I tend to read a lot of Young Adult. It may not be serious literature but it’s enjoyable. With everything that goes on in real life, it’s nice to escape once in awhile with mindless entertainment. Like all genres, some YA novels are amazing, while others make me want to pull a Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook and throw the book out the window. However, there is one trait that all YA novels I’ve come across have shared, which I find extremely unsettling: The judgmental and condescending way any and all girly-girls are portrayed.
In Twilight, Bella fumbles around in her jeans and sneakers, while bubbly, boy-crazy Jessica is jealous and only befriends Bella to cash in on her popularity with boys.
Katniss Everdeen is more comfortable killing squirrels than wearing a dress. (I know that this has a lot to do with the atmosphere she grew up in. But Suzanne Collins, and the director of the first film, still play into the stereotype by portraying Glimmer, one of the “bad guys”, as a pretty, blonde girl prancing around in a sequin dress.)
In Sarah Dessen’s Along for the Ride, the main character is shocked to find out that one of the girls she recently befriended knows so much about finance. Because there is no way that popular girls who like clothes can possibly be intelligent.
Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones probably plays into these stereotypes more than any other book I can think of. Clary Fray, the heroine of the series, doesn’t hang out with any other girls, has never worn make-up, and has never dressed up before. The other female in the novel, Isabelle Lightwood? She’s beautiful, a maneater, and your typical mean girl.
I could give 20 more examples but I’ll leave it at that.
It’s a tale that movies, books, TV shows, and even songs have been telling for years: The pretty, popular girl is nothing more than what’s on the surface. There is nothing behind her crystal blue eyes except a desire for all the boys to like her and to be wearing all the latest trends. It’s the girls who shun make-up and would rather wear a pair of sweats than a designer gown, who have all the real substance. The girly-girl characters are only represented in chick lit, and then their main goal and greatest accomplishment is finding a man.
I understand the logic behind this and for most authors I believe their hearts are in the right place. They are sending a message to young girls that they do not need to conform to beauty standards to fit in. But by doing this they are completely ostracizing an entire group of girls and reinforcing the dumb cheerleader stereotype. Having crushes, wearing make-up, and enjoying shopping doesn’t automatically equate to being an airhead.
I challenge an author to write a story where the heroine can kick-ass and wear make-up. I assure you this is possible. Maybe they should consult with Joss Whedon. No one thought Buffy was any less of a badass just because she wore short skirts and was obsessed with boys.