I wrote a complaint about Beautiful Creatures and how it failed to appeal to my “inner teenage girl,” and one of my criticisms was that it didn’t have any “hot men” in it. But this complaint sort of made me uncomfortable, because: A. It seems shallow and B. Who’s to say Beautiful Creatures didn’t have a hot male lead? It’s not as if there is one type of “hot.” What appeals to one person does not appeal to the next.
Continuing the trend of bad paranormal romances, I also watched The Covenant on Netflix, which was an equally terrible story, but, as I was telling my friend Rita, if it got nothing else right, at least it knew to cast “hot” guys. I ended up feeling more affection for this bad movie, because at least it knew its audience and tried to cater to them.
But this got me thinking. If you’re reading or watching something in the YA fantasy romance genre, do you feel you’re owed a hot male lead to fangirl over? After all, a lot of the appeal of fantasy and romance and books and movies in general is to have something you desire but aren’t likely to get in real life, be it an adventure, superpowers, or a “hot” romantic prospect. If an adventure book doesn’t provide you with a good adventure, doesn’t it fail to deliver on its promise? If a romance doesn’t provide you with a hot lead, does it, too, fail to deliver the goods?
And is it really so wrong, if you’re a teen girl or a grown women, to have hot guys to fantasize over?
When I was growing up (in the 90s, if you must know), it seemed as though male desire was catered to far more often than female desire (speaking in heterosexual terms, of course). Yes, it was still Hollywood, and there were plenty of attractive guys to go around, but there were at least some ordinary guys who ended up with beautiful women. The reverse almost never happened. The only plain girls in sight existed as objects of ridicule or revulsion. Oh, you’re overweight? Don’t even think of making a pass at even an ordinary looking guy, lest they throw up in your face.
Sometimes you don’t want to have to deal with that. Sometimes you want to feel like a “plain” or “ordinary” girl can land a hot guy. Or at least, you can look at the hot guy’s pretty face and let the real world dissolve for a couple of hours.
The problem, at least for me, is that when “hot women” were added to movies solely to cater to male desire, women ended up being objectified. They were not flesh and blood characters, but bodies to look at. This icky trend began to affect the psyches of little girls. Me, personally, I decided I was never going to be hot, never going to be good enough to land any guy, let alone one I really liked, so I might as well just chuck romance out the window and focus on accomplishing something.
When I was watching The Covenant, I started to get disturbed by the gratuitous shots of the half-naked guys in the locker room, because I felt they were being objectified and I was being forced to take part in it and, therefore, the movie was turning me into a pervert. And I did not sign up for that.
I don’t want guys to feel that they are no more than their bodies or that they need to look a certain way to land a romantic prospect—any more than I want girls to feel that way. If you feel a hot guy is “owed” to you, have you then turned a person into a commodity? And while it’s one thing for a book wherein the guy doesn’t technically exist, what about for a movie or T.V. show, where you actually have a real life person you’re potentially objectifying?
Am I overthinking this?
Probably. I overthink a lot of stuff.
But the thing is, I am currently writing some YA fantasy novels that have romantic elements in them. So do I owe my readers a hot guy?
And if so, how do I know if I’ve written one or not?
In a panic, I called my friend Rita, who specializes in both reading and writing YA fantasy romance, and she assured me that, yes, my romantic leads were “hot”—even the one who spent most of the story as a raven—but for her, being hot was not primarily a physical thing. What she found “hot” were characters who are confident in what they’re able to do, who are proactive, and who are intelligent, trustworthy, and responsible.
This got me thinking about my own definition of “hot” and what I feel is owed to me when I buy a YA fantasy romance.
Myself, I appreciate good-looking guys as well as the next girl, but looks have never been enough. I judge the actors primarily on their acting—and if it doesn’t do it for me, their looks don’t matter. Likewise, I judge the characters by what they bring to the table. Do they feel real? Are they honorable? Intelligent? Imperfect, but willing to grow? Then I’m on board.
On the few occasions I read romance, I don’t feel I’m owed a hot lead, but rather a good love story. Am I rooting for the characters to end up together? Do I feel emotion as I watch their struggles and joys? Do the characters grow because of their relationship? Does the romance work nicely into the plot? Well, then, I’m happy.
Maybe that’s not everyone’s definition, but it work for me.
Do you agree? Disagree? Have your own definition of what’s “hot”? Please let me know in the comments below. (P.S. I know he comments section has issues, but I’m trying to address them.)
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.