That Girl On The Cover Doesn’t Look Like Me: A Mild Rant

I am not pretty
Before you all start yelling at me or sending in compliments then let me explain.  In my head I’m not because I am just me.  I’m not fishing for compliments (in fact I actively avoid them) because since I was a young teenager I wasn’t pretty in my head.  If I’m honest I wasn’t pretty on the outside when I was a teen either because I was very over weight, lived in baggy clothes and didn’t wear make up like the pretty skinny girls at school.  I was funny, nice and had talent for the creative things but I just wasn’t a stand out beauty like the other girls.  It’s a fact.
Then when I reached my early 20s I had had enough and dieted (sensible with exercise and joining one of big weight loss programme clubs in the UK) and lost nearly 3 stone.  I could go into Topshop and find jeans that fit, I could shop in the whole of New Look.  Though in my head I was still the chubby geeky girl that didn’t get asked to dance at the parties.  As a side note I also developed a condition called hyperthyroidism where my thyroid over worked and made me lose even more weight without trying.  It went scary skinny and yet I STILL could only see the “muffin tops” or the imperfections!  I’m all better now and a healthier weight.
Now this does relate to books before you think I’ve jumped out of the crazy tree.
I saw the lovely Zoe Marriott tweet about news for the trailer for her forth coming book FrostFire and I asked for details (because Zoe’s book are AMAZING) and she told me there was casting news but they were having trouble finding a girl to cast as the Main Character because she needed to be both not white and not emaciated.  I couldn’t believe that it would be that hard to find but Zoe told me differently.  It wasn’t that there aren’t actress out there that would possibly fit this mould but they were proving very hard to find.
I don’t know why I was shocked because I’m grown up in a media driven world where female role models in the celebrity world have gotten skinnier and skinnier since I was 13.  I remember thinking as a chubby 14 year old ‘Oh I wish I could be a size 12 and pretty like the cool girls’  and now I am a size 12 and all I want is to be that bit smaller still.
Looking at all the YA book covers in my bookcases I see beautiful and amazing covers that could be pieces of art in their own right but all the girls are generally what I’d call super skinny.  They wear flowing evening gowns or tight fitted tops and skinny jeans and this is the image that is put across to the reader when they pick up the book.  It says ‘This is the hero in your story and to be like her and have her moral strengths and rewards you need to look like her’.  Why?? Why do you need to be this likely photoshopped model type to be the hero.  I can’t even remember the last female main character in a YA book that I read that was quite clearly an “average” weight or on the bigger size.  I have read them and loved them but there just aren’t many compared to all the floaty ball grown and fierce warrior girls.   The lovely Raimy from Readaraptor even agreed with Zoe and myself about the skinny girls on the covers and even though we all agreed that skinny is ok but we couldn’t understand why that was all there was.
Covers sell books.  We are told not to judge a book by it’s cover but who’s to say the book cover isn’t judging us.  
I want to be happy in how I look and feel like I could be one of the girls on the cover too but even though I may physically look like some of them I don’t feel like I do.   That’s what happens after years of feeling like I wasn’t good enough or thin enough by the images we see in teen and women’s mags, the celebrities and pop stars on theTV and the ever narrowing waist lines on the high street window displays.  
I can’t say I have an answer to the problems.  I would be bold of me to say I did or that any one person is to blame.  I love the covers of the slim girls ready for battle in their leathers or the haunting ladies in lace gothic dresses but why do they all look the same.  Is it too much to ask to see more variety?  I guess there need to be more stories with average looking girls but I’m sure most girls in the stories I read describe themselves as average looking or not overly pretty at some point and yet the model representing them on the front are GORGEOUS!!   I want more of a mix in the girls I see.  I want to have girls of all sizes in the pretty dresses and for teen girls of a range of dress sizes to see the cover and feel ok about being different or the same as the model on the cover.  That goes for male characters on book covers too.  What blokes do you know that all look like the muscle bound or athletic types in their generic skinny jeans with *those* hips
My name is Laura.  I am about 5 foot 6 inches tall and I weigh about 10 stone 3 pounds.  I AM AVERAGELY AMAZING.  To some I may be lovely and pretty and i’m ok with you thinking that.  That’s lovely in fact but I wish I could have thought that when I was growing up no matter how I looked.  
I hope that maybe some readers will see this post and think again when looking at the girls on the cover of the book they are reading and enjoying.  Maybe they’ll remember it’s only a cover and they too can be the hero.  That there is room for variety in the YA book covers that I love.  So we can see all types of models on the covers and love them all the same.  They don’t have to be emaciated or obese.  They can be healthy, big and small, kick some ass and get the guy if they want.
Or they can just kick some more ass.

30 Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this, Laura. This is an issue I talk about a lot, as you know, so I really appreciate you speaking up about it. I know how hard it must have been to write this and while the intention was not to fish for compliments, I have to tell you that I think that you're brave and bright and absolutely beautiful.

    As for me, I've always been overweight and being mixed race too, book covers rarely reflect what I look like and, sadly, I no longer expect them too. But I'm an author now and as someone far more wise than me once said: be the change you want to see in the world. So I will do what I can not to perpetuate this with my own covers. I hope others will follow suit.

  2. M

    It's wonderful to see young people (and especially readers of YA) writing publicly about these things. When I look around me – wherever I am – whether it's at home, in the shops, at a la di da black tie event, there's a whole mix of people; all shapes and sizes, all colours, and all styles. But few of them are flawlessly airbrushed. YA shouts out about how it is so cutting edge and challenging. Hmmm! It still has a long way to go with its covers.

  3. This is such a wonderful, and brave post. This is something that's so dear to my heart and yet I couldn't imagine writing about it so hats off to you for doing it and doing it so well.

    I hadn't really thought about book cover models until I read this, and now I'm kicking myself for not. I complain often enough about magazines and tv/films etc but had never thought to cast the same critical eye towards my reading material. I have been aware that there aren't books content-wise that reflect me and no it's true there are definitely none cover-wise that reflect me.

  4. Great rant.

    I'm one of those fellas who isn't the "ideal" that's portrayed – a) because I'm too old and b) because I'm carrying a couple of extra (ahem) pounds.

    When I was at school, I was bullied as I was the shortest in class – that case of being the "easy target".

    As a result of this experience, I look at the whole person, not just the "packaging". You sum it up brilliantly that anyone can be a hero.

    Great posting. *Hugs*

  5. Oo I want an "I AM AVERAGELY AMAZING" badge!

    This was a brilliant post, Laura. I wonder if it's only the Samantha Bricks of the world who can ever look at the "ideals" portrayed on book covers and not be stuck wondering "Why can't I look like that..?"

    Oh, and you're BEEOOOOTIFUL! X

  6. Great post! I never really put that much thought into the models and book covers and how they impact how I may view myself, as well as the actual characters within those pages who sometimes don't reflect real people as well as they should, especially considering the age group it's written for. Why can't we just have normal people on our book covers?! Thank you for writing this ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Very cool of you to write this. I read a book recently where the female protagonist discovered after memory loss she was short and curvy and she hated the way she looked…I couldn't believe it, and it made me so annoyed. I felt somehow like the book was insulting me for being short and not tall and skinny like she wanted to be. I love it when protagonists are different and quirky and not perfect. I agree we should make the covers the same!

  8. Jo

    Wow. This post? LOVE! You are too awesome for being so honest about your own body confidence issues, and I admire you for it! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I have to say, although I may see a cover and think "ohh, pretty!" I never really pay attention to the body shape of the models on it. But I suppose it's true. If you look about the cover for The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler – a book whose protag is a larger lady – that butt is no where near a "big round thing". It's ridiculous. The title itself says this girl is a larger lady, so why not have the model representing her be of that size too? I just don't get it.

  9. What an amazing post – thank you so much! I've never really thought about YA covers from this angle before, but now it seems so bloody obvious – reading YA is all about getting under a character's skin, and yet the outward focus is always on the superficial, if that's makes any sense.
    Thanks again x

  10. Such an amazing post Laura, thank you. To be honest, I've never really given much though to the models on book covers in relation to myself, though I do often wonder how the model on a book cover in the YA genre is meant to portray a character who is 'exactly like me' when I won't look like them in a million years.

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