I have been meaning to write this blog post for a while, ever since I actually read Uglies, but true to form, I keep forgetting. It isn’t entirely my fault. Wedding planning is eating my brain.
So, let’s dive right in, shall we? I warn you, this blog post will be chock-full of spoilers, so I advise you not to read any further if you haven’t read Uglies yet.
Well, a little bit of a refresher I guess. Uglies follows Tally Youngblood, who lives in a world where children are removed from their parents and forced to live in Uglyville until the tender age of 16, at which point they undergo massive cosmetic surgery to be transformed from an Ugly into a Pretty.
Pretties are engineered to be physically attractive in every way. They have perfect proportions. Their eyes are wide to convey a sense of vulnerability and innocence. They never get sick. They are graceful and lithe. They are also a little bit brain dead.
The last point isn’t known to anyone, really, except a few renegade Uglies living in a secret place called the Smoke.
(OK, as an aside, Scott Westerfield really needs to take some lessons on naming places. Uglyville? New Pretty Town? the Smoke? These were all names that made me shudder and cringe a little.)
Back to the story. The renegade Uglies tell Tally that becoming Pretty does things to your brain. And she still wants to become one. The only time she deviates from being so driven to become a Pretty is when a boy from the renegade society tells her she is pretty just the way she is. OK, so her worth is now being measured by a boy. Fantastic.
As a post-apocalyptic, dystopian YA novel, there is of course the people that come before. Us. And all of our problems were caused by our horrendous, hideous Ugly status. Or at least, that is how Westerfield paints it.
The single-minded focus on beauty being the answer is what really irked me about this book. I am a 20-something woman, and I remember what it was like to be in this book’s target demographic. At the age of 13-18, the pressure to be “pretty” is so enormous, you can sometimes feel like you are drowning in it. And along comes a book that intensifies that pressure.
Now, after a long talk with a friend of mine who has a book on submission, I realize that I might be coming down a little hard on the book. I mean, at the tender age of 13-18, there was many a time that I, too measured my worth by what a boy thought of me. I, too, wished that I could be pretty, and thought that all my problems would be solved if I could just be pretty.
So, if nothing else the book is realistic. The characters act like most 13-18 year olds do, or would in that situation. But does that make it OK to add to the increasing pressure for girls to be perfect?
I vote no.