Beauty, Characters, and Writers

If you’re like me, there is always that one character in your story that you wrote to be beautiful. Not perfect, never perfect, but definitely beautiful. (Yes, Micah. Yes, Connor. Yes, Elle. Yes, Jase. I am talking about you. Now shhh… please don’t let it go to your heads.)
But what does beauty really mean?
For starters, let’s consider outward appearances. (I have a specific reason why I’m focusing on physical beauty, so please bear with me.) What do your characters look like? When you write them, do you describe aspects of their physical appearance or do you leave it up to reader interpretation? Do you give a full description of them or drop in little physical clues as you go? e.g., He rubbed his hand over the dark stubble on his jaw. Are you more apt to rely on character’s responses? e.g., His gaze lingered over the long line of her neck, desire darkening his blue eyes.  (Sorry. I write romance.)

Think about the following question: Why are your characters physically beautiful to you? Now think about that question a little more. I’ll make the case that a lot of your answer depends on how you define beauty for yourself. As a small example, someone close to me once saw my character Pinterest boards and remarked upon the fact that all of my “beautiful” characters have blue eyes. I was at first defensive but then realized he was right. I have always been bowled over by blue eyes because for a large part of my life, I have not loved how very un-blue my own eyes are.
Earlier this year, I was asked to give the opening talk at my university’s “True Beauty” event. While beauty can be defined by either outward or inward characteristics, this particular event was a celebration of physical beauty of people in all shapes, sizes, and forms. In preparation for this talk, I wanted to get a sense of how people viewed themselves. I conducted an informal Twitter poll in which I asked this question:

If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be? 
These are people’s actual responses: 

I’m too fat. 
Too skinny. 
My hips are too curvy. 
My hips aren’t curvy enough. 
I hate my nose. 
I wish my eyes were bigger. 
I wish I was more conventionally pretty.
I hate my shape. 
I wish my butt was smaller. 
I wish I had a butt. 
My breasts are too big.
I wish my breasts were bigger.
I wish I had more hair. 
Bigger muscles. 
One person responded, 
“EVERYTHING.”

Does this sadden you or resonate with you? Probably at least a little of both.
Fact: People agonize over physical appearances. 
Fact: We naturally compare our bodies and physical characteristics to others. 
We are a very visual species, after all. Unfortunately this means that it’s easy to hold ourselves up to highly unrealistic visual standards. With social media being so popular for marketing, those unrealistic standards can go viral. (e.g., THESE people *show before photos* had THIS result *insert astounding after-results photos* after using THIS product *insert diet or exercise or wrap regime* after a MERE *insert incredibly short duration of time*). Yet, if we try this miracle product and don’t get the same results, we feel less beautiful and not as happy as the people in those remarkable before-after photos.
Fact: When we rely on others in our culture to make the decisions for us about what is beautiful, we lie down and accept their conventions for beauty.

But why should we?

What does this have to do with writing, do you ask? I would argue that it has everything to do with how we portray beauty in our characters. We craft beauty in our characters according to how we see beauty in others. More importantly, we craft beauty in our characters according to how we perceive ourselves. Here we are, writing entire worlds, but what we often forget is that we have the power to create our own conventions of beauty. What we have a hard time remembering is that we are as beautiful and complex as the characters we write.

Do the following (humor me). Take this script and read it to one of your characters:

You are much more than what others see. You are growing, maturing, and ever-changing. You are different from the person you were yesterday. You are different from everyone else, and those differences make you a real and beautiful individual.  

We can easily see that these statements apply to our characters, right? Your characters felt good after hearing this pep talk. You know what would help us not only as writers but as people? If we also learn to accept these statements for ourselves. ❤

___________________________
Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both YA urban fantasy and NA contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of YA urban fantasies MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL, and NA contemporary romance LOSING ENOUGH. Find out more about Helen at www.helenboswell.com.

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