Let’s talk about pretty.

Not the writing kind. Well, maybe. I don’t know yet, shut up. Anyway, before we begin HOORAY OLYMPICS and congratulations to Great Britain on an amazing opening ceremony!

Say what you want about the Beijing ceremony. I didn’t see it. What I *did* see was a wonderful tongue-in-cheek rendition of British history in a thoroughly fantastic show.

I also had a *sqwee* moment with Sir Kenneth Branaugh as Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Because I am a steampunker. And because of these guys, I had a song stuck in my head (of the same name) for a while.

Awesome band. Go download them. Now.

But that’s not what this post is about. No. This post is about human beauty.

And why it’s f#cked up that I can look at the Olympic swimmers and wish that I was that skinny. And that pretty.
Never mind that I have a book to write. Never mind that I keep telling myself that ‘it’s personality that matters’ and ‘beauty is only skin deep’ and ‘looks fade with age, personality is permanent’. Blah, blah, blah, who hasn’t heard it before?

I know these things. I’ve known these things for years and yet I’m still programmed to look at physicality for validation of my worth as a human being.

Again. F#cked up.

Never mind that at one point in my life I *was* that skinny. And I *did* have a swimmer’s body.

Author’s note: For all intents and purposes I don’t think I’m pretty. Never have, possibly never will. I’ve *always* had body issues. Being an awkward teenager continuing into my early twenties did not help my case any. Not to mention I was bullied as a kid. For my glasses. And hair. Of all things.

Judge for yourself.

This post isn’t about me. God help me, I’m not that pretentious. I just have no other examples to use but myself and the crazy that goes on in my head. Bear with me, I’ll get to the point of the post here in just a tick. Promise.

I was a competitive swimmer in high school. I loved every bit of it. The competitions anyway, the practices could go stuff it. I lived to dominate the water and I was damned good at it. At one point my coach wanted me to swim for UCLA, I think in an attempt to get me into the Olympic qualifiers match and if I managed (by some miracle) to place, boost her ego by telling the world she’s training an Olympiad. This is the same woman I nearly came to blows with, by the way.

I had big shoulders, big arms and a small waist. With my uber short hair a easily pulled off looking like a guy.

Fast forward to 2007. I’m back from my first deployment to Bahrain standing at 5’8″ at 146 lbs. A size six. First and last time ever in my life. My mother would demand to know how I stayed that skinny when I came home on leave.

I’ll tell you guys the same thing I told her;  I. Did. Not. Eat.


Save for maybe one meal a day, I didn’t eat. And I ran. All. The. Time. Three or four hours of running was no problem. I was skinny. Yes I felt good. No it wasn’t worth it. Despite the looks I got, the catcalls, the boost to the ego, it wasn’t bloody worth it. Because when I was ‘pretty’ I was an object to be ogled. No one cared that I had a brain in my head or that I could recite the Navy’s history back to front or that I lived in the library. I was a size six. Valuable to society.

(If you don’t believe me, go into Google and type ‘pretty’ into the search bar. Note how many ‘how to’ websites there are and tell me our society has normal views of what is and what is not valuable).

After skyrocketing to 200 pounds and experiencing that weight and all of the circumstances surrounding it, I’m back down to a size twelve (American size ten) to fourteen (twelve) depending on the pants I wear and the scale stubbournly refuses to say I’m anything less than 180 pounds.

Still valuable? Mmmm. Not so much. Still healthy? Not according to this:

Pictures added to make you feel worse about yourself.

So, why do I bring this up? Well, because as a writer I think it matters. The pretty thing. Not the BMI chart. The BMI can go straight to hell. I’m 180 pounds, walk my ass off at my waitressing job, try to make it to the gym at reasonable intervals throughout the week and I’m still unhealthy? Right.

The reason I bring up the pretty bit is for characters in a book. Or on television if you want to go that far. Has anyone ever noticed that many main female characters are pretty bordering on gorgeous, and male characters are always well muscled with abdominals and arms one could cut diamonds on? I’m not saying this is true of *all* novels, or television shows, but the majority I’ve read/seen have those features of their main characters.

Maybe it’s a teenager thing, but it seems to be the general theme with those books. Pretty girl with a major flaw falls for the brooding guy with a secret with another equally cute guy somewhere in the background, or a cute group of friends. Spin it any way you want too, but there’s always ‘pretty’ and ‘gorgeous’ in there somewhere. Or references to some body part or another being flat (stomach), muscled (arms/chest),  strong (jawline). It’s as if these characters can’t exist without having something about them which propels them into the pretty category.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen adult (without it being a Romance novel) books just like this. Television and movies are offenders as well. The main character/lead role, in some way shape or form, is some sort of pretty or has something pretty about them. Sex sells. We all know that.

But why? Does a main character *have* to be pretty in order to obtain the lead role? Does he or she have to have a perfection of some kind to make them desirable or to have someone fall in love with them?


Maybe it’s this line of thinking that leads me to downplay Melanie’s looks. To give her a dancer’s body but an unremarkable face despite her eyes. George is nothing spectacular, either. But doctors aren’t supposed to be. Mickey is a fighter, naturally he’s going to be muscled but not overly so. Jacob is unremarkable as well. About the only character that has something remotely interesting about him is Bertrand in that he could be Thomas Reddington’s twin. The only really pretty person is Lizzie and she dies. Read into that what you will.

Make no mistake, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having attractive characters, all of them have to be in some way or the love stories we write about just wouldn’t work (neither would it in real life), and if done well the physical attributes of characters are nice details but overall unimportant to the general make up of the book and the story it contains.

So now I pose a question to you, my friends. Whether you be a writer or reader or both. How important is it to you that your characters be ‘pretty’ or ‘attractive’ do you go out of your way to write them as such? For you readers; are you liable to rally around a character who is physically attractive more than you are a character who has a force of personality?

Does it really matter either way?



You can tell me I’m crazy. Honest. I won’t get mad.

18 thoughts on “Let’s talk about pretty.

  1. Chris James says:

    Really nice post, RJ, thanks for making me smile 🙂
    I think that the BMI index is the biggest load of codswallop ever invented, because it takes no acount of bone thickness nor muscle build. It really is the worse kind of quack medicine.
    Also, my favourite idiom regarding beauty is: Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes to the bone 🙂

  2. Courtney Privett says:

    My characters are sometimes someone’s “type” but aren’t considered universally attractive. What’s attractive to one person can be considered odd-looking or even ugly by another, and sometimes perception of appearance changes when the perspective does. I based that on my own unconventional tastes. I find the introverted bookworm sexy, while others consider his eccentricity detracting and his appearance somewhat effeminate. The protagonist of my latest release is self-described as completely average, and often finds herself jealous of the pretty girls. The narrator of my current project is never described by his looks in terms of attractiveness. I give a general idea of his coloring and build and let my readers come up with their own look for him. I try only to write attractiveness where it makes sense – such as a young man talking about his crush on a public figure, or an antagonist’s deceptive charisma – and I let the characters’ personalities and actions define them instead of how skinny or pretty they are.

  3. avcarden says:

    A fantastic post. I completely agree with you. Some of my favourite books have plainer characters but strong or quirky personalities. Jane Eyre, Jo from Little women, A main character in a book called Burned who was badly scared, but I found him sexy as hell. Ooops, said too much! You get my drift though. I look forward to reading your book. 🙂

    1. rjkeith says:

      Thanks! I loved Jo and Jane Eyre. They were wonderful characters that weren’t necessarily pretty, but had the force of personality to carry the story and make you fall in love with them.

  4. Yvonne Hertzberger says:

    First – yes, the Brits put on a spectacular show, with all the bells and whistles and even that w9onderful self-deprecating humour. Kudos. I loved it.
    As for pretty, the charts are all f%^$#ed up. I had some weight issues until I met a nutritionist who didn’t care about weight. Now I’m 160 lb. at 5’4″. The charts sat I need to lose another 25 lb. My nutritionist forbids me to lose more weight because I am healthy now and can maintain this. I’m with her.
    I suspect the same is true fro you. And if that is a recent pic of you – you ARE pretty – very pretty, in fact, nice full mouth, lovely skin, great eyes. So there.
    For me, I don’t need my characters to be gorgeous. Most of mine are fairly ordinary. Not head turners. But I don;t describe them in detail and I think readers form their own pictures in their minds of what they look like even when there are descriptions. (But I still would love to have Clive Owen play Klast. Teehee)

    1. rjkeith says:

      I think you just made me turn beet red! Thanks, Yvonne! If your picture is recent as well then no, you don’t need to lose any more weight. You’re gorgeous. And I love the hair. I loved all of your characters, but I think Brensa was my absolute favourite because I could identify with her the most. And Clive Owen would be awesome as Klast :D, can that happen? Who at HBO do we need to talk too?

      1. Yvonne Hertzberger says:

        lol I’m open to suggestions. I have actually had people tell me my book would make a good movie.
        And thanks. But I think 63 no longer qualifies a gorgeous – maybe attractive. It’s taken me a long time to say that, even. Losing 55 lb two years ago didn’t hurt, either.

      2. rjkeith says:

        Boo on that. I think you’re gorgeous. Yes! Yes your series would make an awesome movie, though I’m partial to mini series myself. HBO is my favourite thing 😀 ScyFy, too.

  5. Bubbe says:

    You have REAL lips girl! I have to use a magnifying mirror to see my top lip and if I don’t use lip liner they disappear! Seriously though, I understand what you’re saying about “feeling” not pretty. I’ve always considered myself more interesting looking than pretty and we all know that “interesting” is a euphemism.

    On to the topic of books and the characters. One of my very favorite series is about Odelia Gray, a legal assistant who is on the Rubenesque side. The books are written by Sue Ann Jaffarian and I just learned she has a new one out – woot! Ahem, sorry. Odelia accidentally becomes something of an amateur sleuth. She is funny and real and I want to be her friend. And she’s unashamedly big. And now I can’t wait to get her next adventure!! 😀

    P.S. – I love your eyes, eyebrows and glasses too! In a completely non-stalkerish way I mean.

    1. rjkeith says:

      Aww, thanks Bubbe! I think one of my favourite characters growing up had to be Jo from Pretty Women. I don’t ever remember her being pretty, but I remember her awesome personality and her choice of husband which struck me as odd when I was younger (girls shouldn’t marry older men!) by put being older I can appreciate it.
      And I’m absolutely sure you’re gorgeous, Bubbe. The kitty is just a cover 😀

      1. Bubbe says:

        Thanks. Good thing Hubs thinks so! And that’s my own kitty Twiggy. Since I blog anonymously I rarely post photos, though the one with my anniversary post is an actual wedding photo. 😀

      2. rjkeith says:

        Eeee! A kitty named Twiggy! That’s awesome 😀 that picture was a wonderful shot! It looked like it was a grand time!

  6. Amber Dane says:

    BMI talk not allowed in my house 🙂 There’s enough female issues to deal with without throwinig that into the mix. This is a great post and just last night my daughter and I were discussing swimmer and gymnastic bodies. She was a swimmer in school and went through the not skinny enough stage-Arrghh it’s maddening! As for characters, I try to make my characters inner beauty attract the male. But I am guilty of the hunky male-is it necessary? Not all the time,but it is what I like. But less than perfect characters work for me just the same. Btw, I love your picture-very beautiful!

    1. rjkeith says:

      I’ll admit to liking the hunky male and maybe even it shows in my characters. I can’t help myself but I try to give them enough flaws to make them more than a pretty face. I’m still in that not skinny enough phase! I HATE it! Even when I was down to 146 lbs there was still something I could fix about myself. I think my hips were the main culprit, I don’t really remember. It was-and is-damned maddening! Your daughter is-I’m sure-a gorgeous girl!

  7. Jennifer Stuart says:

    This is really very interesting to me! I read the post and comments and walked around my apartment thinking about it. What is it that makes me feel attracted to a character?
    I have only just started writing short stories. I think I was paying more attention to how certain characters saw the bodies of other characters, rather than how their bodies were objectively; is that weird? The objective is hard especially for women because even if I read that a woman was “attractive and slim” or something, I would not assume in any sense that she herself felt that way.
    Maybe there are different ways of relating to characters and writing styles, almost like different personality types. I tend to be amazed and affected when I get the “I am not alone” feeling while reading something, even fictional. So in that sense, being a flawed person makes me perhaps love to read about other flawed people, because how could I possibly empathize with someone who looked and felt beautiful all the time? It would be very unrealistic 🙂

    1. rjkeith says:

      I never thought of it that way, but you’re right. How can we empathise with a beautiful character that knows, and walks around knowing they’re beautiful? I think rats why Mar Sues are hated so much.

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