I’ve been on a fantasy kick lately, loving the rich world-building and kickass heroines. There’s just one little problem I noticed that keeps happening again and again: my kickass heroines getting makeovers to be prettier before they kick more ass.
The first time I saw this happen was in The Hunger Games. Katniss was pretty awesome right out of the gate: she’s providing for her family, and she volunteers to take her little sister’s spot in the Games. But when she gets to the Capitol, where weird fashion is the name of the game, she is required to get a makeover. Pretty much all the tributes get a makeover, so this didn’t really bother me. They had to get ready to be on a reality show and do press for this major televised event – anyone would have gotten a makeover. She gets her makeup and hair done and eyelash extensions and a really nifty dress. When she goes to fight in the games, however, all that is gone (another reason why this didn’t bother me).
The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard was where I next noticed the Fantasy Makeover. Shortly thereafter, I read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, which was written before The Red Queen, but there were so many similarities between them that I will combine them. A poor girl (*cough*Katniss fits this bill too *cough*) discovers she has magical abilities (Mare in Red Queen has the power to make lightning out of her hands, Alina in Shadow and Bone can summon light – and yes, I did notice that these two powers are also similar). She is then whisked away to the
Capitol capital where she is given a makeover.
In Mare’s case, the royal family is trying to hide that she is a Red, a race with no magical abilities, and try to make her look like a Silver, the magical race. She has to wear special makeup to make her skin look Silver. She’s also given a new name.
“With my newly pale skin and darkened eyes and lips, I look cold, cruel, a living razor. I look Silver. I look beautiful. And I hate it.” – The Red Queen
For Alina, a makeover is necessary to be present to the king and queen, who are apparently very shallow people. The first part of the makeover was for Alina to simply bathe, but after that, things take a magical turn. Genya, who has the ability to change a person’s appearance, alters Alina’s face so that she is more beautiful. Alina has always accepted herself as being not pretty, balks at the makeover, but eventually submits:
“My hair shone. My cheeks held a rosy flush. I still wasn’t pretty, but I couldn’t deny the improvement.” – Shadow and Bone
Alina’s changes are only temporary, unlike the makeovers given in the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld. In that world, teens eagerly await the day they turn sixteen and get an operation to become “Pretties.” The makeovers in this series are actually integral to the plot, however, and the books have a message about what being “pretty” means, so I’m not actually including it on this list! Unlike the next example…
In Nevernight by Jay Kristoff, Mia journeys through a desert filled with sand krakens to find a secret society where she can become an assassin. The training is extremely rigorous, with students ending up with limbs cut off (and reattached, thanks to Healers). At one point in the training, Mia learns that she will have her face altered. The point is to make the assassin that much more deadly, because she is beautiful. Like in The Hunger Games, all of the students will have their faces altered. A boy with ceremonial tattoos on his face ends up with them all removed (this is problematic for other reasons, but also the implication by the other characters and the alterations that someone with tattoos on their face could never be attractive.)
Does one need to be pretty in order to be a deadly killer or weird magical powers? Even in the Harry Potter series, Hermione gets a mini makeover when someone curses her already large two front teeth to grow, and she lets the school nurse shrink the teeth to a more normal size. I mean, even though Tris in the Divergent series didn’t get a makeover to look pretty, she cut off her hair and got a tattoo so she could appear more badass to the other Dauntless. And in each of these cases, it seems like yes, especially if the heroine is a girl. Girls cannot be both ugly and kick ass, and they undergo what amounts to magical plastic surgery.
So I’m calling this a Trend to End in 2018. There are probably many other fantasy novels where the female heroine gets a makeover that I haven’t read. Add to the list in the comments!