Sunday, February 24, 2013

I feel pretty, oh so pretty

Do you know what I really hate? 

(No, it's not the bogan neighbours at the flats next door who insist of playing crap music at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night -- hey look! I got old!) 

What's annoying me this week are all those YA heroines who don't know how pretty they are. 


I'm fairly sure that teenage girls know if they're good looking. If they don't, the boys soon let them know. Good-looking is like cool. You either have it or you don't, and in high school, you sure as hell know which camp you're in. 

I won't. I'll hate you because you're either oblivious, or you're being wilfully dissembling. 

It's like Bella in Twilight, and how she complained about her flawless pale skin and her flowing dark hair. The author wants us to think that Bella thinks she's not beautiful, but really, we're supposed to know she's actually beautiful. 

And I get that. It's a workaround. Nobody is going to warm to a narrator who goes on about how wonderful good-looking she is. Except for this guy: 

And this is where showing, not telling, is your friend. Show us how people react to your heroine. Show us boys who ask her out. Show us best friends who wish they had her hair. Show us siblings who get jealous. Show us, but don't stab us in the eye with it. Readers are smart. We'll get it. 

Because it is possible to know you're good-looking and still be nice and smart at the same time, isn't it? Because if we really think that every beautiful teenage girl has to be the bitch of the story, then something has gone horribly wrong. 

And if we think that if we write about that girl -- that smart, pretty, nice girl -- that we'll alienate our readers, then what does that say about sexism and feminism and prejudice? 

Here is my mother's sage advice on feminism: "You girls can do anything you want, but don't burn your bra. Bras are expensive." 

What's annoying you this week? 


  1. I like your mom's advice! A story has more angst if there is a heroine who isn't full of herself.

  2. Not sure I entirely agree that girls know which camp they're in. Sure, there are some who are extremely aware what weaponry they're packing, and aren't afraid to use it. But there are also those who are pretty but don't believe it because they're too insecure to see anything but the imperfections. I am hoping my daughter doesn't end up in either camp.

    At the end of the day, we write about what we think makes a good story. Any resemblance to real life is purely incidental :)

    1. Oh it's absolutely true that there are girl who use their looks as a weapon, and girls who are completely insecure...but I'm really hoping that writers can start pushing another sort of girl -- one who is confident in her looks without being a bitch!

  3. Your mum is a wise woman indeed.

    And yes, this is an extremely frustrating trope. Maybe it was all right the first few times because maybe an insecure teenager wouldn't realise how pretty she is, especially if she's been bullied, but it's been done to death now. Time for a change!

    1. That's a good point Miss Cole -- the bullied girl. In that case, show me a story where she gains confidence, not where she remains oblivious.

      And my mum is very wise!

  4. That definitely annoys me too. It's not that they don't care that they're beautiful or are insecure, they don't realize they're good looking and that just doesn't happen.

    I also hate the girls who care nothing about boys and being in love...until the mysterious stranger walks in. Then that's ALL she can think about.

    1. Lol! Don't even get me started on the girls who care nothing about boys until the Mysterious Stranger. Please. Teenage boys aren't mysterious at all. They're an open book!

  5. There's plenty of girls who are pretty and don't know it. Did we learn nothing from "The Breakfast Club"? :p

    But yeah, usually they don't fit the stereotypical mold and so don't see what they have. Or they come into their beauty slowly, like the way Daryl Hannah was tall, shy, and gawky in high school and never had a date.

    Heck, I was in college before a guy ever made a move on me, and it took me totally by surprise.

    But yeah, the way a writer presents that is what counts.

    1. All I learned from The Breakfast Club was nobody puts baby in a corner...wait, wrong iconic movie.

      I think Daryl Hannah is the exception to the rule. Mostly when the uber-beautiful people claim they weren't popular in high school, it's got to be bullshit.

      I think my problem is not that these characters don't know they're beautiful, it's that they're so obviously beautiful that everyone else knows it and acts accordingly, the character is just oblivious. And I don't think anyone's that oblivious.

      And I love people that don't fit the stereotypical idea of beauty, and totally buy that they don't know what they've got. Whether they're late bloomers, or lacking in confidence, those are the characters I want to see shine.

  6. This can definitely be done believably, but it usually comes across heavy-handed instead. I recently read an opening where the MC kept insisting she was hideous despite her best friend plying her with compliments and two guys hitting on her within a couple pages. Epic eye roll.

    1. See, there is a perfect example of an MC who would annoy me so much I'd stop reading. Too annoying, and too unbelievable.



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