I’ve been thinking a lot about standards of beauty, especially as it is applied to women fictional characters. Just the other day I was talking about how I want to build new female archetypes in fiction and represent the under-represented: women with no interest in having children. But I want to do more than that. I want to build heroines that deviate from the standards of beauty that I’m really tired of seeing everywhere. I want to build heroines who embody all the different types of beauty that I personally admire.
The standard being something like this: white, tall, super thin, narrow hips, really large breasts, flat stomach, long hair (most often blonde), small retroussé nose, at least slightly tan (for bikini wearing), and white straight teeth.
Now, if you happen to BE a woman who fits this description, I’m not dissing your beauty. I promise. What I want, though, is to see a lot more variation in the beauty that is represented in entertainment and in fiction. I want people to see what I see as beautiful.
A retroussé nose is fine, but the noses I love best are more substantial and my very favorite kind of nose on a woman is an aquiline nose. But a hawk (or hook) nose can be just as gorgeous. I enjoy a crooked nose. Or a wide flat nose can be really cool and lend beauty to a face. When it comes to hair – why are people always favoring the blonde? Blonde is okay, if you’re blonde, but if you can build fictional characters why not use redheads more often or black hair, or ash-brown? Why are so few women heroines freckled? Teeth that are straight and white are a snooze. I want a crooked incisor or one tooth in shadow, or maybe the tooth shapes are a little unusual. Gaps in front teeth are charming. Hair – why do so many women in entertainment have long boring hair? I want to see more short haired heroines – and not depicted as being manly either – give me some short hair or more bobs or how about more afros? Why are we stuck on the mid-back length hair that has just a bit of curl or wave to it? What about different ethnicities? Brown skin is beautiful. Olive skin is beautiful.
When it comes to my own heroines I have thought a lot about this and chosen their physical attributes thoughtfully. I have several heroines that none of you have seen yet. The only one I’ve presented is Cricket. So what did I do with Cricket? What makes her different from the usual standard of beauty?
She has red hair. Not auburn. Red. And it’s in a bob. She is small breasted, what others like to call “flat chested”. But she has hips. So she’s “pear shaped”. She has freckles. Not just a quaint sprinkling across the bridge of her nose, but all over her face. She’s freckled. I think freckles are beautiful. She’s very fit, because of the life she leads but not model skinny. She has clear grey eyes. And she’s of average height. She has never worn a pair of heels in her life. She dresses in simple practical clothes for hunting and doing her work in.
I based her partly on my friend Sharon and partly on a composite of others of us who share similar attributes that are definitely not much represented by most heroines in fiction or other forms of entertainment.
Jane Bauer, from my unfinished book “Jane Doe”, is tall. She’s curvy with both ample boobs and hips. She doesn’t have a miniscule stomach. She has green eyes and dark brown medium length hair with some curl/waves to it. Very pale skin. Straight long nose. I wanted her to be tall but not particularly thin. Her style is an eclectic mix of 40’s vintage and peasant. She wears heels sometimes but never those ridiculous 6″ strappy numbers.
Tess Patton, still just a seed of a story called The Phlebotomists, is completely different from either of these other two. She’s very short. She’s got large breasts but though she’s got some curve to her hips her figure is what many refer to as “top heavy”. She’s pale as chalk with dark brown eyes that aren’t large but are very prettily shaped. She has straight almost black hair which she wears somewhat short and disheveled and often with a few brightly died colorful streaks in it. She has high cheekbones and a straight slightly flat nose. She’s part Native American. She wears tortoise shell glasses. She only wears black and white clothes because she doesn’t like having to choose colors.
In a recent online discussion with my friend T’Hud and some of her other friends about her style of beauty and how she felt her looks would be more appreciated in some other country besides this one I realized, with some amusement, that I had basically made Tess more or less in T’Hud’s image. Not really on purpose. But when I realized this I decided to make the resemblance closer. Because she’s one of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, so why don’t we see more main characters that look like her? If we see really short women characters they are always represented in waif-like form OR as fat humorous characters. T’Hud is neither waify nor fat. She has cheekbones you can hurt yourself on and a wonderful nose.
I haven’t yet come up with any African American heroines or any Asian or Indian main characters and it’s because I’m afraid of bringing down a firestorm of criticism on myself as a white woman trying to bring authenticity to main character with a different ethnicity than my own. Even as I say that I realize that I don’t feel any qualms about writing a main character that is part Native American. I will think a lot more about this. I think the important thing that all writers have the potential to bring to the table are universal themes that transcend ethnicity. Here in the American culture there are millions of women having the same experiences as I am having being a woman in a world that is still struggling with gender equality. That’s just one example of common ground and it’s there that we can all meet both in life and in fiction.
How to build a better heroine. That’s what’s on my mind. All aspects of it. How to build new archetypes of womanhood. How to invigorate and shake up our cultural standards of beauty that bizarrely reflect only a tiny portion of our actual population. I want to be part of this.
Here’s what I keep thinking: if I write books and those books are made into movies and my main characters can’t be played by: Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Michelle Williams, Naomi Watts, Julia Roberts, Cameron Diaz, Jane Seymour, Blake Lively, Jennifer Aniston, any supermodel, or anyone who’s had plastic surgery, then I will have succeeded in bringing something new to fiction and entertainment.
Next time I will discuss the tedious stereotypical female personalities that have been done to death and how I want to be part of that changing too.