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.
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.)