The official blog of Jane Domagala

Is Beauty Ugly? (Beauty in Fantasy)

I have begun to think about the characters in my next trilogy. My main female character lives in a world where beauty is having a clean shirt and face. She doesn't pluck or prune, trim or clip. No makeup, no hair straighteners, no tweezers, no hair dye, no modern beatifying devices. So how do I make my character beautiful, when she's looking a bit of a feral? By western society at least. I'm speaking mainly of women in this post, but the same can apply to men.

How far can we push realism in fantasy?
Do we want to see slugs for eyebrows, bad acne, crooked and blackened teeth, or hairy armpits and legs? What about scars, or deformities, disabilities, missing limbs? How far you go depends on the world you're building. Is presentation important? Are they at war and scars a rite of passage for warriors? Do they have the means to change their appearance? Can the people afford the costs of beauty? Is beauty genetic? Do the people you're creating have certain physical traits that make them more or less appealing to other races? Is cleanliness important? Has the comb been invented?

Push the boundaries as far are you feel comfortable going, but be careful though not to make your protagonist too repulsive that people won't want to read about them.

Is being too beautiful, too well groomed, annoying?
Sometimes yes. We've all watched tv shows and movies, where the heroine has just been through hell's battlefield and come out looking fabulous, her lipstick un-smudged, her mascara still intact, a strategically placed smear of dirt to highlight her cheekbones. Or historical pieces with woman who's eyebrows are perfect and their teeth glowing. It's unrealistic (says she who writes about magic). Characters need to have flaws, even physical ones sometimes. Most of us have something we dislike about ourselves, why not portray that in your characters as well.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Culture can dictate what is beautiful. At one time the Chinese considered small feet in woman to be beautiful, so woman would bind their feet (ouch!). In Thailand wind copper around their necks to elongate them (which actually pushes down their shoulders – ouch!). Men in Africa paint their faces yellow and flutter their cheeks to attract woman. Looks very creepy to me, but to the women of that culture it's sexy. There are some tribal cultures who wear lip disks. The lip is pierced, and a disk is inserted that stretches the bottom lip (ouch!). To the people of these cultures it's symbol of beauty and power. Most cultures consider symmetry to be beautiful and yet we can love a lopsided face as long as it has character.

I think it's important to make your protagonist beautiful in some way, though it doesn't have to be in a modern way or even a physical way. As a reader I want to find the beauty within the protagonist that makes me care for them. Once you know what that is in your own characters, I think you can push the boundaries of appearance. Make them unique.

Do you need characters to be beautiful to keep reading? Share your views.
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