Today, Heroes and Heartbreakers is pleased to welcome author and makeup artist Leigh Bardugo, whose novel Shadow and Bone will be available June 5 to talk beauty in romance. Thanks, Leigh!
Among makeup artists, there’s a saying we occasionally mutter when a client is being too demanding or bringing crazy expectations to the table: “It’s a brush, not a wand.” In life, I’m bound by the limitations of product, bone structure, bad lighting. But on the page, anything is possible, and as an author and a reader, I don’t mind a little wish-fulfillment in my fiction. In fact, I’m rather partial to abs, and great parties, and the wearing of sparkly garments. Even so, I can’t help but notice a few beauty tropes that keep cropping up in YA, so let’s scratch the surface.
Hotness, Hotness Everywhere
As far as epidemics go, this one is highly preferable to cholera. I don’t know if it’s airborne or there’s something in the water, but there are a disproportionately large number of great looking people in YA. Everywhere—small towns, boarding schools, spaceships. It’s like Universal Fashion Week all the time. I think this is part of why I like fantasy so much. I don’t mind recurring eye candy outbreaks, but I find them easier to accept with a bit of justification. Or maybe I just like the idea that a vampire bite can ensure an eternity of good hair days.
Those Were Jewels That Were His Eyes
Violet eyes, cerulean eyes, amber eyes. I confess: There’s a character in my book, Shadow and Bone, with slate-colored eyes, and they may occasionally glint like quartz. I regret nothing. Still, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you the exact eye color of most people I know. This is partially because I’m a narcissist, but also because it’s rare that eye color is that striking or distinctive—especially from any kind of distance.
The Hot Guy With Hidden Depths
I love this trope. Oh yes, I do. But let’s be honest, this is not a frequently occurring phenomenon in nature. Believe me, I know. I live and work in Hollywood. We have the best looking waiters in the world. To be fair, they’re not all Derek Zoolander and beauty is certainly no protection against tragedy. But it’s no secret that pretty people—male or female—get perks, and that makes for fewer character-building opportunities.
The Crooked Smile That Somehow Adds to the Hero’s Appeal Instead of Taking Away From It
I had to laugh when Mandy Hubbard mentioned this one. I’ve seen it tons of times, but somehow it never really registered. A crooked smile? Why would that detract from anyone’s appearance? Why isn’t the hero’s allure mysteriously compounded by something more challenging like a missing tooth or a potbelly? Sell me on that and I’ll be impressed.
The Gorgeous Girl Who Doesn’t Know She’s Gorgeous, a.k.a Oblivious Pretty
It would be one thing if Oblivious Pretty didn’t care about appearances and chose to prioritize other things. Or if she were lovely in her own way and embraced how she looked despite not fitting the standard mold. Or if she struggled with her looks for the same reason. But Oblivious Pretty is acutely conscious of her looks. She frets over the ill-timed pimple. (It shows she’s human, like falling down in a romantic comedy.) She hates her masses of frizzy hair (that require but one magical product to become perfect curls). She bemoans the charming smatter of freckles across the bridge of her nose (that the hero will later trace with one lazy finger). She’s clearly familiar with a mirror, and yet somehow, she hasn’t quite cottoned to the fact that she’s hot. I cry foul. In high school, if you’re the fairest of them all or anywhere close to it, you know it. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have insecurities or concerns about your appearance. But male, female, vicious, kind, shy, outgoing, or something else entirely, you’re keenly aware of the power that physical beauty bestows and just how you rank.
The Vain Friend
The Vain Friend wrests our heroine’s hair from its frumpy ponytail, applies appropriate product, lends the slinky dress. She is, at best, the flighty fairy godmother of the piece. At worst, she is the subject of ridicule and serves as a foil for the heroine so that the love interest can come in, comment on the fact that she wears too much makeup, and turn his piercing gaze upon Oblivious Pretty. He sees what no one else sees! And by “no one” I mean, “everyone except the heroine.”
The Vain Enemy
She’s a lot like Vain Friend, but she narrows her expertly lined eyes more often and we’re encouraged to hate her from her perfectly coiffed hair to the tips of her manicured nails.
Which brings me to... the Makeover vs. the Fakeover
Favorite makeover of all time? Strictly Ballroom. Classic Fakeover? She’s All That. In Strictly Ballroom, Fran never comes to embody the blond, suntanned Tina Sparkle version of beauty. She is simply a more confident, radiant version of herself, and boy does she have to work for it. Fran’s transformation is awkward, fumbling, occasionally cringe-inducing, and deeply satisfying. By comparison, in She’s All That, the clear-skinned, self-possessed pixie that is Rachel Leigh Cook...takes off her glasses. It’s Oblivious Pretty all over again and I’m not buying.
I don’t demand (or even want) realism from my romantic fantasy, but I do like honesty. Give me magic and mayhem and epic transformations through the power of ballroom dance. Just don’t ask me to pretend I don’t see what’s right in front of my cerulean eyes.
Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, raised in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. She is fond of glamour, ghouls, and costuming, and gets to indulge all of these fancies in her other life as a makeup artist. She can occasionally be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.