Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Discussion (or rant?): Pretty Girls On Covers/What Makes a Good Cover

So Julie linked me an article and I ended up kind of ranting with her a bit on MSN about it. Now, the article started out great, like, "Oh, hey, this person really gets the whole book blogging thing." but then it took a turn for the worst when it started talking about book covers. You can read the article here, but I'll quote a few bits I have an issue with.

"it was not at all in the vein of typical YA covers, which most always feature a slender, sexy, Caucasian female protagonist. I was concerned that these covers, so adored by readers, contribute to the general societal pressure that demands that young women conform to impossible standards of beauty."

"I saw there is a contradiction in the fact that even though YA bloggers are using their book blogs to engage in the confidence-building act of expressing their opinions about books, they value book covers that reinforce an image of beauty unattainable to most women and girls, and therefore self-destructive. But like all young women, book bloggers' aesthetic tastes are influenced by the culture in which they live. These bloggers are smart, thoughtful, and very much a part of a culture that embraces a particular idea of female beauty. "

"What have I learned from all this? Well, the bad news is that the covers that attract female readers in their teens and 20s are problematic because they reinforce a beauty ideal few can ever attain. And while YA book bloggers create an amazing, liberatory space to discuss their ideas about writing and literature, this same space is also marked by the restrictions of our culture."

Okay - here's the thing... I like book covers with pretty girls IF I like the photograph as a whole; the girl doesn't have to fit societies standards of what is beautiful for a picture to be beautiful. Book covers are art and I view them as I view other pieces of art.

I don't like every book cover with a stereotypical pretty girl on it (actually, there's a lot of covers like that that I loathe), but the ones with pretty girls that are genuinely good photography to me... then yeah, I like those. But honestly, if you asked me what my favourite book covers are, you'd find that hardly any of them actually fit the catagory the author was talking about in that article.

So I went through all of the books on my shelfari (which is just made up of books I own) and here are some of my favourite covers:

And those are just some examples from my shelves (there's also a lot more covers with non-caucasian models on them that I love but don't own yet or they would've been in the examples too). Here are some of the covers I really don't like:

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that while I do like covers with pretty girls on them, I don't like every cover with a pretty girl. And of the "pretty girl covers" that I like, I don't like covers because the girl is pretty - it's about the image as a whole, the colours, the fonts. Pretty girls aren't necessary to make a good cover (at least for me, as the examples of my taste in book covers shows).

As for the covers of the authors book in the article, honestly, I don't like either of them:

With her original cover, it's just because I don't like the illustration (too juvenile looking) or the colours or just the general look of the cover.

With the new cover... yes, the girl is pretty (gorgeous really, and I adore her hair), but I'm not into the way the picture has been edited, or the pose chosen or the colours (the photo may have been nicer more natural, instead of doing the pink/purple skin editing) or the font used (especially the colour of the font). If it was as simple as "put a pretty girl on the cover and people will love it" then I would love the new cover, but I don't (and there's other people that do love it, it just depends on personal taste).

I like beautiful covers, but a cover doesn't need a beautiful girl to be beautiful, and a cover with a girl on it isn't necessarily beautiful because the girl is attractive (from my favourites, take Entangled or Memoirs of a Geisha or Firelight for example - the girls are all beautiful, yes, but I like the poses the photographer/model chose, the covers look striking and I like the way the colours look together and the editing and the way the fonts don't look out of place. The girls in most of the covers I dislike are also beautiful and yet I don't like the covers).

Just want to comment on one more thing from the article:
"but if book covers lead young readers to books that ask them to think critically, then one of these days bloggers may begin demanding more covers, and books, that acknowledge more expansive notions of female beauty."

Book bloggers already do that. Some books with non-caucasian main characters have had white washed covers which were then redesigned to reflect the way the character actually looks because of the reaction from the readers. If a character is overweight, for example, but the cover portrays a skinny girl who is model pretty, then bloggers would get annoyed...

And I'm done rambling now, but I just don't like it when people imply that liking a book cover with a beautiful girl on it = buying into societies standards of beauty and that we've somehow been conditioned to be attracted to covers with beautiful people on them over covers that don't fit that catagory, or that liking them is somehow anti-feminist because the girls are beautiful in a way that doesn't really represent the way most girls look.

We--at least myself and Julie and some other people I know too--are attracted to covers that are memorable and eye catching, covers that do the content of the book justice and covers that are just beautiful/good art in general.

What do you guys think? What are some of your favourite covers? Or least favourite? Do you agree or disagree with the article?



  1. That article was excessively narrow-minded. A very particular subsection of YA uses the pretty girl trope and that's something in the publishers' hands. It boils down to a chicken or the egg scenario: do people genuinely like those covers or is that what the pubs THINK we like and thus force them upon us, giving us few options? Overall I've seen a lot of discontent about the overuse of pretty girls in dresses on covers. It's merely a trend that I think will break eventually. Fashion has lent itself to impossible standards from its very beginnings so this is nothing new. I'm all for giving people the credit for not buying to that image even though it's being shoved down their throats as opposed to being lectured at by someone that's a bit of a hypocrite. She opines about how harmful that pretty girl image is yet when she changed her book cover she bought into it. SHE did as she had control over the making of her book cover. So instead of taking her own advice and doing something different (the original book cover was horrid, really) and actually researching the plethora of YA book covers out there (and just how diverse they can really be), she bought into the very image she argued against in the favor of sales. Good message! You know what, kids? Blending in with the crowd and aspiring to an unattainable norm is wrong but dammit, if you're not getting attention being different, then grab your surfboard and ride that wave! It's what everyone else is doing!

    So yeah. I lend someone like this very little credit whose laurels so easily cave.

  2. You know what’s sad about what she said. Yeah the covers may hold beauty and get someone to read it, but inside, that generally has a VERY average girl, if not below par ('there' words not mine). When it comes to what make them read it?! Who cares because inside, authors aren't pushing the pretty shade of beauty!
    I know it's not really what your rant is about, but it's a point that should be seen when thinking about the whys of cover art. Compared to what they are actually reading. and it's what they’re reading that really matters when it comes to body image!

  3. I agree that readers like 'pretty covers', but I think pretty is different to everyone. Maybe some like this, other that...but of course I like an eye catching cover! But that doesn't mean I'll like the book.

    Also, this only happens in YA? How about other genres? How many times I've read an historical romance, for example, where the protagonist in the cover is probably a victoria's secret model but in the story is a little bit over weighted? It happens all the time and not only in YA.

    I'm kind of getting tired of discussions always having something bad to say about YA books. Everyone, doesn't matter what you read, likes a cover that makes you say 'wow'. It will probably make you grab the book and read the synopsis, and if you think you may like it, then you buy it...

  4. I really hate this article. I completely disagree with the author. I admit that there are quite a few books with pretty girls on the cover but you did a great job of showcasing other books that don't have pretty girls on the cover and yet are just as eye-catching. Personally, I don't think any less of myself after seeing a gorgeous girl on the cover of a book. I don't compare myself to them. I know that those girls are models and are paid to look like that. And it's a photo! That's been edited! It's just ridiculous to say that YA book covers are contributing to low self-esteem and that YA bloggers can't be feminists because we like these covers. The article started out like it was going to be praising bloggers but once again we just got thrown under the bus.

    Great post!

  5. I so agree with you here. I never EVER have looked at a book cover and thought "Gosh that girl is so pretty. Why can't I be that pretty?" Now maybe that's just me but when I look at a book cover I'm not comparing myself to the model. I'm just thinking about what might be INSIDE the book. How the book cover might be portraying what the book is about. Also my love for a books cover has absolutely nothing to do with the model on the front. Like you said, a lot of covers I love best have no model whatsoever. I guess some people just like to find problems in everything and then automatically assume that it's everyone elses problem as well. :/



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