One of the fun things about being a writer is getting to rub shoulders with other authors. (Another is living vicariously through your characters while they do things like tell off people who remind you of your home owners’ association board, but I digress.)
I was happy when Ben Bella Books asked me to write an essay for a book they were doing on Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series. I really enjoyed the books, so not only did I get to pontificate on the role of beauty in our society, but I also got the thrill of knowing that Scott Westerfeld himself read and edited my essay. (Yes, This is how much of a book geek I am. I was like, “Scott Westerfeld’s eyeballs read the words I wrote!” I think this means I am allowed to hang out socially with him now, you know, assuming I ever meet him in real life.)
So the book is officially out now. It’s called Mind-Rain and is available at your local Borders.
Here is a blurb from my essay about the role of beauty in our society:
When I was a teenager I read a book of difficult questions. One of them was: Would you choose to be beautiful if it meant you’d lose five years from your life span?
The question bothered me because I knew the answer should be easy—who in their right mind would trade part of their life—1,825 days—just to look good? Looking good doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of your life.
But I kept finding myself wanting to refine the question. Exactly how ugly would I have to be to have that extra five years? And were we talking about a life span of seventy years? Eighty years? Perhaps only forty? The question just wouldn’t go away. The answer hovered around, revealing all sorts of uncomfortable things about myself and my society–because let’s face it we do judge people based on looks.
Oh, as a society we like to pretend that we aren’t really all that vain, that we don’t obsess about our appearances, and that we’re capable of seeing past all the superficial stuff. As Martin Luther King Jr. would say, if you know, he happened to live in a Scott Westerfeld novel: People should not be judged by the prettiness of their skin, but by the content of their character.
We throw around phrases to emphasize the point. Beauty is only skin deep. Beauty is as beauty does. It’s what inside that really matters. You can’t judge a book by its cover.
Any high school freshman will tell you differently. As will your local plastic surgeon, or the person in charge of hiring models for advertisements.
If you want to sell something, you show a beautiful person holding, eating, wearing, or driving it. There is a reason we call beautiful people attractive. We are attracted to them just because of their looks. As a society we want to be them so badly that we will buy the soda we see them drinking, the clothes we see them wearing, and the cars we see them driving.
Okay for those of you who are still with me, to be the winner of a free copy of Mind Rain, answer the question: Would you trade five years of your life to be beautiful? Why or why not?