I used to write books alongside a friend, growing up. We just hung out and wrote. All of her girl characters were incredibly pretty in exactly the way you’d expect. They all had enormous eyes and rosebud lips and little slips of noses. They all had cascades of brilliant hair, and slender, long necks. I got mad at her.
“Why are they all like that?” I asked.
“Because it’s fun to read about pretty people,” she said.
“But what if girls can’t identify with them?” I said.
“Girls want to be more like the girls in books. They want to look more like them, too,” she said. “You don’t want to read about someone who isn’t really pretty because you want to imagine being really pretty.”
I didn’t think I wasn’t really pretty. I thought I was unexpected. We were only fifteen when we had this discussion. Later on, I became less sure of my different-beauty. Sometimes, automatically, I identified with the girl who was described as unattractive. The beak-nosed woman or the girl the boys weren’t in love with. It’s back and forth now. Sometimes I am the unattractive one. Sometimes I’m the beauty. Because I am some swirling combination of these things, and lots of things in between, I think. And I’m still looking for clues about how I’m supposed to identify.
Recently, I was reading yet another book about a girl with a “perfect nose.” Every time a female character is described as having the “perfect nose,” I know exactly what it will look like: the opposite of mine. It will be delicate and small and fine. It will never be bulky and arched and bold. It will never dominate her face. Of course not. That would be ridiculous.