The Cover Story: body image and ya lit book covers
So these past few weeks Christie G and I have been talking about body image and teen fiction. Which got me thinking: What about the book covers themselves?
We know from research that the images that teens see in the media affect the way they perceive their own bodies. 3 out of 4 girls feel worse about their bodies after reading fashion magazines (Love whose body? Spark, a movement thank you Cheryl Rainfield for the link). It has happened to us all (although apparently not to white men near as often): you’re flipping through the pages of a magazine and slowly, you come to a realization: your hips are too big, your stomach isn’t flat and those clothes they are wearing – I could never pull that off. Take a moment to watch this video on Cause and Effect: How the Media You Consume Can Change Your Life (Thank you RobinReads for the link):
Now let’s talk about all of this in the context of teen fiction book covers. We already know that teen book covers are whitewashed (check out the Book Smugglers article on Cover Matters: On Whitewashing). But how is weight depicted on teen fiction book covers?
Without a doubt the current trend is to show pretty girls in flowing dresses on the cover (sometimes even when it has little to do with the inside content of the book):
Sometimes the big dress covers even make sense, but still send a message.
But what about some of the other book covers? Thinking about book covers first started percolating in my brain when I was at the Sourcebooks booth at ALA in Anaheim. I was visiting the booth asking for a copy of the ARC of Entice, the sequel to Embrace, and learned an interesting fact. Here is the cover for Embrace (which is a good paranormal read).
As the rep handed me the ARC of Entice, I said I liked the cover and she told me an interesting story about how “they” (whoever they were) were unhappy with the Embrace cover because the model rear was “too big” so they shot the Entice cover from a different angle.
Like the Embrace series, the Hourglass covers represent the progression of the story inside the book through design elements. However, although these girls are wearing dresses, they don’t draw attention to the body and the emotion of being sucked into something pulls your attention away from the girl herself IMHO. This girl is still probably a little thin little, but she’s not sexualized or overly idealized.
To be honest, this butt isn’t even as big as Beyonce’s or J-Lo’s – which by the way are both considered incredibly sexy – and is really small if you were to look at a good 70% of the butts walking down the street in front of you. This is not a big butt. It is, thankfully, a pretty average butt which is probably a step in the right direction given other ya covers. But the message is also that this pretty average butt is, in fact, a problem – it’s too big.
Teen Obesity and Body Image:
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Conner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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