Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mary Sue vs Zitfaced-Baldspot-College-Dropout

*grins about the title*

That was something I was thinking about while washing my mondo-oily (Mom said that all of that surplus oil stuff would stop after I got out of my teens <- I'm still waiting.) hair and staring at all of the strands of inky black hair I've temporarily stuck to the side of the shower so they're off my fingers and not going down to clog the drain, even though there are plenty of loose inky black strands clogging the drain already.

I don't have zits - fortunately THAT stopped when I got out of my teens. And so far, I don't have baldspots, though you'd think I SHOULD have a few if you could see all the hair stuck to the side of the shower. Some people have black mold problems that they must clean up before having guests over. I have to clean up all of the hair clumps or have guests thinking they stepped into a Grudge movie.

The hair loss is my body's way of dealing with stress. According to my doctor, it usually happens after the stressout or crisis has passed. Your body which had been working so hard to hold things together during the worst kinda drops out at the relief point. For me, it means shedding more than my golden retriever.

And technically I AM a college dropout - I guess. I took a few classes before I realized that I couldn't balance everything I was dealing with, without losing ALL of my hair and dying from stress. So I made a decision. Rather than quitting my full time job and selling my horse - I put school temporarily aside.

That's all personal stuff that I generally try to avoid mentioning on 'public blogs', so why am I bringing up now?

Because it's something that goes through my head when I pick up books and/or observe the requisites for YA and 'college' books. You never really see books that have college dropouts - or not without plopping in that extra moral message:


Probably the first YA media thing that I saw delve into the college dropout storyline was Buffy the Vampire Slayer - and it was VERY BAD. Buffy had to work at a fast food restaurant and take jobs like that, because nobody else would hire her. <- Not exactly true in the real world, but I guess people don't want teens getting the wrong message.<- Something I agree with to a point. I still think that it is COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS that kids today have to have a college degree to do the type of work that I learned on the job, but whatever. Is unimportant sidetrack.

The thing that is driving my whole schpeel here is how most YA books have teens as main characters who have relatively few 'normal teen' problems in life. That's verging on Mary Sue territory, right?

Is it because readers don't want main characters who are chubby and covered with acne? Maybe these books are getting written after all, but agents aren't taking them - because they don't sell?

Then what about extraordinary teen problems? Like premature baldness or hairloss caused by stress?

We have 'book teens' who either gain weight or lose weight or start drinking (the Immortals) or zonk out from major stressouts, but we don't have anything as basic as teens losing clumps of hair from stress. How come?

Or other circumstances, like we have kids who cut themselves to either relieve the buildup of stress or angst, but never anything that can't be hidden under a character's shirt or pants.

There are two little girls at my church who have always had hair problems. I don't know the specifics, but the girls would pull their hair out on purpose - and they always did since they were little. Prettiest girls and smart - except for the hair pulling thing. The one girl was so bad that they shaved her hair off completely. They are both either in their teens now or just about there, but they still have hair problems. Or they damaged the folicules so much that their hair just doesn't grow right anymore. They have to wear babushkas to cover up the bald spots.

Why aren't there protagonists like those two girls?

People are eager to kill the parents of their main characters off, or do physical and emotional harm to these girls or guys... but there is always an emphasis on passably attractive or pretty or extraordinarily beautiful appearance. Never any baldies.

So why not?


  1. Great post. But it's true, when I was a young girl with zits and raging hormones, I liked to read about girls who were pretty and not afraid to talk to guys, the opposite of me. Because I read so many different genres, I guess I got my fill of weird looking people from sci-fi or more adult lit. I got my fill of "Ugly Duckling" stories in my pre-teens.

    I did want to tell you about a book that recently sold to Little, Brown by Kody Keplinger called "The DUFF", as in "D"esignated "U"gly "F"at "F"riend. So of course, the mc being the duff, she is more of an ugly duckling than a beautiful swan, lol.

    The hair pulling thing would make a great quirk/character flaw. Interesting...

  2. *nods* I'll tell you the truth - I kinda judge a book by its cover picture and title sometimes. Like say, if a book looks like it is going to be about the chubby girl struggling to overcome her weight problems and turn herself into a swan - I'm kinda moving on and grabbing the next book.

    I guess my whole thing is I like books which don't tell me a character is attractive and desirable. I'd love more books about the short social outcasts whose characters and words are bigger than what they look like.

    For example -

    I watched this news special over the weekend about a shy fourteen year old girl who was kidnapped by a nut and kept in this hole in the ground by this creep. The girl was very ordinary looking. A little chubby and awkward and kind of shy. If this was a Disney movie, she would have gotten the role of the chubby awkward girl who was rescued from bullies by the passably attractive protagonist.

    My impression - this girl had the prettiest eyes and smile and her character shined through her softspoken words and attitude and her courage. And she was honestly a regular teen that most of us were or knew.

    The story wasn't about where the girl lacked as far as the whole high school social hierarchy. It was about the situation that happened to her and what she did next to save herself.

    For me that story worked. And just as well as some other story with a teen who is secretly acne prone, but that's something that most people will NEVER know - as long as she doesn't get her face wet.

    Teen books with teens with weight and complexion problems are only depressing when the story focuses on their attempts to swim upstream and overcome the ISSUES. There's usually this emphasis that they have to clear up their faces, get veneers, and trim up in order to get the right guy.

    It would be absolutely different if the characters and story are focused on the usual things (vampires, first dates, getting to the prom with somebody other than brother) with an unapologetically normal protagonist who makes up for her problem areas by emphasizing the points where she is queen. Like voice and humor. :]


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