Saturday, October 22, 2011

YA is Full of Pretty People

When was the last time you opened a YA book and read a description of someone's glossy hair, chiselled cheekbones, or flawless, porcelain skin?

Five minutes ago, right?

Now, when was the last time you actually saw a teenager who looked like a Burberry model?

You don't see many, do you?

Okay, I'll stop speaking in questions. But really, why is YA so full of pretty people?

Think back to yourself as a teenager. Or, if you are still a teen, think of yourself and your friends. Imagine walking down the hall of your high school. You see heavier girls wearing sweats and oversize t-shirts to hide their stomachs, and you see way-too-skinny girls doing the same to hide eating disorders. You see boys with cuts from their first times shaving. You smell the people who forgot deodorant that day.

My point is that teens are rarely polished and perfect. So why are YA characters so perfect? It's rare to see a girl protagonist who's bigger than a size 8 -- unless it's an "issue" novel where her weight is the "issue." And male love interests? We constantly get Mr. Perfect. Cheekbones that stick out a mile, sexy five o'clock shadow, tousled -- but perfect -- hair, and smouldering eyes. Edward Cullen, Patch Cipriano, Noah Shaw, anyone? It's so, so rare to get an actual, living, breathing teenage boy as a love interest, patchy beard, bad fashion sense and all.

And the biggest issue I have with this? Acne. The teenage years are full of unsightly red monstrosities. No one is immune to it, not even the rich girls with access to the most expensive skin regiments. And yet, open up your current YA read, and I'm willing to bet everyone has flawless skin.

I had chronic acne from the time I was 11 all throughout my teens. It's better now, but it's still there. I went through hell dealing with it, everything from my mom constantly treating it like a scientific experiment, to my former best friend using it as gossip fuel when she left me for other friends. And I know a lot of teens have the same experience.

But I've yet to see acne make an appearance in a YA novel, at least not as a serious issue. Maybe the occasional zit causing some angst, but never to the extent to which I know it can come to.

Is it too much to ask, to have more realism in our YA? Because not all of us are Pretty People.


  1. I agree with you. Young adult fiction does have way too many pretty people. We do need more realism. And the last book I read with someone "struggling" with acne was an R.L. Stine book.

    I also love the new look of your blog. :)

  2. Thanks Tracey! I may not like the too-pretty people, but blogs can never be too pretty! :P

    I have a lot more to say on this subject... a part 2 may be coming soon.

  3. Very thought-provoking post! Hollywood has the same problem. The not-so-pretty people are relegated to the supporting roles or the quirky characters. I guess I've never thought about acne much in my novels, because I didn't have a problem with it when I was a teen. (Weird, I know--I've never had many zits, my entire life.)

    But you're right. Where's the realism?!

  4. I agree! I actually like when my characters aren't perfect! My main character in my book CANARY does worry about her zits!!! Woo hoo!

  5. Maybe I'm weird, but I find almost everyone attractive in some way, so to me, describing someone as "cute" or with "nice hair" or a "perfect smile" isn't an anomaly. I think it's all in the author's perspective. Especially as adults looking back, authors are able to see that which vendettas or self-centered-ness obscured. I completely disagree when a character is "perfect" or "god-like" or whatever, but I have no problem with everyone having some attractiveness.

    Because honestly, especially when you're seeing the love interest from the MC's POV, MC is going to describe the boy as perfect. That guy I like right now? Drop dead sexy. Realistically? He's got some acne, he isn't perfectly defined, his eyebrows are really weird. But right now, if I were to describe him in a novel of my life, I would talk about how his coppery eyes that jump out of his tan skin, how obsessed with his arm muscles I am, and the lines of his lips. (Yes, I am going overboard to make this point.) Keep in mind perspective.

  6. That's so true! Literally just finished a book with the "perfect" guy in appearance. However, if he's a love interest, it makes a little more sense to see him through rose-tinted glasses. But I take your point with the rest of the cast of characters. Why is everyone a size 8? Why is acne skirted over? Good issues to muse on.

  7. I totally agree. But this shows up WAY more in PNR and sometimes even fantasy than it does in contemporary. I'm reading The Last Little Blue Envelope right now, and the love interest is pretty well-rounded and just super-cute, not PERFECT.

    LOL. I guess that's why I like contemporary fiction so much.

  8. @Taryn and C D Meetens: Yes, you guys are right about perspective. I didn't even think of that. It is true that someone who's besotted would look at a person with rose-tinted glasses. And it's true that everyone does have something gorgeous about them. But I prefer that gorgeousness comes from the inside. Sometimes I think certain people are really funny looking, but when I get to know them, and how funny and considerate and interesting they are, I start thinking that they're hot/cute/pretty.

    @Rida: It's true, it does tend to happen a lot more in PNR than contemporary. And my tastes tend to lean toward contemp, too ;)

  9. Great post, Becca. I agree that fictional people are way too polished - not just in YA, but most genres. I've tried to make my characters more realistic but I actually feel pressure to make my characters 'more than ordinary' because I've been told many times that people don't like reading about people who are completely average and normal. It's hard to find the balance... Have you found this?