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On Sydney Sage and body image

I recently heard someone trashing The Hunger Games, saying: "Sorry, I just don't think it's right having children try to kill each other for TV entertainment." The implication was that Suzanne Collins actually endorses those activities, which of course isn't true. She's simply telling a story, not an autobiography, and if anything, her books make a pointed commentary on the extremes our own society goes to for entertainment.

Anyway, it brings up something I see often, this idea that characters' actions or thoughts are what the author believes is THE RIGHT THING. Sure, some authors are preaching a message, and yes, being relatable and likable are important in characters. But that doesn't always mean characters are doing the right things or that they're telling you the right things. Like I said, authors are telling stories, and flawed characters are more interesting than perfect ones.

Which brings me to my main point: Bloodlines. Now, I'm going to talk about stuff in the book, and while it doesn't give away any big plot spoilers, purists who haven't read the book might want to skip this. When Bloodlines came out, I got a few upset emails from people about how *I* was saying that Sydney's size 4 (or 2 in the ARC) figure was too big. But I'm not saying that. Sydney is saying that. She isn't all-knowing or perfect (just really smart), and when she looks in the mirror, she thinks she needs to be a size smaller. Is that true? No, and it's clear from some of the comments others make about her. She looks great, but she doesn't see it that way. She just knows that she doesn't look like those super tall, super slim Moroi. And her dad isn't helping matters!

While I don't like unhealthy body images, I do like that Sydney has this flaw. She's so remarkably observant about the world but blind when it comes to herself. Many of us are, unfortunately, especially with looks. This is an issue that will be revisited in the series, one that she's going to have to work on. This also means you can't always trust Sydney to tell you the truth. That's not to say she's lying to you or that she's not reporting events around her correctly. But, she's telling the story through her eyes, and it's colored by her perceptions. She's our filter. This is true of all books. You can never trust any first person narrator to be telling an objective story, any more than you can in real life. Don't take their opinions as gospel--or as the author's opinion. :)

That's my deep thought for this snowy, icy day in Seattle. I actually meant to write about this months ago, to make sure there weren't readers out there taking the message the wrong way! Bloodlines came out the week my son was born, and like so many other things, this post got delayed. One of these days I'll catch up on all that I want to do...probably when he goes to college...


( 32 comments — Tell me about it, baby! )
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
I like reading about characters working through their flaws. Not only is it easy to relate to them, but I find it inspiring. I loved Sydney in Bloodlines--socially awkward, quiet and submissive, but having an incredible inner strength. And yeah, her dad does not help matters, which just makes me connect with her more.
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
When I first read the size 4 thing in Bloodlines, I was like, WHAT? It irritated me, but then as I kept reading, I realized Sydney had a problem with her body and it made me sympathize with her. I mean, as a girl, who hasn't had a problem with some aspect of themselves? I think this issue is what actually made me love I honestly didn't care for her in Vampire Academy. Great work, lady. Write the character's truth. :)
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
I can only assume anyone who thinks Suzanne Collins is okay with the games she portrays in her books hasn't actually read the books.

I read your adult and YA novels, and share the YA novels with my 16 year old. (I've tried to get her hooked on the Georgina novels, but she's not biting - thinks she has to find the cool stuff on her own. hmph!) We chatted about Sydney's body image issues and wondered where the story was going with it. Certainly it seemed important and we were hoping it might be developed further in later novels.
Shannon Blue Christensen
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
Well said!
Thank you so much for reminding readers of what is, I believe, some of the most fun of a first person narrative - the issue of narrator perspective. I think people do forget that fiction is not (supposed to be) political diatribe, but cultural, societal, and philosophical commentary. Some of the best, or at least most highly acclaimed, novels of the 20th century not only have unreliable narrators - but narrators who are completely insane. :) (American Psycho comes to mind first, but there are so many others.)

Have fun, folks! Challenge yourselves to question what you're being told -- and don't follow it so easily! Do you really believe that Bella Swan being a mindless manipulated tool of an overpowering boyfriend who prevents friendships, kidnaps her, and disconnects her car when she does things he doesn't like is the *perfect* boyfriend? Yikes. A real man isn't afraid of a woman who makes her own choices.
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
I think some people need to get over themselves. I understand what your saying and people can be stupid to say something about it. I have all of your books and all of the hunger games and I loved them. But it's just the way of the world.
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:20 pm (UTC)
I thought that it a very realistic opinion for Sydney to have for herself, & I think it added more to her as a character. Lots of ppl when comparing themselves to others will always see things in themselves that they wish could look different. And just like when you are talking to your size 2 friend complaining that they are fat b/c they just happened to look next to them at the new human twig; you just roll your eyes and tell them they are crazy. Hardly anyone is ever 100% satisfied with their appearance.
I love Sydney, which was a huge shock, b/c I thought I would get irritated with her so quickly. She is a fun, quirky character. I should have known better after reading all of your other books! I am really looking forward to the next book!
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
I always assumed that Sydney did not see herself the wayy others did
Vicki Orians
Jan. 24th, 2012 06:57 pm (UTC)
All of us don't see ourselves the way others do, whether it be a body image issue or a character issue. Some might think that their crying makes them weak, when others think it shows compassion. Kudos to Richelle for giving us a REAL character in Sydney.
Lisa Clark
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:32 pm (UTC)
I get it....
We all have issues with our bodies,and looks overall.
It is nice to have someone who relates to that.
Thank you for giving me something to look forward to. New Bloodlines coming out.
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:36 pm (UTC)
The technical term is "unreliable narrator". Which Sidney was, to an extent, given what you learn about her in the book.
Diane Gillette
Jan. 19th, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

Thank you so much for addressing this writerly issue! I was having very similar thoughts when I was reading about your readers who were upset about the end of Shadow Heir because they didn't like the choices Eugenie made because they felt they weren't the "right" decisions. However, Eugenie, like all your interesting characters, is flawed, and I think the decisions she made at the end were consistent with her flawed character. It would have been a less satisfactory ending if she suddenly because perfect because that would have been unrealistic. Readers need to take a moment and think about how boring it would be if authors only created perfect characters who always did the right thing and had high self-esteem and who everyone loved. I'm falling asleep just thinking about it!

Jan. 19th, 2012 10:05 pm (UTC)
As an aspiring author I totally agree with you, Richelle. People take character's words too literally when they're just a (mythological) person like you and I. They all have horrible flaws and great qualities, no better than anyone else in real life. The point is to relate and the every day person doesn't live a perfect life filled with perfect circumstances. Those who complain about what authors talk about are being blind to the real world, seriously. Someone needs to open their eyes, because body image is a huge problem with teens and, well, most people in general. As is drinking, self-harm, etc. I'm sure if you made Sydney boring they'd complain about how you didn't give her a relatable flaw. Keep up the wonderful work! <3
Jan. 19th, 2012 10:19 pm (UTC)
I hate it when people take a work of fiction and make it out to be the author's opinion. Fiction is more fun with the character flaws. When they're perfect (aka Twilight), they're horrible.
Jan. 19th, 2012 10:35 pm (UTC)
I love your books and think your characters are well thought out.
Jan. 19th, 2012 11:59 pm (UTC)
I totally understand. I got that about Sydney as I was reading. The people that complain either don't totally understand the book or they havnt read it. The same goes with the hunger games. If they had read it they would have realised that the main point of the series as a whole is to get the games stopped! They are amazing books and I am extremely excited for the release of the movie in March.

Also this has nothing to do with the post but I really can't wait to read Shadow Heir. Being as it has yet to come out in England. I'm intreeged to find out the 'twist' at the end. And although you plainly stated it would be better not to read your post about it I still did. But I just can't wait.

Shabana Fazelyar
Jan. 20th, 2012 12:27 am (UTC)
I didn't think much about it tbh, doesn't really make a difference to me if she's a size 4 or a size 2, i can't believe are complaining about that (it's kind of depressing.) I understand where Sydney's coming from, but characters are nothing without their flaws.
Jan. 20th, 2012 12:51 am (UTC)
ah, i love sydney, and the imperfect always more fun than perfect.
the story will not as fun as it should be, if everyone is perfect, beside in real life nobody's perfect.
Vanessa Vences
Jan. 20th, 2012 01:04 am (UTC)
I think that having this flaw makes her feel real and truth is many people go through feeling this way. I felt that way a long time ago and still struggle with weight issues, however, when I was reading Bloodlines I never thought much about Sydney's weight issues. People need to stop taking things too literally.
Bianca Charizze Javellana
Jan. 20th, 2012 06:37 am (UTC)
Sydney's perfect....
I love Sydney and always thought that he's perfect for Adrian.. I think everybody has their own flaws and its up to them to make it work... Anyway, I love hunger games and I'm dying for golden lily.. lol....
Joy Chuah
Jan. 20th, 2012 10:49 am (UTC)
Re: Sydney's perfect....
I totally agree. She's perfect for Adrian. I'm so in love with this couple. Am dying for The Golden Lily too.
Joy Chuah
Jan. 20th, 2012 10:47 am (UTC)
Sydney's Love
Awh! Who said those things about Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and your Bloodlines must be out of his/her mind. I LOVE Sydney. She is so relatable as some of her flaws and insecurities somewhat reflect my own and I can totally understand what she's going through.
Thank you for this post as everything you wrote is true.
Sydney FTW!
Jan. 20th, 2012 11:50 am (UTC)
Oi! Come back with my goat!
Yeah, this totally gets my goat, the idea that we authors share the same views and ideas as our characters. I have often thought about this. In my novel, 'Better Off Dead' available soon on Amazon, (plug plug) my main character is a cat burglar. That's literal. He sneaks into peoples houses and steals their cat. Just don't ask what he does with them afterwards. He hates cats, and some meet a grissly end in my story. It's all done tastefully and in good humour... like 'South Park', but because of this people ask me all the time "Do you hate cats? Why do you hate cats!?'.

I have a cat myself. She is lovely and cute and amazing. I love her to bits. I have never had the desire to throw her from a skyscraper to see if she still lands on her feet at the bottom.....

Many people accept the views of characters in books as the truth. My book is a comedy so it should be clear, but some people don't think about the fact that their view of our fabricated world is filtered through the opinions of the main character.

Anyway, the idea fascinates me and I love books and films that emphasise this: 'Memento', 'Rashomon' etc.

Edited at 2012-01-20 11:51 am (UTC)
Jan. 20th, 2012 03:16 pm (UTC)
Some people don't get how subtext works and they take things at face value. I really love the way you portray Sydney. It only makes sense that a girl so fixated on perfection would have a self image problem. It is a good comment on our society and is very realistic portrayal of a modern teenage girl. Self image is a very real problem teen girls face and writing about through Sydney just shows that.
Jan. 20th, 2012 04:47 pm (UTC)
i'm a bit surprised that some readers saw it that way.
i automatically saw sydney's body image issues as just that - issues. like, it was obvious that this was something she had to deal with, that it was a flaw. i think you do a pretty good job of keeping the characters well rounded with both strengths and short comings (adrian comes to mind, as does rose - and she was often aware of when she was being unreasonable...)

anyway, this is my ramble way of saying i agree. ;)
Jan. 21st, 2012 07:56 am (UTC)
Very true. There's this not-so-young-adult-book where the characters have a very... say, aggressive relationship. The guy is prone to violence and is very obsessed with the girl. I read a book review about it where the reviewer accused the author of promoting violent relationships. And I just thought, 'how dumb'.

Now, on a different note, when are you gonna post some Golden Lily teasers again? You know I've been obsessing over Sydrian ever since I read Bloodlines, which was on August 24th last week.

Edited at 2012-01-21 07:56 am (UTC)
Jan. 21st, 2012 02:51 pm (UTC)
I'm really not sure how someone could take Hunger Games as an endorsement for child gladitorial game TV entertainment... But either way, that's a bummer that you got so much flack for something so little. Most adolescent girls have are self conscious about their size and image - I usually think a character is unrealistic if she is not bashing her image or questioning herself just a little.

Oh! Congrats on your little boy! ♥
Jan. 21st, 2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
I thought the book made it pretty obvious that Sydney had some pretty serious self-image issues because of the culture she was raised in. It's an interesting contrast to Rose who saw her cures in reellion to the stereotypical Moroi look and reveled in them. Why? Because it made her different and exotic.
Jan. 22nd, 2012 02:57 pm (UTC)
One of the reasons I loved Sydney is because she has that self-image issue. It's something a lot of girls (me included) have to deal with in this time and age. Not for one second did I believe what Sydney was saying about her body was right. On the contrary, I thought wow, this girl seriously needs to open her eyes. And since Bloodlines is a series (and characters have to grow in a series or else they wouldn't be interesting) I totally got how she will eventually have to deal with this problem. That's even more awesome because girls will get to see how Sydney deals with her issues, and maybe even learn from it.
Jan. 22nd, 2012 08:42 pm (UTC)
It's weird to me that people would miss her disordered eating -- it's not in-your-face, but it's not exactly subtle like it was in the original VA series.
Jan. 23rd, 2012 03:12 pm (UTC)
I had no problem with the way Sydney talked about her weight. I understood where it was coming from. She's under a lot of pressure not only from the Alchemists but from her dad and he gave her an unrealistic standard to hold to, so I can see where she really struggles with it. And being that it's in first person, it was obvious to me that it was in her point of view and not your own. I'm an aspiring writer myself, so maybe that's why I see things the way I do and other people tend to miss them.

And being that body image is such a big deal right now, I think it's a good story to write out. I look forward to seeing how she deals with it in the upcoming books.
Vicki Orians
Jan. 24th, 2012 06:53 pm (UTC)
Richelle, THANK YOU SO MUCH for this post. I have been hearing numerous people say the same exact thing about The Hunger Games, and it's making me angry! I wish people would realize that it's just a story, and (like you said) flawed characters are much more interesting to read about than perfect people. Nobody really likes to read stories about happy people in Happy Land. It's boring!! So, thank you.

As for your book, I think the majority of us (aka: your fans) realize that it's just a story and it's Sydney talking - not you. Hopefully people aren't being too critical!

I think what people need to pay more attention to are the messages that the story gives, and stop narrowing in on specific things the characters say or do. Without a character arc, the story would be insanely boring.

Okay, I think I've left you a long enough comment. Keep writing! I LOVE your work. :)
Feb. 2nd, 2012 07:37 am (UTC)
I'm really on edge cuz I haven't heard anything about rose and dimitrs short story or if its even gona come out. Does anyone know?
( 32 comments — Tell me about it, baby! )
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