Who Gets to Decide What's Pretty?
Scott Westerfeld successfully explores the societal ideal of beauty in his thought-provoking futuristic novel, Uglies, which is the first book in a series (Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras). In brief, Tally Youngblood is nearly 16 and has been waiting her entire life to be "pretty." She, like all individuals in the novel, are considered ugly, living apart from polite society, until their 16th birthday when an operation changes them into some acceptable, predetermined form of pretty.
Told completely from Tally's point of view, we’re immersed into her thought process and watch it change when she meets Shay who has a completely different philosophy about prettiness, although it appears no one has a choice. As Tally reconsiders her entire point of view, we learn there is a consequence to changing your physical appearance. The word “shallow,” immediately leapt into my mind when I discovered the cost.
Although this can properly be labeled a young adult novel, adults may find it intriguing as well.
What meaning does beauty have and do we overvalue it? Do we make mistakes about labels of pretty and ugly? Do these translate into our perspectives about fatness or thinness? What about red hair or blonde hair? Short or tall? Do these ideas split our society into two groups, as the novel suggests?
The questions Tally has in her life are ones we start asking ourselves while reading the novel. So while the plot is engaging and entertaining, filled with tension and conflict, it is also Westerfeld’s commentary on a slice of our culture.
The book does leave me with a bigger question. Can common sense overcome Madison Avenue? What do you think?
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