books. A lot of characters are either totally hot and sexy or just “normal”, which quite frankly, I feel is playing safe.

    So I went through my read shelf on Goodreads, and I found a couple of books that feature ugly characters:
    – Derek from The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong is described similarly as Beast
    – Eleanor from Eleanor & Park is overweight
    – some characters from Stolen Songbird look “broken” (literally)

    Okay, that’s about it. And that’s definitely not enough.

  2. I love this post! It’s such a valid point that characters are almost always attractive, and while I understand why people enjoy reading about uber-attractive characters (wish-fullfillment and what not), it’s also representing a very small spectrum of readers. What I find interesting is often when there is a character who has what may be an “ugly” trait or one that deviates from the norm, it’s used to emphasize their physical appeal (as “quirky” or “cute”) rather than making them less attractive (Anna and the French Kiss comes to mind, as Anna has a seemingly sizable gap between her two front teeth, but it never makes her UGLY, rather it’s sort of this cool, identifiable feature).

    One series I actually feel had a more realistic spectrum of attractiveness is Harry Potter. Ron’s covered in freckles, Harry is always described as shorter and smaller than most of his male counterparts, and Hermione’s hair can’t be tamed. There’s also many characters who bear physical damage due to duels and magic gone wrong (like when Bill Weasley is mauled by Greyback). I think the more realistic spectrum of attractiveness in the series is forgotten when juxtaposed with all of the attractive actors in the film (which brings about a whole new discussion regarding if movie adaptations of books serve to FURTHER create unrealistic standards of beauty by making the characters even MORE attractive).

  3. I totally lost it when you compared yourself to Bert. But I do agree with this message! I think there is a slight increase in overweight characters, but I wouldn’t call them ugly. Especially because they’re usually just a little plump, oh and something happens to them that causes them to lose just enough weight to become slim, so they can get together with the hunky love interest at the end. >.> So yeah, I totally get it. We need more diversity!

    • I wouldn’t call anyone ugly based on their weight. I guess ugly is probably the wrong word for it just because it has such negative connotations. I just meant anyone that doesn’t fit the stereotypical version of “pretty” we’re fed through media – so overweight (whether just a little or a lot), pimply, greasy, etc. But anyways, besides the point! Yes, it sucks that even when we do find them, they oftentimes try to change it to become those stereotypical forms of beauty. Fail!

  4. Apart from the ones already mentioned by the previous replys, I can think of:
    – Yarvi from Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King (he’s scrawny and has a crippled hand,
    – Seraphina by Rachel Hartman (not exactly ugly but she’s a half-dragon and has scales on her body, there are other, more deformed characters in the book as well)
    – Locke and Jean from Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora – not YA but fantasy, they’re not exactly ugly but Locke was a really ugly kid, as an adult he’s really ordinary and not good looking; Jean was/is overweight and soft.
    – Eleanor from Susan Dennard’s Something Strange and Deadly series is slightly overweight, not traditionally pretty, and loses a hand.

    Mostly it’s just “a good-looking kid with a deformity”, though, so there’s a cliche. You get a lot of heroines who think they’re plain and have small breasts but they’re actually pretty. There’s a shortage of teenagers with acne, for example, at least in leading roles, or bad teeth or something *ordinary* like a really upturned nose.

    Great post, as usual, Asti! :)

  5. I think about this all the time too. Like, seriously, in literature land everybody is totally attractive?

    Except WAIT, there are plenty of unattractive (often because of warrierly battle scars) dudes in books. Your two examples, for example. Less so “ugly” female characters which says something pretty huge in itself I think.

  6. WITH YA ASTI, WITH YA.

    I think it’s so terribly confusing for a genre that’s primarily “aimed” at teens–who are growing up, who are facing all these issues and it’s all new and exciting and etc etc– to be simply depicting (now I’m not sure how to phrase this perfectly) the epitome of the human race?? Like, externally that is. Everyone is beautiful or secretly beautiful or beautiful in denial. And they all get the hotty mchotties and it’s just this one big blow up of beautiful genes and the insinuation of even more beautifulness to follow. Ok, so I lost where I was going. The point is, I don’t want everyone to be perfect. Because I sure as heck am not. I don’t want to be reading something and feeling as though I’m on the other side of the glass looking in. I ain’t here for a “how the other half live” kinda tale , you know? You obviously phrased this perfectly and so much more coherently than I did. Days when I’m at uni suck the life out of me and there’s only “knows her basic english Jess” left LOL

    • With YA as in with You? Or with YA as in with Young Adult? EITHER WAY, I APPROVE ;)

      Yes. Just as much as I love reading about beautiful kick ass females who can rule the world, I also want to read about pimply, hairy females who rule the world. Ones who admit they do not fit the stereotypical view of beauty, but do not let that make them any less of a person.

      I’m glad even if you only were limited to basic english, you still managed to comment and agree with me. Thanks Jess ;)

  7. I hear you Asti, I do! There’s just, always good looking people everywhere and I’m like, be less attractive please!? It’s like a huge chunk of the human race as been forgotten about in fiction, and if I ever wrote a book, I’d want to be honest, and realistic, and do it like it would be if there were real characters who are a little chub, or have acne, or struggle with bad hairstyles, I want that, and I want it now! Such an important post Asti, you should be very pleased! :)

      • I thought of another one: Quintana from the Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta. Have you read them, Asti? She’s not in the first book (Finnikin of the Rock), but in the last two (Froi of the Exiles, Quintana of Charyn). She’s perfectly savage.

        And then she was lying there beside him.

        “My feet were cold in their part of the compound,” she muttered.

        “Well, we can’t have that, can we?” he said, warming them against his and tucking the blanket over her body.

        “I heard the Avanosh aunt say, ‘She should grow her hair to hide that pointy chin and pointy nose.’”

        “If I see that pointy chin and nose hidden, I’ll have to hurt someone.”

        “You’re supposed to say I don’t have a pointy chin or pointy nose,” she said, somewhat dryly.

        “But you do,” he said. “And you also have pointy eyes,” he added as he kissed both lids, “and a pointy mouth,” he teased, pressing his lips against hers, “and a pointy tongue.” His body covered hers as he held her face in his hands and captured her mouth, the silk warmness of her tongue matching his, stroke by stroke. Then he felt the sharp nip of her teeth as his mouth dared to leave hers, traveling toward her throat, fleetingly tracing the scars from the noose. “And a pointy, pointy heart,” he murmured, feeling the powerful beat that her enemies had tried to crush from the moment she was born.

  8. So agree with this, Asti! Sometimes it’s hard for me to connect to characters who are perfectly attractive. Like, why can’t you have a bad hair day or something in your teeth? Geez. I appreciate it most especially when I read ‘curvy’ MCs. Not everyone has a slim/sexy body, please. Show me more of that. Flaws are real. I want to love characters despite their flaws.

    • Yes! I want characters to know they don’t fit the stereotypical view of beauty, but learn to love themselves anyways. It’s something I think we all have to struggle with – no matter if we’re fat/thin, acne/clear, hairy/hair loss, etc. I think everyone always has something they’re not 100% happy with.

  9. I agree completely! There truly is a lack of “ugly” in YA. The focus tends to be on emotional traumas rather than physical. This goes along also with the need for diversity and to represent disabilities. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern is one which really displayed a good side to YA diversity on the side of disability – you should check it out!

    In Game of Thrones Brienne is seen as a “manly woman” and they often express how unattractive she is, but I can’t think of a YA book which has a similar situation. Normally, the general YA female characters is described as somewhat secretly beautiful – though of course she can’t see it, and the boy must convince her of her beauty through the course of the novel.

    We need more ugly. And we need it yesterday.

    • Yes, I definitely agree. When we DO get YA characters that are less than beautiful, they usually ARE beautiful just don’t see it. I rather them NOT fit those stereotypical standards of beauty, and just learn to love and accept themselves for the flaws they have – all while kicking ass and taking names ;)

  10. I love this post. If I could hug a post, I would hug this one <3 I've read a few books that talk about overweight MCs, but it's ALWAYS the main problem they're trying to fix – I've never loved a book that deals with that subject in a healthy and realistic manner. Where is the body love?? But I think Future Perfect by Jen Larsen might be a winner – I'm keeping an eye on that one :D

  11. Good point Asti.
    I didn’t have a bad experience in high school but it wasn’t beautiful either that I can write about it and share it in YA universe. I was a fat and shy kid and although I had very low esteem then, music pave way to my bits of confidence. If I were to look back now, I could point myself as the DUFF of my group. But thinking about it, Bianca in Duff was even beautiful. She’s the only one who sees herself as ugly!
    Anyway, I think this is one of the common things that they forget in high school. The terrible hair, the bad posture, the acne, the BRACES, the unibrow, and a lot more. It’d be nice to meet a new character that would really mirror how it is really like in high school.
    Great post :)

  12. I agree. I really think that being a teen would have been easier if I read more characters with physical flaws. To be honest, that’s probably what appealed to me most about Judy Blume’s books when I was a tween… kids that are labelled fat (Blubber), girls that don’t have breasts (yet), they were all RELATABLE.

    Even now, I’m 25 and I’m having the worst skin breakout I’ve had since I was 14, and I’m so annoyed because I feel like IT’S ONLY HAPPENING TO ME but I’m certain that can’t REALLY be the case.

    Oh, by the way, I haven’t read Wonder, but when I was younger I did read Mask by John Minahan which has a similar premise. It was beautiful. I’m dabbling with writing a little at the moment and one of my most important things in breathing life into my character is giving her faults – just enough to make her real.

    • I haven’t heard of Mask – I’ll have to check it out!

      And yes. I do think oftentimes not seeing those types of girls represented in media can hurt because it makes us feel like it’s just us – when we know that that’s not the case. If visual media isn’t going to feature other types of non-traditionally beautiful people, then literature should!

  13. I WANT UGLY CHARACTERS. and hahah at the “creatures” coming out from high school.

    This is kind of why in most books, I just envision that generic character, especially when there’s no imagery involved at all. I don’t know why this isn’t more of a thing, maybe because authors like their characters to be beautiful because they’re their babies? But that’s not fair because personality counts and BEAUTY ISN’T EVERYTHING.

    Awesome post Asti :) You are not crazy

    • Another commenter mentioned imagining characters in their mind and how they usually think of the beautiful standard characters even when no description is provided, and I thought that was quite interesting because I think I do it too. It’s a bit sad our standard default has become that because we see so much of it. And yet oftentimes we have a hard time seeing ourselves as those standard defaults.

      Thanks Valerie. I’m definitely not sure why I worried so much about posting this post, since it seems most readers agree! XP

  14. I’ve got the hairy gene too, boo! And I agree, why are all the main characters so Hollywood sounding. When we talk about diversity in books, I think this is something that should also be included. Diverse shapes, diverse looks and more realism. There is so much unrealistic pressure on young people (how old do I sound!) to look flawless and I hate that YA books in another area where this is prevalent. Let’s hear it for bringing ugly back!

  15. I one hundred million percent agree with this, and felt like writing something similar once – all the characters are hot, or the girls wear no makeup and don’t think they’re hot but that’s because they’re unassuming and they are actually hot. Urgh?! Where’s my size 12-14s at never mind?! Where’s the people who are “normal” looking, living normal lives and not being chased by the sexiest things on legs?? Come on YA – I really want authors to step up to the mark!! Also, Celaena from TOG, yes, she’s supposed to be stunning, but she has scars all over her back ;)

    • Oh yes, I didn’t think about Celaena! But yes, as beautiful as she is, she has her own issues too. Though I do think it’s a bit weird that oftentimes when we do get the ugly it’s usually as a resulting of something physical that’s happened to them instead of them just being born like that.

  16. Wow…I have never thought of this before. When I read I usually imagine my characters either the way they look on covers (cover models) or I imagine them somewhat attractive. Of course I agree with you when you say how some characters say their “ugly” yet somehow attracts multiple people…

  17. I’m SO GLAD you wrote this post, as it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past year. I agree without you 100%. YA MCs are always impossibly beautiful (but they never know it) and impossibly perfect, and though I don’t mind reading that some of the time, I would appreciate a wider range of characters. Are authors afraid that we won’t want to read about “ugly” people? Most people are “average” looking, and we get enough unattainable “beauty” thrown in our faces in the media.

    I’ve been thinking all day about books with less-than-perfect MCs, and I did come up with a few. Queen of the Tearling’s MC is definitely “ugly.” I actually think the author took the concept too far, because Kelsea is CONSTANTLY being described/describing herself as ugly, overshadowing any other qualities she might have.

    My favorite example of an average-looking MC is Keladry from Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books. Keladry is such a badass, and physical “beauty” is very low on her list of priorities.

    Then there’s Elisa from The Girl of Fire and Thorns. My memory is hazy on this one, so I don’t remember if she’s actually described as ugly (at the very least, I think she’s “plain”), but her “fatness” is a huge theme in the book, and unfortunately that’s often equated with ugliness. I don’t think this one completely counts, though, because she goes through a magical transformation blah blah blah and doesn’t stay “ugly.” (I did like the books, but this part bothered me.)

    Oh, and I guess we shouldn’t forget Hermione, whose bushy hair and big teeth we’re constantly being reminded of.

    • I haven’t read any Tamora Pierce books, which I actually hate to admit since I feel like she’s such a big name! Whoops. But I do love the sound of Keladry – definitely better to be badass over beauty. ;) Haven’t read Queen of Tearling or The Girl of Fire or Thorns either, though I’ve heard decent things about both. (It’s a bit of a shame that with QoT the author actually overdid it. I do think finding the balance is quite important!) And of course, Hermione. It’s impossible not to love her!

      I’m so glad I shared this post, and thank you for your recs! Looking back at it now, I find it quite silly I was so nervous to share my thoughts on this! :P

      • Hah, now I know what your next bookish mail rec will be. ;)

        I read All Our Yesterdays last week, and it needs to be added to the list! Goodreads says you’ve read it? Anyway, when Marina is hanging out with her friends in the beginning, she complains about her acne, her “ugliness,” etc. Just the kind of normal teenage girl problems you’re looking for!

        • Okay, this is going to sound absolutely ridiculous, but I actually COMPLAINED about Marina’s complaints about herself while reading All Our Yesterdays. There was just one chapter in the beginning where she just hated on herself for three pages in a row and all I could thin was “SERIOUSLY?! So whiny!” So I guess even in that respect I guess I want a better balance? I think if she had only complained about her acne/ugliness, that would have been okay. But she was also talking about how stupid and clumsy she was, which just felt like overdoing it to me.

          But don’t worry, I absolutely LOVED All Our Yesterdays and was glad to see you were reading it on Twitter. I had actually almost chose it as my recommendation for you when I wrote my postcard but figured I should go more fantasy than sci-fi since it seems that’s where your heart lies!

          • Haha, no, it annoyed me too. Balance is good. That’s why I love the Keladry books – she’s very matter-of-fact about it; there were no thoughts of, “I’m so ugly, no one will ever like me, blah blah blah.”
            I do love my fantasy. :) I enjoy sci-fi, but I’m not as good at finding it on my own, if that makes sense. Everything I read back in high school was recommended by my dad. I struggle with romance novels masquerading as sci-fi, which seems to be the trend these days. (Although I guess the same could be said for a lot of fantasies?)

  18. Rock on Asti! I love that people have already mentioned Hermione and Eleanor.
    So, not that this opinion is right or even that I agree with it at all: but I think the characters that ‘sell’ the best are the characters that readers wish to become. Especially in fantasy or sci-fi stories where we are often reading to escape, explore and become. Very rarely in our dreams do we not picture ourselves in some perfectly beautiful state. Historically, I think readers have wanted that and writers have wanted to write that (as they escape and dream as well). More recently as culture cries out for all kinds of diversity in all things have we been characters that are purposefully ‘not attractive’ so that the reader may ‘relate’.
    Eh? Did any of that make sense? No? Than ignore. And again, not sure I totally agree with my own thought. But. It’s a thought.

    • I do think you have a point Alyssa. Some readers use reading as an escape so want these characters they can dream about being. But I do think there are some characters who do read to relate instead of escape. When I read any contemporary book, which isn’t often but does happen, I do not read it to escape my own life. That seems a bit silly for me, especially because most contemporaries that I get interested in contain dark topics. Instead, I read those ones to relate to them, to either help make sense of my own dark and difficult emotions or to learn how to empathize with characters I might not relate to. If I were to find a teen who struggled with their appearance the same way I did in high school, I would have been all over that.

      But no, I definitely agree with you. I think for some readers this definitely won’t be an issue because they read to escape to begin with. I just think both types should be offered on the market, so those who also read to relate and feel less alone about their own situations can feel good too. :)

  19. I think that maybe you’re lookng for a certain type of ugly and that’s why you’re disappointed at the lack of that in the fiction you read? I read all the time of characters who don’t see the eventual love interest as good looking until after they know the person more. Sure there are plenty of model-hot YA characters and yes, I’d like to see more normal weight on teen characters that reflects reality but I feel like a lot of YA characters straddle that normal range of okay looking on a good day but nothing extraordinary kind of appearance.

    And I think the idea that we all felt ugly is more important. I felt huge and plain looking in high school … and I look back now and realise I wasn’t either of those things.

    • I would say that’s not the case just because a majority of the other readers have commented and agreed with me – there is a lack of ugly in YA. I’m glad to hear that’s not the case in your experience though!

      I do think you’re right in saying that the idea that we all struggled with our images as teen is important (though I wouldn’t say more so – people who are overweight and struggle with acne and hair problems, etc, should still be represented in my opinion). Teens are in many ways influenced by the media’s portrayal of what is beautiful and struggle with their own images because of it – it should be apart of the stories we read. And not just in contemporaries!

  20. YESSSS!! I hate how every single girl is “gorgeous” or has “flawless skin” and “shiny hair”, blah blah. And what annoys me even more is that these girls seem to constantly think to themselves that they’re “average” or “plain” or “nothing special” but then everyone around them talks about how gorgeous they are. So what we end up getting is:

    * A girl who actually is gorgeous/perfect/flawless/whatevs.
    * A girl who doesn’t THINK she is those things, even though she is.

    So we have a girl complaining about how average she is when she’s actually gorgeous.

    GIVE ME A BREAK!!

  21. I wholeheartedly agree! Just the other day, I was thinking exactly about this. Why all the characters are gorgeous, and have this amazing abs, and that, when real life is not like that. I’m not even that attracted to pretty or hot guys, because most of the time they are just trouble. I much rather have a reliable, trustworthy, loving guy, who is average looking, but I don’t see them anywhere in literature. So yay Asti for bringing this topic to the table!

    • Yes! That is one of the main things that puts me off of reading romance. All the covers depict them as they beefed up hot guys with model looks, and I’m like… no thanks? My type is generally the tall, lanky, dorky guy to begin with who may not fit the standard definition of handsome but has a huge heart. Where are they at in stories? (I know they do exist, but not as much as I’d like!)

  22. This! I immediately thought of Eleanor and Park while reading this post. It’s a great example of a book with ‘ugly’ characters.
    . I was just pondering on this subject a few days ago… I was reading and was struck by the way the MC and love interest were described. It made me sigh. Like literally sigh. It’s unrealistic… but even boring as well.
    I would love to see some more ‘ugly’ in books!

    • It sounds like I need to read Eleanor and Park since that’s the one book everyone is recommending! (Though that’s sort of sad that it is the one and only book that pops into most people’s mind!) I left my copy with Dave in the UK though, so it’ll likely be a while before I get a chance to read it >.<

  23. Great post! It’s true, YA MCs are usually either a) beautiful, or b) unwilling to admit they are beautiful (even if they don’t fit the typical standard of beauty).

    I can think of a few books though with “ugly” MCs, and the Grisha trilogy is one of them. Alina is described as not being beautiful but average, and even less-than-average. It’s something she does comment a little on throughout the series, especially when she’s with Genya. I have to admit that my brain usually falls in to “standard YA beauty mode” when reading about Alina though and I imagine her as beautiful, even when she is described as otherwise. It’s a strange but concerning problem…

    • You know, you make an interesting point Lina! I have read the Grisha series and I totally forgot about how unsure Alina was about her looks compared to the other Grisha. In my mind I just assumed she was the typical YA beauty, because that’s sort of like my default setting. Sort of like how oftentimes when you read a book if the race isn’t identified you assume the character is white? It’s strange how our minds work like that. I didn’t even think about that aspect of it. Thanks!

  24. This is something I’ve always related to.I think it’s a bit unrealistic that all YA heroes are so hot and the girls really beautiful.I want not-so-good-looking MCs in YA!They’ll be more realistic if they are plain and average looking girls with typical teenage physical problems such as pimples,acne and marks.I’ve always loved leading ladies like this.Bianca from The DUFF is my favourite,with her plain looks and insecurity.Plus even the hero himself calls her ugly and average before falling in love with her.
    Great post Asti!

  25. All very good points.
    YA protags are often glamorized and skinny, but another notable “trend” is WHITENESS. And yeah, everyone else already beat me to the punch, but Eleanor & Park. Maybe also Linh Cinder from the Lunar Chronicles.

    • Ah yes, Cinder is a good example. There’s something quite cool about having a cyborg has a MC (though she definitely is a more beautiful cyborg than I’d be. Even if I were missing a leg, I doubt I’d catch the prince’s attention. ;))

      And yes, whiteness is always a problem. I was just pointing out another diversity issue in YA I’d like to see! :)

  26. I was actually just thinking about this, although not specifically in YA, because I was reading a Reunion of Ghosts and the main characters describe themselves as being unattractive and I was surprised by how much that surprised me! It really is unusual for a main character to be unattractive. To an extent, this makes sense because if you’re going to imagine being someone else, you might as well imagine being someone beautiful, but by the same token, if every character were a Mary Sue, I think reading would be pretty boring. Every character can’t be brilliant and athletic and perfect, so there’s no reason they should all be attractive either.

  27. Beauty is a “positional good”, like power — in fact, it is a form of power. Not just in terms of sexual attractiveness, either: people who are very good looking, or even better good looking and tall, make more money and are more likely to achieve political office, other things being equal. If you give a bunch of people a sheaf of photos of faces and ask them to speculate about the characters of the people, guess who gets the most favorable ratings on things which have nothing to do with appearance, like intelligence and trustworthiness? Yup, right in one.

    So however a culture defines beauty — in Tokugawa Japan, it was considered a serious complement to say someone’s face was ‘like an egg with eyes’ — by definition, most people aren’t going to have it.

    Wanting to be better-looking is like wanting to be lucky, powerful and rich: perfectly natural.

    Most characters in books are unusual in some way; their looks, their situation, latent superpowers, whatever.

    • Ah yes, I get all that. Beauty varies and people often wish to be beautiful and many MCs usually have such powers because we want to escape through them anyways – so why not have it all? I was just saying that I wish there were more cases of “ugly” in the books, for those readers who do not necessarily want to escape but to see themselves reflected in what they read.

      (I didn’t know about the compliment of ‘an egg with eyes’ though, so interesting!)

  28. I often find myself wondering the same about the lack of “ugly” protagonists, but then I think maybe I’m just interpreting the descriptions in a more beautiful way than intended? (If that makes sense.) After all, what we glean from books is largely based on different interpretations. Buuuuut I do still wish there were more obviously ugly protagonists!

    • I actually agree with you. I think another commenter above mentioned that if there isn’t a description of a character leaning one way or another, he/she automatically imagines a more beautiful character in their head. I guess in our society it has sort of become a “default”, similar to how many imagine people to be white when not told otherwise. I guess there’s nothing super wrong with that. Just feel like as a person who has struggled with certain parts of myself as a teen, it would have been nice to have a story reflect those problems.

  29. I’m so late to the party but YES! The one thing I can see explaining some of this lack is that you might find yourself thinking someone is more attractive if you love their personality. If I try to take a step back, my husband is and always was of average male attractiveness and now that a belly has replaced his abs, that is even more true. However when I look at him, my brain includes all the happy memories and good feelings I associate with him, so he seems more attractive to me because of that. It is probably a stretch to say that that justifies every YA being about gorgeous people though ;-). I sometimes wish we could just not focus so much on physical appearance at all in YA….

    • Oh yes, I actually agree with this! There have been plenty of times where I look back at my exes (including my ex-fiance) and go “wow, they weren’t as attractive as I thought they were.” When it comes to love we don’t only focus on the physical aspect of a person, it all rolls into one!

      I do think that kind of thing isn’t often depicted in YA though. Many times I feel like they automatically fall in love with each other BECAUSE of their looks, and then find out they have a great personality afterwards. It was one of the reasons I really liked reading Dark Triumph – the love interest started off ugly but then became beautiful through his personality and interactions with the MC. So good.

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