Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Beauty crap in Pattou's East

I've finished reading East, and it's doing some very interesting things with fairy tales, though it's not always doing them very well. And this bit is minor, but it got at me:

According to Malmo, my short, sturdy body was Inuit-like, well designed for enduring very cold temperatures, its compactness conserving heat. Even my dark eyes, though not as dark as an Inuit's, gave more protection from the glare on the snow than lighter eyes. It seemed ironic to me that if I had had the willowy form and sky blue eyes of my sisters, features I had always deeply envied, I may well have been doomed in the unforgiving land.

And while there are all sorts of words you don't want your reader to say, one of the biggest ones is what I said there: bullshit.

A farmer's daughter. Who has lived through extremely lean times. Is going to want to be willowy? No. Slim=beautiful is not a universal human standard. It especially does not show up much in cultures where the skinny women die faster in famines. Nobody wants a wife who will die in her first childbed if she makes it that far. She has two "willowy" older sisters who have either died or gotten extremely ill by this point in the book, so this is not hypothetical. And this perception of inferiority, this deep envy never shows up elsewhere in the book. The main character is extremely self-possessed, practical, and straightforward. But we're supposed to immediately believe, at this point on page 350, that the main character has learned that being skinny seems wonderful but isn't all it's cracked up to be? Why?

Because it's a message the author wants young girls to take from the book, that's why. Because it's not about the main character, it's about the reader. And because she doesn't trust the young girls to just see that the main character, who is repeatedly described as stocky and sturdy, is also seen as attractive and also has a hardy, useful body that helps her achieve her goals. Ideology has trumped both character and setting, and it's a bad thing. Even though it's ideology I agree with.

Part of this was a problem with the movie "The Truth About Cats and Dogs," too (well, a problem, anyway): it was attempting the message that you don't have to be beautiful to love and be loved. Which is a good message -- but to make that point, it took as a given that you do have to be six feet tall, one hundred pounds, blonde, and have eyes like a velvet roadside painting of a crying Mexican child in order to be beautiful. Instead of just showing us a stocky, sturdy girl who kicks butt and wins her love by her own efforts, Pattou feels she has to go out of our way to point out that see, see? Even though the main character conforms to our cultural standards for no reason, she's wrong! Hurrah!

Quit patronizing your readers, lady. I don't care how old they are. They deserve better.

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