It’s no secret that I read a lot. I am a self confessed book geek after all. And while I do read a variety of different genres, there is a fair bit of teen fiction in my bookcase. I’ve recently been rereading the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent, just as a bit of light reading after finishing Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted just recently. It was while reading the second book in her series that something occurred to me.
‘Nash Hudson could have had just about any girl that he wanted – he’d already had more than a few – but he was with me.’
The protagonist seems to be constantly in awe of the fact that her boyfriend is with her and not someone else. This seems to be a common theme within teen fiction, especially those centering around a female character. Look at any popular teen fiction set in high school, as they often are, and you will see that a lot of these books follow a similar formula; shy girl falls for hot, popular boy, they get together and then she spends the rest of the book questioning why he isn’t with someone else instead of her. This is usually accompanied by the female character’s commentary on exactly how ‘plain’ she is, and why other girls are more attractive and thus, more suitable for her boyfriend.
That doesn’t exactly paint a positive picture of teenage girls. So many of the central female characters in these books seem to have an astonishingly low opinion of themselves. And not a whole lot of trust in their boyfriends either. The sad part is that it probably isn’t all that inaccurate.
Being a teenage girl can be a difficult thing. I’ve been there, I know. You’re learning about yourself and discovering who you are, testing the tempestuous waters of impending adulthood. Your teenage years are rife with insecurity and adolescent worries and woes. Among the biggest of these for teenage girls is negative self image. So many young girls think that they’re ugly, or compare themselves to others and often find themselves coming off second best, at least in their own minds.
I’ve never really held with such nonsense myself. For a start, I’m not a jealous person by nature, so I don’t envy other girls because of the way they look. And secondly, I don’t think I’m ugly. Sure, I have flaws. Everyone does. But I’m not in the habit of focusing on them and deciding that having flaws – otherwise known as being human – means that I’m repulsive to the opposite (or the same) sex. And while we’re on the subject, I don’t see my differences from other girls as flaws either. I’m proud of my idividualities and eccentricities, and happy not to fit into a generic mould. To be honest, I think I’m a pretty rad dude and I also happen to think that I’m attractive. Now, I’ve been told that I suffer from an overinflated ego but the truth is that I’m just happy with who I am and the way I look. And there is no shame in that.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t have days where I feel like I look terrible. There are days when I do look terrible! But I don’t buy into the idea that if you don’t look or act a certain way, then you aren’t attractive. Everyone is attracted to different things, it’s just that simple. However not everyone thinks the same way I do. It can be hard for young women to come into their own and feel confident about the way they look if it in any way differs from their preconceived notions about what beauty is. Notions based on the media’s portrayal of women and things they read or watch or hear. Because surely, if you aren’t a size six with big boobs, blonde hair, long legs and a ‘box gap’, then you’re ugly as sin and need to wear a paper bag over your head for the rest of your life.
I realise that I’m making a bit of a generalisation there too, but hopefully you get my point. The thing is, it can be very difficult for girls to learn to love themselves when everything from media to literature is telling them that they aren’t enough. That having small boobs means you aren’t as pretty as a girl with DD’s. That being a size twelve makes you less attractive that a size six. Or that someone you find attractive wouldn’t look twice at you because they’re out of your league.
Which brings us back to teen fiction and that oh so familiar ‘boy meets girl and girl constantly questions why he likes her’ plot. It’s possible that these stories pair an ‘unlikely’ couple together in an attempt to provide good role model type figures for adolescent women. I mean, there is always that underlying idea that if a shy, self-depreciating girl can get a hot boyfriend then anyone can. But that’s really more of an insult to shy girls than it is a positive affirmation. So many female protagonists are insecure and paranoid. Having a boyfriend can be an important thing for a teenage girl. I’m sure there are plenty of young women out there who can relate to the idea of having doubts about what their boyfriend sees in them. And honestly, I think that’s really depressing. Me personally, I’d relate more to a female character that knows how awesome she is without needing to hear it from her boyfriend. Or better yet, a protagonist who doesn’t need a boyfriend at all in order to feel good about herself.
What it comes down to is that if you and someone else share a mutual attraction then it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) matter what social circles you travel in, or how many previous relationships either one of you has had. Ladies, it doesn’t matter whether you boyfriend ‘could have any girl he wants’. If he’s with you, then that’s all that matters. You should be confident in the knowledge that he loves you and thinks you’re beautiful. And if you’re not, then perhaps consider the possibility that your issues aren’t with him, but with yourself. Just a thought.