Oct 2, 2014

Beautiful Stories for Ugly People

All right, so here's a secret: I'm not very good-looking. I do not say this in a self-pitying way—I'm just not, like I'm not blonde or seven feet tall. Believe me when I say I don't actually care at this point in my life about my attractiveness or lack thereof. There are so many more interesting things to be besides "pretty," and I'd rather focus on being those things than on being physically desirable.

Where is my YA story?

Where are the stories for the millions of other teens who aren't all that much to look at?

Eleanor & Park, you say. Okay, fine—but there are a few problems with this. For one thing, neither Eleanor nor Park is unattractive. (And if you mean to tell me "fat" or "Korean-American" is equivalent to unattractive, the best thing now is probably for you to exit.) For another, even if they were, why do we get one story? Why is there one story that is supposed to represent what millions and millions of teens—in fact, billions of people—experience? And we all know YA lit is dominated by romance, whether realistic or speculative or anything in between, so: why are you saying that people like me can't fall in love?

I want a story. No, I want hundreds of stories, of the love variety and of other kinds. I want them to feature people who aren't much to look at. I want them to feature heroes and heroines and [gender-neutral term for those with exceedingly noble qualities] who are, at best, plain, and at worst straight-up ugly.

But that wouldn't sell. But that's too big a risk.

What I think about this is essentially that you're saying: no one has ever done this before, so it couldn't possibly work. And the worst defense of them all is "We can't change because we've always done it this way."

If it fails completely, okay. That's fine. (It's not really fine, but:) At least you had the gall to try something different. Not just something different for funsies—something different that matters. Because if you don't think there are teens and others whose sense of self-worth ties directly with their physical appearance, I've got some bad news for you. (The news is that you're completely silly.)

And, for the record, I don't think this would fail. I know we all want to fall in love with the superduperhot person, but there is like one of those out of every ten random people. Maybe even fewer than that. What are the odds everyone is going to end up in a relationship with a strikingly objectively beautiful human being? Not high. (Unless polygamy is their thing.)

To borrow some John Green parlance, the straight do not have a monopoly on love. Neither do the white. Neither do the able-bodied. Neither do the pretty. I've seen a million calls to action for those things I mentioned first, and I'm not even going to pretend stories for ugly people are anywhere near as important as stories for people of color and disabled people and LGBTQ+ people. But there is room for stories for everyone, and those of us who do not look like we are Photoshopped qualify as people, last I checked. And there are plenty of us. And we'd really like to show up as more than the best friend or the villain—or the protagonist who's beautiful but doesn't know she's beautiful and that's what makes her beautiful.

Just something to consider as you're writing that love interest. Some of us aren't pretty. Doesn't make us any less beautiful.