The DUFF

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When I sat down to read The DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger I was prepared to be enraged. In fact, I was planning on being enraged because rage keeps me young (this is supported by the evidence that I was recently carded while trying to buy beer and the drinking age here is 16. So I’m supported by science).

And yet here we are, and I’m about to seriously praise a book called The DUFF. You have to hear me out, because when I saw the title I was offended too.

This is what I thought when I saw the title: “Great, I bet this book is about an ‘average’ girl who thinks she’s fat because she’s a size eight and somehow is going to end up with a ‘hot’ guy after she goes through a makeover routine and her bitchy friends will learn their place. Haha, I’m so glad that YA books are tackling the actual issues of body size image in teenagers, in a way that has nothing to do with a girl learning she’s pretty through the attention of a man. FKLJFLJS:KFJ:Jhjd:KFDJS.”

I stand corrected though, because while the book DOES feature an average looking girl with two traditionally attractive friends and ends up involved with a traditionally attractive guy, there’s attention to real issues facing young women.

Here’s a few issues that The DUFF tackles, and does so in a way that I respect:

-using casual sex as a coping mechanism for depression

-slut shaming being common and representitive of internalized misogyny

-the fact that feeling ugly is more of a matter of self-perception than physical appearance

-importance of platonic friendship

-calling out ignoring platonic friendship for romantic relationships as shitty behavior

-ocassional thow-ins of blatant feminism that are kind of awkward but I support that they’re in here

-divorce between two people, not because on of them is the ‘bad guy’ but because people change and may no longer be satisfied in a marriage

-divorce ending in a positive relationship between two people that doesn’t end with the “they got back together” fairy tale trope but supportive behavior

-friendship between girls who have different interests and appearances but have a strong bond

Even ONE of these being handled respectfully by a YA book is rare and just look at this list! I’m in shock, I’m still in shock.

Let’s talk about ugly as self-perception. A lot of times in YA books, an average girl finally realizes she’s attractive because she recieves attention from a male gaze. This is a really slimy way of increasing a girl’s self-confidence not only because it implies that worth depends on the male gaze (vomit) but also because it tends to focus on girls who are already ‘average’ on the traditionally attractive scale. What about girls who aren’t traditionally attractive?

The Duff doesn’t follow this. The main character, who does feel like the ‘ugly’ one of her friends, realizes through TALKING TO HER FRIENDS (not a man!!!) that they all feel like the ‘ugly’ one. Her friend who is tall feels ugly because she’s so tall (while the MC feels like she’s beautiful being tall), as an example. And this is completely true. A lot of our insecurities are viewed as enviable by other people.

The heart of the issue is that anyone can feel unattractive and that envying a girl that you think is more attractive than you is a waste of energy because she’s envying someone else. The book addresses the fact that all women are torn down by misogynistic culture. Actual quote from the book “It was just one of those titles that fed off of an inner fear every girl must have from time to time. Slut, bitch, prude, tease, ditz. They were all the same. Every girl felt like one of these sexist labels described her at some point.”

Preach.

Not to mention that the MC begins the book as an awful slut shamer. She goes around calling girls whores if they act in a more sexual way than her. But by the end of the book (okay, with a little help from a male character, but props to giving a male character a line that shows women who have sex aren’t whores. In fact, he has less internal misogny than the MC, which is interesting) Bianca realizes how awful this point of view is. She wants women to support each other because all the labels, shown in the quote, are sexist, from the prude end of the spectrum to whore.

I feel like I had this internal awakening, a little later when I was at University, and the pride I felt for Bianca in that moment was palpable. I wanted to give her a high five. She broke out of the stupid thinking we’re fed from society, and that isn’t easy. I love that it is shown as character growth.

But I have to say, I think my favorite issue in this book is the use of sex as a coping mechanism. There are a lot of books in YA literature that address self-mutilation, drinking, and drugs, but I haven’t read one that tackled sex so earnestly. Don’t get me, or the book, wrong. Sex between teenagers isn’t always dysfunctional. But we do need to address that casual sex, especially a lot of it, CAN be a sympton of depression. Again, I want to stress that it doesn’t have to be, but it CAN be.

Bianca’s sex reflects this. She does it to get away from her troubles at home and begins a cycle of sex and shame that is common in these situations. She needs the high, but is overrun by guilt afterwards, leading right back into her needing the high. There’s not a lot of romanticising her behavior during this phase of the book.

It’s so important to highlight the way sex factors in as a behavior of depression so YES! THANK YOU!

The DUFF isn’t a perfect book. I wish that it had a cast that wasn’t just heterosexual, “attractive” white people. But what it gets right, it gets right, and I won’t tear a book down for making steps in the right direction. So thank you for defying all of my expectations.

I give it a “YES GIRL YES” on the “how well does the main character react to sexism” scale.

(P.S. Don’t see the movie because it undermines every single thing that the book does right and instead DOES make it into a romcom where the main character doesn’t have self-destructive behavior etc etc)

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Top Ten Tuesdays– Vampire Edition

As I was thinking about starting Vampire AcademyI found my thoughts shifting to a topic that has troubled me about vampire love stories in YA fiction for many years now. I don’t find the appeal of vampires baffling, because all things fairly considered, I would totally be a vampire. Hit me up (really tho, hit me up. We can work something out. I already hate the sun.)

What was confusing, and still is, really comes down to the question: if you were a couple hundred years old, why would you ever want to date a 17-year-old?

Over and over again we have these scenes where vampire (age 100+) confesses to average, clumsy teenage girl their undying (get the joke?) passionate love. And my reaction is always the same. ???

This isn’t supposed to be mean towards 17-year-olds, in the sense that, I get it. I’ve been that age, I remember what it’s like. The thing is, when you’re that age, high school is pretty much your whole world. You probably still live with your parents. You complain about having to learn algebra.

And that’s FINE. But the thing is, when you leave high school behind, when you start developing into an autonomous individual, your interests and what you’re concerned about changes so much. I mean, if you’re 17, think about a 13-year-old. They probably seem so different to you. What do you have in common with them? You can have some conversations, sure, but the level of connection that leads to undying love? Uhm.

So if you were over a hundred years old, WHAT ATTRACTION DOES A 17-YEAR-OLD HAVE?

So for this Top Ten Tuesday, here are

Ten Reasons a Several Hundred Year Old Vampire Would Want to Date a Teenage

Presented in descending order of what I think is actually likely (I ordered one of these lists for once, how about that!)

10. A Lolita complex (I’m saying they have a tendency towards pedophilia. Also, the possibility that all vampires have Lolita complexes makes me want to scream. the only worse thing would be that being a vampire gives you hairy palms like Dracula)

9. They enjoy seducing teenagers as a game and laugh about it @ vampire pub night

8. Self-hatred

7. They feel dumb trying to get with older people in their 17-year-old body

6. They made a bet about it

5. ???

4. They’re writing a book about how teenage behavior has changed over the centuries (though when you look at how a 17 y/o acts in Jane Austen books, the answer seems to be: not much)

3. Other general research purposes?

2. It’s better than watching t.v. all day?? I guess???

1.  When one is turned into a vampire at age 17, their emotional maturity never ages either so they’re stuck in teenage hell forever, making it the case that dating another teenager is logical (this is actually the true horror story)

I actually find number 1 to be compelling and satisfies my question as to all these YA vampire books, which is good because I can’t stop myself from reading them. Also it makes everything WAY less creepy (though it is still kind of creepy tbh. Talk about a real age gap.)

Greasy Nerds in YA Fiction

There’s this thing about YA fiction where it presents that if you are a “nerd,” you are also inherently greasy. I don’t know why this would be, one would have to do a research on causality to determine whether one is attracted to geeky things like video games, D&D and sci-fi because they have a grease problem or if being attracted to geeky things actually causes your body to produce more oil (both seem unlikely, meaning there’s probably a third variable here because correlation doesn’t mean causation. STATISTICS BITCHES).

Anyway, drawing on all of the memory I have left from my elementary school education, I drew this Venn Diagram to illustrate the traditional representation of teenage (greasy) nerds.

greasy 1 smol

The thing is, there is a fundamental error here in this Venn Diagram. This error is in assuming that there exists a teenager that ISN’T greasy. That’s completely untrue because all teenagers have hormone levels so high you could say they’re chasing puff the magic dragon. Here’s my edited diagram:

greasy 2 smol

You can see here that within the larger circle of people who are greasy are ALL teenagers, and within them the subset that is teenage nerds. Now obviously all teenage nerds are greasy because all teenagers are greasy, reflecting the fact that, I don’t know, being greasy has a lot to do with hormones and isn’t really something people can control? So leave them alone about it?

Moral of this story: puberty sucks.

This fits into my longer, ongoing war with the dumbing down to a dichotomy of nerd representation in YA books.

(S/O to Guy in Real Life for inspiring this rant. What a fucking hot mess nerd representation is in THAT book)