Last week I wrote about the absurd and horrifically craptastic album by Debbie Drake titled “How to Keep Your Husband Happy” (which you can read about here in case you missed it). As I and many commenters pointed out, the ridiculous ways in which girls and women are pummeled with the message that our self-worth is solely measured in terms of our looks and by what men think of us is disgusting, maddening and sickening.
So, as a perfect antidote to such nonsense, I give you a review of Beauty Queens written by the fantastic YA author, Libba Bray. It is an amazing read that should be at the top of your reading list.
Here’s the book description from Goodreads:
The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.
What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?
Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t drawn to this book as quickly as I was to her other fabulous books (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, The Sweet Far Thing, and Going Bovine). When I was got my hands on the audio book version of Beauty Queens I didn’t know what to expect from a book about a bunch of teen beauty pageant contestants whose plane had crashes on a seemingly deserted island. But I am a big fan of the t.v. show Lost and an equally huge fan of Libba’s books, so I figured it would be worth my time to read it.
I was totally right.
And when I turned it on in my car for my daily commute, guess what I heard coming through my speakers?
Pure awesomeness wrapped in bodaciousness (to use a Libba-ism) tied up with shiny, sparkly, jewel-encrusted ribbons of humor.
Because Libba reads the book. With ALL of the distinct voices of her characters.
I LOVE LOVE LOVE it when authors read for their audio books. It’s like a delightful little gift given to me by the authors when I get to hear them read their novel as they surely heard it in their wonderful minds as they wrote it. Libba does an fantastic job of bringing her characters to life in a way that only she can.
Think Colbert Report meets Lost meets the Miss Teen U.S.A. pageant and you’ll have a good idea of Beauty Queens. One of my favorite things about the book is the enormous and important topic of female sexuality is presented in a hilarious and empowering way that made me on more than one occasion laugh out loud and say “You go girl!” (And to be completely honest and forthcoming, there were some choice swear words in there, too.)
I love what Libba said about her inspiration for writing the book in an interview with herself (yes, you read that correctly) on Omnivoracious:
“… years ago over lunch, my editor David Levithan said, “A colleague and I came up with an idea and you have to write it: A plane carrying teen beauty pageant survivors crashes on an island. And…scene!” I thought it sounded like great, campy fun—a chance for a feminist take on Lord of the Flies. The intervening years have seen some pretty profound and depressing setbacks for women, not just legislatively but in entertainment, too. We went from “Norma Rae” and “Mary Tyler Moore” to “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” and “Bride Wars.” I was at the store, and even the product names suggested we were broken in some way—“repair” “correct” “age defying.” I think there was one product targeted for men and it had some really straightforward name like “Moisturizing Lotion. For Men.” No judgment just, “Oh, hey, you have dry skin? Here’s a product to help with that, dude.” The end.”
It’s exactly that judgment on girl’s and women’s looks and sexual development that Libba tackles with her trademark humor and skillful writing. I was pleased (though not surprised) to see she included girls of different ethnicities, sexual orientations and contrasting viewpoints on beauty. She adeptly wove them together in a seamless story full of action, heartache and the realization that there is more to life than outward appearances.
As I listened to the story, I wondered about how many times have I seen ads and products and movies and images of women showing me some completely unobtainable version of beauty? Or how many times I’ve looked in the mirror and thought the reflection staring back at me was unsatisfactory and in some way intolerable? Or how many times have I gone to the store or the salon, wishing and hoping and paying for some alternative version of myself that I can feel good about? Or how many times I told myself I don’t measure up?
I wish this book had been around when I was a teenager. It probably would have made me think twice about all of the self-loathing I was doing. I spent an inordinate amount of time fretting about my appearance, wondering if I ever would be lovely enough to stop worrying about it. I know I’m not alone in this struggle. All of my friends did it. My mother and her sisters did it. And sadly, my two daughters do it even though I’ve tried everything I know to do to make sure they know their beauty doesn’t lie merely in their looks or in how boys see them. Even though I don’t worry about my looks and appearance nearly as much as I did as a teen, enough of the self-loathing monkey weighs me down every time I look in the mirror, like a bad habit that won’t go away.
I can’t recommend this book enough, especially the audio book version not only for the empowering theme and Libba’s fantastic voices, but also for the satirical commercials that appear throughout it. Libba creates some brilliant products for these commercials, products like Lady ‘Stache Off and Maxi-Pad Pets, “the revolutionary fashion maxi-pad that makes you feel like you’ve got a special friend in your pants.” There are also commercials for t.v. shows like “Pirates Bodacious IV: Badder and More Bodaciouser”. Yes, sexy teen boy reality show pirates appear in the book right alongside sequined evening gowns, tiaras and bombs. There’s something for everyone.
And you, dear readers – what images of girls and women have you seen lately that appall you? How do you fight the monkey of self-loathing? What bodacious things do you do in your everyday lives to promote healthy images of girls and women?