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.
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:
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.