Pretty White Girls


I took my eleven year old daughter to the Half-Price bookstore today.  She already knew which book she wanted before we arrived, Eragon by Paolini.  We had a copy of it somewhere around the house from when my twenty-one year old read it many years ago but we couldn’t find it.  Even though she already had her book choice in hand, we freely browsed the “teen book” section for other potentially interesting titles.  My eldest daughter, nineteen years old, also along for the ride, decided on a whim to randomly choose books to pull from the shelf.  She would read the title then show me the cover.  She did this with about ten books before finding one that seemed unique.


Aidarile via Compfight

What made that eleventh book unique?  It did not feature the ethereally glowing face of a pretty white girl (PWG).

I imagine that this is what sells, books with pictures on the cover of thin, wispy, fair-skinned beauties, especially in this Twilight era, but who are they selling to?  While on the face of it there is nothing wrong with a cover that features a white girl, the absolute overabundance of these covers says many things to this mother of two dark-skinned daughters.

Pretty Girl in the Cherry Blossoms

Trey Ratcliff via Compfight

  1. Your daughters aren’t beautiful enough to feature in stories nor to grace the covers of YA books.
  2. The interesting stories don’t include girls who don’t fit the cookie cutter mold.
  3. Publishers and authors don’t care enough about “the rest of us” to make the effort at providing lasting literature that is inclusive.  (By the rest of us, I mean short girls, chubby girls, Asian girls, Black girls…)
  4. Something must be done about this.

Steve Evans via Compfight

What’s worse is that when grouped together none of these covers stands out as unique or interesting.  Is this a reflection of publishing, the writers, or the readers?  Perhaps all?  And if so, what the hell is going?  Have we become a nation of dumb drones?

My nineteen year old, an artist, has said on many occasions that she likes “different” faces.  She means the faces that are slightly imbalanced or that have a unique feature.  I couldn’t agree with her more.

The thing that bothers me most however, is not the message these covers send me, but the message it may send my eleven year old, and any girl her age or older for that matter.  She  is at a most precarious age where her reading level has far surpassed her level of maturity and sophistication.  The subtle and not so subtle messages these monotonous covers sends is dangerous and downright injurious to her sense of self.  If the covers can potentially do such damage, then how could I even trust the content?  If the covers are all essentially the same, can’t I make that same judgement about the content of the book itself?

The covers, I suppose, have their place as part of the whole.  But these PWG covers don’t appear to be part of the whole, but instead pretty much the whole shebang.  I know that I am not supposed to but, I judge books by their covers.  And since publishing obviously feels that they can make more sales with the PWG on the cover, then apparently most of America does too.

These aren’t the kinds of girls walking the halls of your local high school.  The girls at the local high school aren’t all 102 lbs with glossy red ringlets and flawless alabaster skin.  Put the girl from the local high school on the cover of a YA book and that is the first step toward convincing me to crack the cover to see what the book is about.

Check out these post on the same topic:

Why the Pretty White Girl YA Book Cover Trend Needs to End

White Folks Star in 90% of 2011’s Young Adult Book Covers

Ain’t That a Shame and Race and Book Covers: Why is There a White Girl on the Cover of This Book About a Black Girl? — Updated

Uncovering YA Book Covers 2011


  • Guest

    It’s JUST possible that the average reader isn’t obsessed with race and doesn’t care.

    • khaalidah

      Thanks for your thoughts.
      Obsessed? I don’t think you have to be obsessed to recognize the inequality.
      I would venture to say however that the person who doesn’t notice the lack of diversity typically doesn’t come from one of the sadly underrepresented groups of people. That person has the liberty of pretending it doesn’t matter because by golly, it doesn’t harm them in the least. If you are from one of the underrepresented groups (raising my hand over here) you start to feel excluded. It has a psychological effect especially if you aren’t aware. Perhaps its an okay state of affairs for you. For me, not so much. I exist and I want to see stories that don’t pretend the world is all one big pretty European fairy tale.

  • Scott Bury/ScottTheWriter

    It’s not just the covers, it’s the content. As North American societies become more and more diverse and multicultural, books and movies stubbornly portray white, upper-middle-class characters. And it’s not just the books at the tops of the charts, but all those titles from mid-list, mass-market as well as independent authors.

    The names of characters are almost always English or Irish-derived; where are the writers of different ethnic backgrounds, writing about Spanish, German, African, Arabian, Indian or Chinese protagonists? Are they discouraged to portray characters who reflect the reality around us?

    We all need to start thinking about this, and acting on it — that is, writing about it. Or we’re going to mire ourselves in irrelevance.

    • khaalidah

      Agreed.  Agreed.  Agreed.

  • Yes this. What also annoys the heck out of me is when publishers try to avoid being called out on whitewashed covers… by putting silhouettes on covers.