{DISCUSSION} Skin Color Portrayal in YA

Why are skin colors either good or bad in YA fiction?

Last year I read 46 books(big number for me :p). Most of these were YA and, of the YA read, almost all were written in first person point of view about a female protagonist. As such, we are able to really get into the character’s thoughts: what they think about their world, what they think about other people, what they think about events, their actions, themselves- >.>

‘Themselves’ is what stops me.

For some reason, it’s become a constant theme (and a very annoying one at that) for the female protagonist to a) compare herself to other females around her, who just so happen to all be prettier than she is, and, therefore, b) considers herself ugly.

Um… why?

Not all young girls have body issues. Not all girls think themselves ugly. More importantly, it shouldn’t be wrong for young girls to see themselves as pretty, nor should it mean they’re conceited. But that’s a discussion for another day. For this discussion I want to focus in on skin color portrayals of young girls.

For anyone within the YA book community, you’ve likely seen the discussions about needing more racial diversity among characters. I support this. I whole-heartedly support this! I want to have characters from all the racial backgrounds to show their struggles and their voices that white characters may not ever encounter. (And also because, if we were to combine all the populations of the world, white people are the minority, not the majority. And if fiction should mirror reality, as I discussed last week, shouldn’t white characters also be in the minority?)

Yet, I feel like there has been an adverse effect because of the movement to gain a larger variety of races within YA. That effect happens to be a negative look on pale girls in YA fiction.

I happen to be a very pale person(any of my profile pictures will attest to this). I avoid the sunlight. I wear tons of sunscreen. I can’t tan to save my life (literally, I’d get skin cancer if I spent too much time in the sun). I get nicknamed things like ‘Casper’ and ‘vampire’ because I’m so gosh darn pale. (These were nicknamed in good fun.) And you know what?

I love being pale!

That’s right! I said it! I’m so white my friends compare me to paper and say I’d disappear in a snowy scene. I think it’s awesome! I laugh right along with them. Why?

Because I’m secure in who I am.

I don’t say I like being white because I’m pro-Caucasian or any of that nonsense. I like being white because I am white. I am who I am and I don’t think I should feel bad about that. I take pride in my excessive paleness and I love that I look awesome in black because of it (though I can’t wear red, orange, or yellow :p). I love that I don’t have to compete with my friends to see who got a better tan during vacation(not that I was ever really in the running anyway. :p)

Yet, when I read about these female protagonists who happen to be pale-skinned and freckled and who think themselves ugly and the world sees them as pariahs, it sub-consciously hurts my self-esteem. Writers are portraying my inability to produce melanin as a bad thing, as unattractive, as ugly (because I don’t get enough of that from the media, celebrities, and the beauty industry which doesn’t even make a shade of foundation as pale as I am.) The same negative portrayal has been and still is happening to girls with dark skin.

And this needs to STOP!

Writers, readers, people in general need to stop describing a girl (or anyone) as ugly or unattractive because of their skin color. You don’t think that’s pretty? Fine! No one said you had to, but don’t make it sound like it’s a bad thing because those young girls who look just like that character you wrote are now secretly asking themselves what’s wrong with themselves. You’re crushing them.

We need to support girls of all races, all sizes, all heritages, all everything. We need to give them strength and courage. We need to show them that there is no one type of beauty, no one ideal body shape or skin color. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and a girl shouldn’t spend her entire life being unhappy with the way she looks when she can learn confidence and pride in her appearance from a young age.

So please stop writing female characters who think they’re ugly. Please stop making them compare themselves to all other females in the story. Just write a female character. She can still be insecure, but don’t make it only because of her skin color because that’s not going to change, nor should it.

But these are just my thoughts on skin color portrayals in YA.
What do you think?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

And check out my discussion from last week:
Dark YA


6 thoughts on “{DISCUSSION} Skin Color Portrayal in YA”

  1. I get it, but I also think it is possible to use this type of insecurity if it leads to a resolution. She thinks she’s ugly and one reason is color, but as the book goes on she slowly discovers that nobody else sees it (or her) as ugly, that in fact the male lead thinks she is beautiful, or that the other female characters love her skin color, that those she was jealous of where in fact jealous of her all along. But I do agree that nobody should be seen as ugly, even by themselves, for something like skin color, height or other things out of their control.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure how much YA you read, but the thing is that there is never any resolution about the issue with their skin color and their society actually does think they’re ugly (for whatever reason). Not to mention, a woman shouldn’t need a man to tell her she’s beautiful for her to feel beautiful. That kind of justification drives young women to believe they need a man to be happy, which isn’t true.

      Honestly, too often the writers make the female protag think she’s ugly and all the other girls hate her (for no obvious reason) but the male protag loves her (for no reason) and it all ends up feeling forced and stupid and cliche. I’m really sick of reading those books, too.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I read exactly one YA novel last year so I’m talking hypothetical. But if that’s true with the books you read, yes, I can see why you think it’s a huge issue. A lot of kids, boys and girls alike, feel very isolated and almost paranoid that society is against them, so I understand using that theme, but there needs to be a lesson learned from it or a resolution. If not it could feel stupid and cliched, as you said. .


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