Monday 28 May 2012

Looks, Books and Adolescent Self-Loathing

Before I say anything, you should probably read the post Laura from SisterSpooky posted a couple of days ago about book covers and the models they use and how they kind of misrepresent normal people. It's really good, and it's what got me thinking about this kind of thing.

So, I was reading Laura's post, and it got me thinking about how girls are represented in a lot of aspects in YA, from cover image to how they're actually presented as characters in the story, and I realised that I've noticed quite a lot about how image and appearance plays a big role in all of those things. I mean, I guess it's kind of obvious that they would be, but it's less about what they actually look like and more about how they view themselves.

In a lot of books that I read, the main character usually has self-image issues. I get it, everyone has some kind of self-image issue, right? Or at least most people do, anyway, and I don't have a problem with that. I love flawed characters and I greatly admire characters who recognise those flaws in themselves and actually have the will to try and change them or at least accept them, something as a fifteen year old girl myself I struggle immensely to do. 

But a lot of main characters have issues way beyond that that have come about purely because of their attitude to their appearance. They have some serious self-loathing going on. Which, again, isn't really the issue in itself because a lot of people have that going on themselves (me included), but it's more about how it's treated, and where this has all come from.

It's like (and again, I guess I'm kind of generalising) these characters think that because in their eyes they're not attractive then they must have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and is that what we want to be telling people? Young girls, especially? I find that the situation is sometimes this: there'll be a teen girl (the main character) who doesn't really like herself much, a hot guy will come along, they fall in love an it'll all be fine. That if you keep on hating yourself, some super sexy guy will come along and fix all your self confidence problems for you! Yay!

Or not yay, rather. It feels like their sometimes giving out the wrong message about how you should view yourself. Should we really be constantly feeding this idea about deeply inset insecurity, and how it attracts people? Because really doesn't it attract the wrong kind of people, the kind of people that think you must be easy to manipulate and control because of how insecure you are. You don't need someone to make you feel whole, and sometimes it feels like that's the idea these books are giving out. That you can't be okay by yourself. I'm going to pull out the most obvious example here, and you can roll your eyes, but Bella, anyone? As soon as Edward dashes off she thinks she's less than herself, and she thinks she can't be whole if she hasn't got Edward, and in three months she never even tries to get over that. She isolates herself, and she doesn't accept people's help, and it just makes me angry! It really annoys me when books give fantastical idealisms about unhealthy relationships because everything's okay if it's fictional! And it is, but that doesn't stop it from irritating me. I'm not trying to say that I want this to stop happening completely, because a) it never will, and b) people like that kind of thing! I'm not trying to make people feel bad about having fantasies about hot guys. It's just that sometimes there's more to read into it than that.

Why can't we have more characters that actually like themselves? Are we that insecure as a readership that we only want to read more book about girls who don't like themselves because it's so much easier to loathe people who actually do. I just want to see more people who are happy as themselves first. Relationships are supposed to better people, but they're not meant to make a person whole. In my opinion, a person is like a house, and a relationship should be like a conservatory or a nice extension, rather than the roof or the foundations.

I would like to see people with better self-image, because I don't think I'm pretty, but I know that I'm more than just a face, and that I have other redeeming qualities about myself, and I don't need to think that I'm attractive to think that people will like me, or that I'm a worthy person. And whether it be that a character is attractive and knows that they're attractive, or whether they're a nice person and they know that, and they like themselves for who they are, rather than who they are when they're with him.

Okay, so this kind of devolved into my usual rant about relationships, and it kind of went off topic a bit, but it was kind of more for me to get my feelings out about this, and I hope that I've at least been able to accomplish that.

*sidenote: I know that there are a lot of books already that don't do this, before you shout at me. I just wanted to rant about those that do. So, yeah.


  1. Wonderful post and. I love how you've really thought about the books and how the issue relates to you! So pleased my post has some small part in it but this post is all Cicely and you deserve a flail

    *muppet flail*

  2. This is such an awesome post! Really, I love it! I have to say, I don't notice much when books do it, but as I was reading your post, I remembered a book that you may be interested in if you haven't yet read it - Pretty Face by Mary Hogan. She is a larger girl, and starts off having bad self-esteem, but gets better - not because of a guy (though there is one, and he is a SWEETHEART), but through her own kind of self discovery. It's a fantastic story, and I can't recommend it enough!

  3. Awesome post cicely! I have to agree, this is one of the things that REALLY bugged me about The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han, it's like that entire book, including its title, is putting across the message that you have to be pretty for guys to notice you and when you turn pretty it's so amazing and you can take your pick of the guys!
    Thanks for this and sweetie, you're gorgeous! Never let anyone tell you any different, including yourself!

  4. This is a great post about self esteem and how it's portrayed in YA novels. So glad you shared your thoughts!

    Some ramblings off the top of our head...

    - Overall we agree with you. There should be more "strong" female characters -- not in the butt-kicking sense, but in the sense that they know who they are, are comfortable with it, and are proud of it. Not every heroine needs to be insecure or, as you put it, self-loathing.

    - There has to be a balance. Because there are LOTS of teen girls who ARE insecure (and maybe self-loathing, unfortunately), and they deserve to be portrayed too. It's just that right now they do seem to be a tad more prominent, don't they? Or maybe it's just that authors aren't as conscious of how their heroines are acting. So we need to raise awareness and increase diversity (of personality -- although ethnicity, socioeconomic status, etc. would be good too).

    - For the heroines who ARE insecure, do they evolve over the course of the story? As you say, what message is the book sending?

  5. Awesome, awesome, awesome post, Cicely! Yay for Laura's post inspiring your own!

    I've never really though about it much to be honest, but yeah, I do think it's rather silly when girls in YA complain about how they are ugly or whatever and then manage to get all these guys falling for them. I'm not the prettiest girl in the bunch and I complain about my own issues with that all the time but why don't I have guys falling for me?! Not that I want any guys falling for me...LOL.

    And yeah, it gets on my nerves when people with self-esteem issues aren't presented in a realistic way. You're totally right, just because somebody is not attractive, does that mean they aren't like, a 'good' person? That is completely the wrong message we want to be sending out. Personally, I've been told a lot about how I should look from other people, and I've never really paid attention but it gets to you, especially at the moment with other girls in school and stuff.

    (Um, I apologise if nothing I wrote makes sense... :/ Fab post though!!)


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