discussions · shanti

Dear YA, not everyone is sporty

Okay, so in this year, I’ve read a lot of books. Specifically, a lot of contemporary books. Including quite a few contemporary romance books. And this is what I found there (as well as two guys called Evan, don’t know what that’s about): almost all the male love interests were a) sports players and b) traditionally good looking. Traditionally good looking varies in different cultures, but for these books, which were, I think, all American, it meant that they were tall; had nice clear skin; were able bodied; and were very muscly. I think that this a problem, and because this is my blog, my platform, I now get to tell you all about why.

lookYA

I’m pretty sure that the above description matches at least 80% of the male main characters of especially contemporary romance books (as opposed to contemporary ‘issue’/ sadder and arguably more realistic books), not to mention the rest of YA. Now, I’m not saying that all these characters were personality-less husks and copies of each other (though some of them were) and I’m not saying that what you look like is the most important thing about you (though the way that love interests are described in YA, you might think it was). I’m just saying that this is unrealistic and unfair.

Not everyone plays sports, and not everyone looks good all the time. This is a fact. Also, not everyone that people fall in love with looks the same. That’s unrealistic. The diverse books campaign has absolutely had some effect, and books are definitely getting more diverse, and that’s a good thing. But diversity isn’t just about the ethnicity of the main character, or the culture they live in or their sexuality, though of course those things are important. Diversity is about what you do, and how you look (beyond skin colour) as well.

The pool of ‘attractive people’ is not limited by muscle mass. Now, I’ve taken psychology, and while I’m definitely not an expert, how you look does impact how attractive you seem because of human evolution. And you could argue that sports are a way for someone to show their skills, to show what they’re good at, and of course it’s a great character quirk to write about.

I just refuse to believe that out of all the boys (and girls) in the world, our YA main characters always end up falling for the ones who play sports. There are books where this doesn’t happen, but these tend to be books where body image is a central issue. And that’s not how it works. Not everyone can be the star of the basketball team or whatever, and be super tall and have stupidly overdeveloped muscles, and a great personality (beneath their bad boy image, of course). There are many people who I know who don’t look like that and are perfectly happy with themselves—and some of them *gasp* are in romantic relationships.

To me, the push for diverse books is about nuance. Not just gay best friends. Not just studious East-Asian oriented characters. Not just disabled people who are sad. Not just tall people who are attractive. When you’re young and reading YA (and beyond that) it’s important to challenge stereotypes, to encounter a world that is not simplistic.

Look, I like reading swoony love stories as much as anyone else. But there are no requirements for love except human connection. Nowhere does it say ‘All male young adult love interests should be tall and good looking. And I want to read that.

What’s a love interest trend that bothers you? When do you get sick of tropes? Tell me in the comments!(also I might totally write some more posts about this, because I have Thoughts. A multitude of them.)

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14 thoughts on “Dear YA, not everyone is sporty

  1. The Spinster Club trilogy is great for that. Thank goodness. Two of the three love interests are said to be quite good looking but at least they felt… real? Oli is super shy and sweet while the other guy (forgot his name) is really into tech.

    I haven’t really read many books where the guy isn’t seen as good looking. It’s usually ‘ugly girl’ paired with a handsome boy. A lot of them have blond or brown hair and dimples. I don’t even give a care about dimples. And true, not all guys girls fall for are seen as good looking. I personally prefer skinny guys to the muscly hunks any day. But who else likes weird guys like them, am I right?

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    1. The Spinster Club is really good in that way. I liked how into politics Kyle was, and Oliver is adorable! I think this also happens because there are fewer “light, fluffy” books for the guy’s point of view, because romance is aimed at girls/women; maybe if there were more male POV’s they would focus on diversity of looks more. Who cares about dimple,s exactly. I’m sure you’re not the only one grace, haha.

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  2. “there are no requirements for love except human connection” AGH YES YES YES. SO BEAUTIFUL! We truly truly need more diversity — both in the characters as a whole and the love interests. (And by diversity, I mean the “diversity” you talked about with “what you do” and “how you look beyond skin color” — which I totally agree with.) We aren’t able to define love, so we shouldn’t define what love looks like. Love this post. ❤

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    1. Yay! Thanks for liking that post haha. Love in books is portrayed as one thing–love interests look the same, and people feel and respond the same way. We need more diversity in this!

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  3. What about diverse characters, YA?These book are like having requirements to where the love should begin, and it’s literally crazy, I agree. The boys don’t have to play sports- like the stereotypical football- there’s no reason why there can’t be a regular guy who’s normal. These YA books are that realistic, and it’s partially troubling. Great points.

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    1. Diversity just means so many things, but YA romance has a very narrow portrayal of love interests, especially what is considered attractive. These books also have quite a lot of great things going for them, but you need to think critically too.

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      1. Agreed. I just dislike the fact that this narrow portrayal of love is the “normal” of YA books. It’s not the greatest thing that these books are teaching young adults things.
        Yet also, I agree. Lots of these YA books are great, so we just can’t judge them by one factor.

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  4. Oh I absolutely agree and you put this into words SO AMAZINGLY. I also love how you said “Diversity is about what you do, and how you look” because so so true. I think there’s a bit of “ideal universe” stuff going on when authors write books where everyone is muscular and attractive and such? Like where even are they getting all these people. I feel like being a teen can be some of your ugliest years with acne and pimples and body shapes changing. 😂 So not only is it not realistic to make all these chaps Adonises, it’s definitely just trying to make perfect societies. Pfft. YA should be relatable! And I’m never a fan of when books put black-and-white definitions on what’s considered beautiful.
    Looooove this post.

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    1. Thank you so much! I’m glad that the post resonates with you. I get really irritated, because attractiveness is not limited to muscles, and it’s such a big focus in YA, which jsut feels so unecessary when teenagers have a lot of problems with self image/body confidence already. It’s so easy to pretend in boks that society is perfect and the main character is the only one with problems, most of them being romantic problems, but YA has a duty to represent the world. But I still love it, and trust that it will get better so.

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  5. Yeah, what about a male hero who is, lets say, oh I don’t know- shorter than average, bald, struggles to wear matching socks, sweats excessively if he ever exercises, is covered with body hair, wears glasses, struggles to wear socks, is tone deaf, has old clothes… what do you reckon shanti? Could there ever be any YA starring roles for a loser like that?

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