Image by Pretty as a Picture on DeviantArt.com
I'm as guilty as the next person in craving Pretty. I buy books that have Pretty covers or Pretty characters. My favorite Disney movie is Beauty and the Beast. And I'm always on the look-out for art and photography that express Pretty through an artist's eye (like this photo above, which is stunning. Wouldn't that make a great book cover?)
But I digress. Before writing this blog post, I got to thinking about Pretty in young adult literature. I can only come up with a handful of main characters that aren't Pretty. (And yes, I'm capitalizing Pretty on purpose, because the way I'm using it here makes it more of a proper noun. An entity unto itself.) There was The DUFF by Kodi Kelpinger, although interestingly enough, the main character, Bianca, is neither fat nor ugly. And there's The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, where the main character starts out fat and with low self-esteem, but gradually becomes a force unto herself (coincidentally as she loses weight).
And then I got to thinking, would people still read a YA (particularly the romantic books) if the characters weren't Pretty? What if Anna from Anna and the French Kiss wore a size 14? Or what if your favorite kick-butt heroine was so plain she was almost invisible? Even when the characters don't see themselves as Pretty, it turns out that everyone else thinks of them that way. (Think Bella Swan or Lena Haloway from Delirium.)
Putting the media and marketers aside, why is it that we don't read books about normal looking people? Or for that matter, why don't we as authors write more normal-looking people? When was the last time you read a book where the MAIN CHARACTER had an acne problem? Why do we consistently reinforce the message that you'll only ever be in a supporting role if you're not Pretty?
I have all these questions swirling through my brain, knowing I suffer from these very problems myself, but I don't have any answers (short of calling myself shallow, that is). I mean, did I not spend hours scouring the internet looking for the most beautiful brunette I could possibly find for the cover of my own novel? And what can I do about it going forward without losing readers? After all, you don't get the TV news from unattractive anchors. Are people will to read about unattractive characters, even if their looks are not the focus of the novel?
So here's what I want to know -- particularly from any teens out there -- would you be more or less likely to read a YA novel where the character had a physical flaw or was less than attractive? Would you pick up a book if the cover model looked like the girl on the right instead of the one on the left? Or or why not?