Scleroderma and Heroines

My Son Nate    How important is it to a reader that the heroine in a book be attractive?

That’s the question I’ve been pondering for months. Book after book, from best sellers to bottom of the barrel indies (where mine rest) the heroines are notably attractive. The only heroine I can think of who wasn’t was described as attractive Hermione from Harry Potter with her pinched face and riot of frizzy hair. Yet even she was never UN-attractive. Bella from Twilight often thought of herself as plain but the other characters pointed out several times that she was actually quite pretty.

So I can deduce that Bella having low self image is acceptable to readers, it’s normally something the eleven year old readers identify with anyway. And being like Hermione with the potential to be pretty, if only she took the time away from studies, appeals to the nerdiest and geekiest of us. I can certainly understand how the lure of research supersedes inconveniences such as food, sleep and hygiene; well at least the first two, I can’t stand it if I feel grimy.

Yet, these two heroines seem to be the aberration not the norm and neither are truly unattractive; and the reader picks up on that.

And yet… I want my heroine to be unattractive. At least in my yet unnamed Book 3 in the Verian Series. I want her to be unattractive and for people’s reactions to reflect the reality of it. I want people’s eyes to slide over her in discomfort and not really see her. I want her to struggle with the knowledge that she has coup de saber and that it’ll never go away completely. I want her deformed and I want her beautiful.

Children are often told ‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts’ but they learn quickly that this isn’t true. T.V. tells them it’s important to be beautiful. They learn it in schools that it’s the beautiful people who make the friends. And they learn it from you when you bash someone for being too pretty or not pretty enough.

A human’s first visceral response is to judge based on what you see. That’s a normal built in response. An unattractive person could be ill and and an ill person puts the whole tribe at risk. But most of us don’t live in tribes and what should be your close second response is to discard the instinctual response and judge them on behavior.

Could you do that in a book where you are attempting to escape from reality? I enjoy making my characters identifiable with real people. I actually profile them so that I know exactly what response they’ll have in any given situation I toss them into. I love it when someone comes up to me and says, “I totally agreed with Kyla! I would have done the same!”

So how important is it that Vella be attractive? Will reading about people’s honest to God reactions make you uncomfortable? Will it make you angry? Will it make you put the book down?

I certainly hope not. I hope you read it no matter how uncomfortable it makes you; and it might. Because I’m going to keep Vella beautifully deformed and very real.



About Marcia Young

I’m the wife of an NCO and the mother of one, home schooled, special needs child. I have won several people’s choice awards for my fanfiction under the moniker MLMonty. All of my current published works can be found via Smashwords and other retailers under my nom de plume Marcia Young. I am currently open to finding a new literary agent and publisher.
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7 Responses to Scleroderma and Heroines

  1. Jane Nelson says:

    I LOVE the idea! And, though my facial deformity is much less noticeable than it was, I still see people staring at my face. I think it’s curiosity in most cases and I simply smile at them, letting them know that it’s okay, I don’t mind.

    I recently read a story where the heroine was plain, just… plain. The author was interested in how a romance would grow if the main female character wasn’t beautiful. As it turned out, the hero saw her inner beauty, the lovely person she really was. I enjoyed it very much.

    For my part, I have been working on my real beauty – the beauty of the soul. I don’t know if I would have viewed what I have been through and the changes it’s left on my face with such serenity and joy when I was in my teens and twenties… but to me it’s just a face, not something important like an arm, a leg or my life. It’s about looking for and finding all the good that life offers us.

  2. marciayoung says:

    I would not be surprised nor offended if only more mature readers liked the book I’m writing now. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m packing on the issues with Vella. She’s not going to have an easy time of it but she’ll overcome things. I have never believed that just because I write fantasy it means I want it so out of this world that you can’t identify with the characters.

    • Jane Nelson says:

      If you think about it, all stories are about life struggles. So you are simply making her struggles identifiable with an actual condition.

  3. I have always identified with what are so called “ugly” characters. I went through years of plastic surgery on my face to correct a dog bite I suffered when I was 4. I spent years with kids staring at me and my obvious stitches and having to deal with all the nasty little comments that kids can make (kids really are nasty little creatures sometimes). Even though I am an adult now, I still carry all of my past with me and it colors how I view other people and the world around me. Cudos to you for not falling into the “beautiful face” syndrome with your characters.

  4. marciayoung says:

    I’m trying not to get caught in that writing rut. Kyla in Underground Railroad while not unattractive was larger than fashion says she should be. Lilata from Hybrid would have been beautiful if not for her species, while the main character Dros has an understated beauty I got from the Chocolate Lily.

    Your and Jane’s responses gives me hope that people will identify with Vella despite the drastic condition I associate her with. Because it’s not about her CONDITION it’s about what she goes through and how people respond to what they SEE. 🙂

  5. Jane Nelson says:

    I think that people respond more positively to my face because I view it more positively. I’ve had little kids tell me that it is scary and I agree with them – it CAN be scary because it is different! I refuse to take such remarks personally as I don’t believe they are meant to be personal. People are monkeys, they are curious, they want to know why. I accept that, and if they ask I will tell them. But to me, my face is a beautiful work of God and it is healing wonderfully well. I am blessed.

  6. marciayoung says:

    You’ve had a great attitude through out your whole… adventure. 🙂 I know people that even half of what you’ve gone though the last few years would have broken them.

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