We all know that magazines distort teen girls’ perception of beauty, but lately I’ve been asking myself, do books do the same thing? After all, you can only read so many books about a blond bombshell before you start to wonder if blondes, in reality, have more fun.
It was time for an experiment.*
I tallied the physical characteristics of female protagonists in 50 bestselling YA books that came out in 2012**. (I was going to do 100, but wow did I underestimate how long this project would take! Just imagine the amount of research required to find out the eye color, hair color, hair length and ethnicity of girls in 50 different books… Yeah …)
Just for giggles, I made an image of what your typical YA heroine would look like if you combined all the percentages.
Hair length: ALL of the female protagonists had long hair except for 2. That’s it folks. (Kudos to John Green who’s Fault in Our Stars had a girl with short, black hair. Way to show diversity John!)
What surprised me? Only one, (ONE!) book had a female protagonist who was not white. I mean, wowzers people. (Not surprisingly? The author of that book was not white – see Prodigy by Marie Lu).
But here’s where things got interesting.
Usually in books where the heroine was described as “ordinary looking“, she was a brunette. In books where she was described as “beautiful” or “pretty” she was twice as likely to be blonde or a redhead – interesting, no? The exact same trend reared its ugly head when eye color was concerned. Brown eyes were reserved for ordinary characters, and pretty people had blue or green eyes. (One heroine even had violet eyes, ooh la la! Oh yeah, one character also had violet hair, and I couldn’t figure out her natural color. Go figure.)
So, do authors contribute to the trend of stereotyping beauty? Short answer. Yes. Long answer. Ummm, still yes.
Blond, blue eyed beauties were quite common in YA bestsellers, while brunette girls with brown eyes were often regulated to “almost pretty”. Ouch.
Why is this interesting to me? Teen girls come in all shapes, sizes and colors. To box our characters into neat stereotypical boxes does an injustice to the many wonderful people and nationalities that God has placed on this earth. I’m not saying you’re a bad person if your story happens to be about a white girl with brown hair (Umm, yeah, the book I’m working on now is just this. I’m just as guilty as everyone else). I’m just saying that as writers, we should be celebrating differences and bringing attention to the issues faced by everyday teens everywhere. It’s a little biased for authors to claim that amazing stories and adventures only happen to pretty people. What kind of a world would that be? Not one I’d want to live in. As a result of my study, I’m planning to add more diversity into my work and not contribute to such stereotypes of “brunette is average” and “blonde is beautiful”.
Am I alone in thinking this or have you noticed this in your reading? I’m not sure if authors can take all the blame (several factors are determined when publishing a book) but what can we do about it?
*My methods weren’t 100% scientific, I’m sure. I may have even made mistakes Feel free to hate on me for that.
** I took all books from a Goodreads list of 2012 bestsellers. To see which books I included in my survey, click here.