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Why are all YA characters so gosh-darn beautiful?

All right, Im aware that the last book I reviewed featured a zombie love interest, and zombies are by their very definition not beautiful, but I have been meaning to write this post for a while.

I owe my inspiration, of course, to the many young adult authors out there who seem to have been looking to fashion magazines and IMDB to help them visualise their characters. (Not to mention the Adobe Colourwheel for that all-important vampire eye-colour inspiration.)

Ive seen Pinboards galore of smouldering young actors and actresses, and all sorts of inspiration collages featuring beautiful types. And lets not get started on those wholl play my characters in the film adaptation memes, shall we?

Why, if my career as a spunky love interest falls through, Ill simply hit up Vogue

The Spymasters Lady 150x150 Why are all YA characters so gosh darn beautiful?

Of course Im just your average sixteen-year-old!

Largely because of this visual inspiration board obsession, albeit perhaps in part also thanks to certain well-known paranormal romance authors who have a thing for sparkly dead gents, it seems that just about every love interest in every young adult novel Ive read of late could land a career with'Vogue. (Assuming a photographer could capture those ubiquitous violet eyes, that is.)

The largely female protagonists are much the same, although theyd never admit soits a fact of YA that no matter how stunningly gorgeous our protagonist is, she must be utterly incapable of seeing herself as anything more than plain. Feminism, schmeminism: its all about self-flagellation here.

Think of it as editorial airbrushing, hmm?

ugly nerd 150x150 Why are all YA characters so gosh darn beautiful?

Now, theres nothing wrong with beautiful people (having nothing wrong with them is what makes them beautiful in the first place, of course), but it does feel a little odd reading about all these musclebound lads with chiselled jaws and haunting eyes when my memories of teenaged boys involve over-gelled hair, spotty skin and jeans sagging so low that they put a plumbers crack to shame. Sure, Im all for a bit of fantasy, and I understand that its far easier for a reader to identify with someone at least averagely attractive and up, but to be honest, its hard not to feel a bit giggly when trying to imagine the magnetic gaze and manly shoulders of a young teen.

How about we try this from another angle, darling?

Its true that certain genres of YA, more than others, have an escapist bent, and that part of that is the indulgence of our desire to be a part of the beautiful crowd, but I cant help but feel that a slightly more nuanced approach to all of this love interest beauty stuff couldnt hurt.

Your characters dont need to be drop-dead gorgeous for someone to be attracted to them (indeed, they dont need to be drop dead gorgeous at all), and they certainly'dont need to be described as model-perfect in order to be attractive. In fact, to be honest, characters appearances often hardly need to be described at all. Their interactions with other characters is plenty enough for a reader to get a sense of what were dealing withtheres no need to count abs, measure biceps, or wax lyrical about violet eyes* to get your point across.



*Have I mentioned that I cant stand violet eyes? Stop that! Everyone! Stop that right now!


  1. I have to agree with you, and is one of the reasons I have to step away from YA books every once in a while. Maybe that is why I gravitate toward tea cozy novels, the heroines are not perfectly built but I fall in love with them anyway. And the heroes never have violet eyes. Ever. :D

    • Stephanie /

      Im just starting to feel so very jaded about this genre, and so alienated by this obsession with beauty and branding. YA has such potential to be a perspective-expanding, life-changing, challenging genre, but everythings beginning to feel like a Ridge-filled soap opera to me.

      • I think that is why I enjoyed the Hunger Games so much. There is actually very little physical descriptions given, and more time is spent on emotional and psychological perspectives. The Uglies was also interesting, in its commentary on the perspective of what is beautiful. Seemingly mocking the genre it is.

        • Stephanie /

          Too true, Jami. In the HG, the characters personalities are definitely forefronted ahead of their looksin fact, their looks are often mocked (eg, when Katniss feels ridiculous when shes paraded around in her flame outfit). I havent read Westerfelds ugly books, but his book So Yesterday, about trend-spotting, does something similar.

  2. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out /

    LOL Stephanie, I have to agree it drives me mad when the heroine is gorgeous but oblivious to it Ive never met a model like beauty who didnt know it!

    • Stephanie /

      So true, Shelleyrae! My biggest peeve Ive read of late was from Starcrossed, where the girl is a reincarnation of Helen of Troy and thinks that shes mousy and plain. Oh, pfft!

      But what is it with this obsession with beauty? I went to a Jeffrey Eugenides talk a while ago, and he was complaining that a film adaptation of a short story of his about an ugly man cast attractive actor in the role, and made him eccentric rather than ugly. It was something that was at odds with the entire purpose of the original story.

  3. Its author wish fulfilment.
    Wot? you didnt get that I was imagining David Tennant the whole time I was talking about Hamish/Shambles? Not that hes beautiful in the traditional sense, but . . .
    sorry, one mention of David Tennant and I forget what I was talking about . . . .

    • Stephanie /

      Ha, the love interest version of Mary Sue-ism, you think?

      See, I found Hamish/Shambles attractive because of his character and because of the way that Ondine responds to him, not necessarily because hes Dr Who in ferret form. :) Hes so likeable and kind that its hard not to find him appealing. Actually, perhaps thats what it is with some of these YA characters. Theyre so stalkerish and terrifying that they need to be gorgeous to not put off the reader

  4. Totally agree. So over the too perfect guys and the falsely modest girls. I think thats why Im being drawn to contemporary. Im so over girls having their breath taken away and losing their ability to form coherent words every time a guy so much as sniffs in their direction. Ugh.

    • Stephanie /

      I agree, Belle, and Im really starting to feel quite jaded about the YA genreespecially the paranormal romance side of things. Id love to see some empowered females, or even a plot without, gasp, a romance!


  6. Agree! As usual!

  7. Thats my problem with YA. Too formulaic.

    • Stephanie /

      I wouldnt see its a problem across all YA by any means, but there are certain subgenres that really do lend themselves to these broad-brush, stereotyped approachesthe paranormal and chick lit-style genres are probably the most likely contenders for doing so.

  8. Too true but the problem is that we authors want to get a publishing deal, and thats what the public wants, apparently I am in the process of pulling back on the dark good-looks of one of my male protagonists in my first attempt at YA fiction (the other male protagonist is drop dead g what can I say, I want a deal!). But re the girls not knowing they are beautiful cant you remember how poor your self-image was at 16? I thought I was hideous, and when I look at the photos now I realise I was way too harsh with myself. But, although I thought I was hideous, I hoped some gorgeous boy would see the true me and think I was, well, the reincarnation of Helen of Troy My fave YA moment as a teenager when the cute guy in A Wrinkle in Time takes off the girls glasses and tells her what beautiful eyes she has I wore thick glasses and hated them. It was a real ahhhh, maybe that could happen to me one day moment for me.

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