Female Book Cover Fails – When Healthy Isn’t Marketable

(NOTE: the following is a brief summary of the opening to a Young Adult fantasy book, The Girl of Fire and Thorns.  Be forewarned of spoilers–and then go ahead and read it anyway if you want, because so far it’s decent).

Princess Elisa’s getting married to a foreign king in a bid to improve international relations.  Her biggest fear, other than the whole “marrying-a-complete-stranger” aspect?  The wedding dress.  You see, Elisa is pretty, but curvy and well-endowed.  She likes to eat, she sweats too much, and she’s far from delicate.  She secretly wishes her future husband is ugly, so he won’t be embarrassed by her.

So, of course, our heroine looks like this on the cover:

*blinks*  Hmmm….I guess “curvy” should now be followed by “compared to a typical supermodel.”  I suppose the publishers thought readers wanted this.

Now, to be fair, this is an early version of the book cover, found on advance reader copies.  The cover is now:

Borrowed from author Rae Carson’s Blog

I personally find this more compelling than the previous one–and more evocative of the fantasy book that it is.

YA and Adult fantasy and paranormal covers are guilty of this misdemeanor.  The question is: why lie?  Why show the character as a dewy escapee from a CW show, rather than full-figured? Would readers really shun an image of a (young) woman that *gasp* was a size 10?  Or even a size 12?  14?

And while the cliche “sex (and svelte bodies) sells” seems to answer the issue–is that really enough?

A librarian and some book bloggers at Stacked offer an in-depth look at the degrading and downright generic cover art of much YA fiction.

 We want it (the book cover) to be attractive and we want it to entice people. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that purpose and on the surface, there’s nothing wrong with making that cover as attractive as possible. The problem emerges, though, when we step back and actually look at what messages we’re sending within the images. Part of why many believe books are gendered — why some books are for boys and some are for girls — is because of the images and what they’re doing or saying. Even if the story itself doesn’t have a message about the female body within it, readers, especially teen girls who are already bombarded with a sickening number of messages about their bodies thanks to every other media they encounter, the cover is telling them something. It’s further offering up beliefs about the ideal image. (Cover Trends and the Female Body)

Author Mitali Perkins offers great insight onto how the prevalence of white European characters on the covers of kid and young adult fiction serves to marginalize youth from multicultural backgrounds.  And then image enters into the story:

During grades 6-10, only the rare teen these days has the chutzpah to be seen in public with any book that isn’t trendy. A black teen might be embarrassed to carry around a novel with a white girl on the cover, a white teen is teased with “wigga” if he reads a book with a black face on the cover, and an Asian American trying to blend in feels uncomfortable when her teacher hands her an “Asian” novel in front of the class. Despite their generation’s relative openness to other races and cultures, our young people seem to be stuck in narrow trenches when it comes to their own ethnic identities.

The response?  Make action-oriented, faceless book covers.  And in her post she offers some excellent reasons about how this increases book marketability and levels the ethnic playing field.

What do you think?  Is this the answer?  Should we just get rid of girls (and people in general) on cover art entirely?


Taste of the Fantastical

Speaking of females on adult fantasy novels, novelist Jim C. Hines strikes a pose to show impossible some of the positions are on fantasy covers:

Borrowed from Jim C. Hines website.

2 thoughts on “Female Book Cover Fails – When Healthy Isn’t Marketable

  1. Jim is my new hero! lol! Strike a pose!
    Seriously though, most YA book covers are SO ridiculous. The book could be about a girl who’s half goblin who only wears leather, and she’ll still be this beautiful, milk white super model in a ball gown on the front cover. People have a seriously sick idea of what is healthy and normal, and we can’t seem to stomach the idea that people in books or TV shows could be a normal size. That’s the main reason I stopped watching Vampire Diaries – well, and because it was STUPID – because the school should have been called “We-Only-Allow-Skinny-Beautiful-People-Here” High.

    I’ll have to read Girl of Fire and Thorns though, it will be refreshing to read a YA book where the girl isn’t “subtly” described as skinny and perfect, in an oh-so-modest way, by her own narration.

    1. Yeah, I tried “Vampire Diaries”–definitely didn’t challenge my intellect. Except to wonder what the big deal was.
      I love the main character of Girl of Fire and Thorns. She’s strong, independent, but still with the usual insecurities that could be expected of a teenager.
      Now, we just need a main character who isn’t super-skinny and doesn’t care–vs. one that takes half the book to get over it.

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