Pretties is OUT!

A trip to my local Barnes & Noble today reveals that PRETTIES IS OUT! On the local favorites table, there was a stack of ten, right between Eragon and Sisterhood of the Unwashed Pants.

And I also hear that Amazon is shipping them right now.
Excellent . . .

And now as part of Pretties Week, a quick note on fun with facial symmetry.

In Uglies, there’s a scene in which Tally and Shay choose which side of their faces is prettier, and use that side to base their future pretty-face on.

You see, everyone’s face has two different sides, but the pretties in my world have perfectly symmetrical features. So the two sides are exactly the same. Scientists think that symmetrical faces are more attractive (to most people) because major differences between the left and right half of your face can result from malnutrition and other developmental problems. Attraction to symmetrical faces is evolution’s way of steering you toward well developed mates.

But it’s really fun to see what you’d look like with symmetrical features. Take a picture of yourself, then take one side and flip it over. However, as the result above shows, you have to get a good, straight-on photo. And as these pictures from a Regents Exam Facial Symmetry activity page show, make sure NOT to tilt your head when taking facial symmetry photos!

Because this:

can turn into this:

Which is not a good look.

The Future of Pretty 2

Get ready for some scary, fresh from Boing Boing.

My book Uglies is set in a future in which readily available cosmetic surgery has lead to an “arms race” of attractiveness. Everyone is forced to have huge eyes, super-clear skin, full lips, and all the other signs of neotony that evolution (supposedly) makes us look for when choosing a mate.

But what never occured to me until today is that you don’t need a lot of surgical technology to create this dystopia. All you need is . . . Photoshop.

Behold the world of Angels with Attitude:

From the contest rules:
These photos will be judged on facial beauty, expression & fashion, and overall appeal . . . but should not be extremely or overly retouched. (We are judging the child – not the retoucher!) Overall Winner will receive 50.00 Angel Dollars.

“Angel dollars?” you make ask.

Well, “angel dollars” are just like real dollars, except you can only spend them to enter certain teen and pre-teen beauty contests. These contests are run by the same people who run this “not overly retouched” photo contest. It all fits hand in glove, from digital camera to computer screen to real-life angelic beauty smackdown.

By “angelic,” interestingly, these folks seem to using the same criteria as my Uglies dystopians: creepily huge eyes, clear skin, full lips. But what’s amazing to me about these photos (go gaze at them, if you dare) is that they show how a small group of people can go into a feedback loop and wind up off their collective rockers. This site is not a satire. Nor is this one. This is nothing less than an honestly held aesthetic about what human children should look like.

Can you imagine what will happen when cheap cosmetic surgery is safe and reversible enough for little kids? These won’t just be photos anymore.

Of course, maybe “angelic” is the right word. I mean, angels in the Christian Bible were actually terrible to look upon, right? (Jud 13:6, anyone?) But the word that comes to my mind when I look at these pictures isn’t “terrible.”

It’s more like . . . “eww.”

The Future of Pretty

The New York Times had an article today about how high-definition TV makes it harder for celebs to hide wrinkles and skin conditions. It contains the quote: “Celebrities are considered attractive at least in part because they’re suited to the technology of the age.”

Too true. Why should looks be any different from talent? After all, we don’t imagine Bill Gates amassing atonishing wealth if he’d been born back in the 12th century, or someone with Michael Jordan’s talents becoming a famous athlete in cricket-mad India. (I’ve seen him try to bat, after all.)

In Hollywood, the era of black and white had its high-cheekboned ice queens, and the current era of small screen rental seems to favor exaggerated features. Some of today’s beauties in HD may well look as bad as Jordan did swinging a bat.

But I’m not here to talk about anyone’s bad skin. What’s interesting to me is, what kind of pretties will emerge from the HD era? And how will that go on to affect our society’s ideas about beauty?

The Times article quotes a make-up artist who works in HD. She says the medium favors stars like Halle Berry, with her flawless skin. (The article also says that plastic surgery is problematic, leaving seams and ridges that the camera will capture and emphasize.)

Of course, TV will eventually do what movies do, and use CGI Vaseline to blur away every imperfection. (And eventually plastic surgery will become undetectible; the market will demand that it does.) But at some point in the race between digital fidelity and digital deception, I predict we’ll get a wave of movie stars with really amazing skin. Stars that won’t have to be fuzzed out to look good on HD. Stars that seem to glow on screen.

And when that happens, even people who don’t have to be on TV will emulate the celebs of the moment. And we will all obsess a little bit more than we already do over every zit.

Those of you who’ve read Uglies may remember that the pretty operation gives you perfect skin. As a marker of lifelong good health, clear skin is one of those things that evolution selects for. It seems to make people react positively, no matter what society we’re born into, like symmetry (mirror features) and neotony (big lips and eyes). But the images in our culture influence us to obsess over some factors more than others. Sometimes it’s neotony, sometimes symmetry.

So maybe the era of perfect skin is upon us.

Of course, when everyone has it, all that smooth skin may start to look really creepy . . .