Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Self-Image in The Hunger Games

by Mindy McGinnis

Yeah, you read that right.

Since publication, Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games has been the subject of more than one parental tirade against the violence depicted therein. While this post isn't focused on that topic, the one thing I do want to say is that whenever I hear an adult ranting about any book my first question is, "Have you read it?" Haven't had a "yes" answer to that one yet.

Instead, I want to focus on something The Hunger Games gives teens without being preachy, without talking down to them, and possibly without them even knowing they've learned a powerful lesson.

How tired are you of effortlessly gorgeous female teen characters? How about the rich one with the designer everything who is torn between two ultra hot guys? Or the girl from the wrong side of the tracks that's hitting an 11 on the 10 scale and the guy on the right side of the tracks who falls for her? Are you sick of perfect skin, glossy hair and full lips? 'Cause I sure as hell am.

Katniss kicks ass across the board. Sure, she can kill people in fun and imaginative ways, but the first time we see her she's using her skills to fill the fundamental need of feeding her family, alongside longtime guy friend Gayle. Her love for her little sister sends her to the stage to take Prim's place in a contest where she knows the odds are against her and her life is at stake.

And what does Katniss look like? Well ... we're really not sure. She's got dark hair, and it's usually in a braid. Due to the fact that she's from the poorest area of a poor district and has to hunt her food we can assume she's probably not terribly clean all the time and might even *gasp* smell bad occasionally.

Once a handful of professionals get a hold of her Katniss cleans up and gains attention from the world, but guess what? Ultra-hunky Gayle and super-sweet Peeta were already in love with her, before she got a dress that caught on fire and became the de facto spokeswoman for world peace.

Hmmm ... what could have possibly attracted them to her in the first place? Could it be ... her personality!?!?

One of my favorite lines from the entire series comes from a scene in Mockingjay when Katniss goes to see Peeta after he has been conditioned to despise the polished and public version of her persona, and he says, "You're not very big, are you? Or particularly pretty?" (p. 230).

Katniss even points out her physical shortcomings, in a refreshing non-self-pitying manner: "With my acid-damaged hair, sunburned skin, and ugly scars, the prep team has to make me pretty and then damage, burn, and scar me in a more attractive way." (p. 59).

Katniss has been through battles, bested her enemies, won over the world and had a guy on each arm the whole time.

And she's not "particularly pretty."

Good for her.


Tasha Seegmiller said...

This reminds me perfectly of what I say to my girls all the time, for which I get dirty looks at times. "It's good to be cute, it's better to be smart, it's best to be nice." Obviously that doesn't necessarily translate to kill or be killed, but I love that not every heroine is the cutest, prettiest, best whatever.

Great post - thanks!

Jemi Fraser said...

I love that about Katniss too. Even with all the pampering & prepping they do to her, she never puts that much value in her looks. She has more important things to worry about.

I totally agree about the people ranting about books they've never read too. Drives me nuts :)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Tasha - thanks for commenting! Yes, it's difficult raising girls in our society, and I think the HG books do a good job of showing a strong female character with emotions without making her the goddess of looks.

Jemi - Errrrg! Yeah. Berating books you haven't read is just... not bright.

Callie Kingston said...

This is one of the aspects I love the most about the Hunger Games series. I was hungry (pun absolutely intended) for strong, kick-ass heroines after a steady diet of vapid girls waiting to be validated by someone outside of themselves. How refreshing Katniss is!