Let’s admit it guys: everyone has, in varying degrees, swooned over a Male Love Interest (MLI). Whether they were great characters that supported the protagonist in achieving their goal, are inherently good people, have good hearts, or contribute to the story, the love interest and the romance are, most of the time, one of the core elements of YA fiction.
In today’s Let’s Talk About, I’m not going to talk about why Male Love Interests are great, or how they are great. I’m not talking about their gooey insides. Today, I want to talk about how Male Love Interests, regardless of their personalities and idiosyncrasies, are pretty much all the same appearance-wise.
MOST MALE LOVE INTERESTS PRETTY MUCH LOOK THE SAME
Okay, maybe not the same down to the angle of their broken noses, but I believe most of them subscribe to the same masculine ideal archetype. You know, the Adonis, the buff-but-not-too-bulky, the ‘perfect’ man. To test this, I pulled out my YA books and eBooks and looked at how important male characters were described, especially as a first impression. This mostly involved me using Ctrl+F, searching ‘muscle’, ‘eyes’, ‘lean’… you get the picture. This is what I found:
Muscular/sculptured bodies or “lean”
“His shirt is tight enough that I can see his collarbone and his faint depression between this shoulder muscle and biceps.”
– Tris describing Four, Divergent
“Long and leanly muscular, he dwarfed the molded plastic elementary school chair he was sitting in.”
– Hazel’s first impression of Augustus, The Fault in Our Stars
“He has the body of an Olympic swimmer, taut and muscled.”
– Peryn describing Raffe’s A+ body, Angelfall
“Firm muscles embrace me from the space where the cushions used to be.”
– Peryn getting a nice, firm cuddle from Raffe, Angelfall
“His body is erect, 6 feet of gorgeous lean muscle, his profile strong and steady.”
– Juliette describing Adam, Shatter Me
Specific facial features, “sculpted”/likened to art
“He was also strikingly handsome, with the sort of sculpted cheekbones and angular features that you couldn’t help but notice, even if you did have a boyfriend.”
– Macy’s first impression of Wes, The Truth About Forever
“Emerald eyes studied us from a face that could have been sculpted by one of the classical artists I so admired.”
– Sydney describing
my second husband Adrian, Bloodlines
“He looked like a fair-haired angel from a Rembrandt painting, except for that devilish mouth.”
– Clary talking about killing things with Jace, City of Bones
“Yet there was something in his eyes, strikingly blue-the color of waters of the southern countries- and the way that it contrasted with his raven-black hair that made her pause.”
– Celeana seeing Dorian for the first time, Throne of Glass
“Sharp-featured and blue-eyed, he could freeze fire with his smile—he despises this pageantry.”
– Mare recognizing Cal, Red Queen
“He was lean, a few inches taller than me, with blond hair, and his eyes—a bright, piercing blue—never left my face.”
– Allison’s first impression of Zeke, The Immortal Rules
White and able-bodied
Pretty much all male love interests.
BUT WHAT’S THE POINT OF IT?
Surely there’s a reason why this trend is so prevalent? When a male character’s physique is described, there are several intentions. Here are my ideas of why:
1. Males with great bodies = usually good people
When was the last time you saw a male villain’s body described in vivid detail, at least as much as the male love interest? In Psychology, there is a thing called misattribution of arousal – it means that when people are aroused (physically, sexually, emotionally) and their hearts are palpitating like they’re watching the finale of their favourite TV show, they mistake the cause of that arousal. For example, if you were running after the bus and your heart was racing and you were short in breath and had increased blood pressure, and you saw a somewhat attractive person, you might misattribute your physiological state to arousal for that person.
To an extent, I think that happens when we read about male characters – descriptions of their physique make us feel warm and fuzzy, and we assume that the character himself is making us feel warm and fuzzy. Maybe we end up falling in love with them too. But maybe that’s how attraction works? Maybe? (Well played, authors.)
2. Because “goals”
When we think about a fictional love interest (your absolute, ultimate #1, not your #8th fave), to an extent I think the characters we love reflect our own personal desires or what is sought after in a significant other. When we read about these love interests that set our hearts a-fluttering, they shape or reflect what we want.
And perhaps it is all an implicit process, but these descriptions are appealing to our ideals of beauty and what society generally perceives as attractive. So when you have a love interest that represents who we ever want in a person (mega-brownie points if they’re attractive — on second thought, maybe make it a prerequisite): “goals”.
3. Attractive male love interests sell
Who doesn’t like attractive people? (The truth is everyone does, though attractive is subjective.) I think authors throw in certain buzzwords or catch-phrases because those buzzwords and catch-phrases are what sells.
And maybe it’s not for the money – I certainly don’t believe it’s a massive conspiracy in an attempt to drain the money out of readers, but attractive male love interests are safe. They work. They make the book better, more enjoyable to the readers. They are subjects of discussion and connection for readers. (Read any review of a YA fiction with a romance, and the male love interest will have a mention!)
WHERE’S THE DIVERSITY? + WHAT I’D LOVE TO SEE
I don’t know about you, but whenever I see the defined jaw, chiseled chin, washboard abs, they completely fly over my head. Woooosh another attractive male lead that ends up looking like an attractive blob in my head anyway. Big woop. I want more than attractive/hot/sexy/steel tank (but circumstantially soft) of muscles. And I want authors to get creative with how to capture our hearts.
1. More male love interests that do NOT have the ideal male body
I would love to see a male love interest that is loveable, sexy and desirable, but not because of his mountain of abs and guns for biceps. What about a male love interest with a beer belly? Maybe a little chubby? Someone who is shorter than the female lead? I want authors to take risks, go against the grain, and subvert the idea that all amazing and popular male love interests need a great body. I want authors to challenge us with what we want in MLI’s.
2. More Men of Colour love interests
I mean, all popular YA books have white MLI’s. Great. But where’s the MoC at? They’re there! Represent them!
But, if any authors want this, I ask for two simple things:
Second, don’t just write a white character in mind and think, I NEED MORE DIVERSITY and just magically change the character’s ethnicity. That never works. If you want to write a great MoC, research! Listen! Be respectful! Incorporate culture and identity into the narrative! Check your work with PoC! Check your work for stereotypes and racist tropes! Because hell, that stuff matters and we’ll know if your writing is lazy or not.
male love interest with a physical disability
I’ve seen books with people with mental disabilities or mental disorders (which is great!) but characters, let alone male love interests, with a physical disability are so rare it’s like looking for a needle in a football fields of haystacks. People with disabilities are often desexualized and this can be harmful and hurtful. So why not have a love interest – regardless of gender – with a physical disability? We need more of those narratives! (To anyone with physical disabilities – what do you think?)
Maybe it’s a small case of confirmation bias, but I want to see more diverse
male love interests – scratch that, love interests with a diversity of backgrounds and histories. Personally, I love MLI’s with complex personalities, character development, and the emotional connection they have with the protagonist (if I can feel the lurve, I’m pretty much sold). But as much as I love tall, dark-haired, jewel-eyed, broody male characters as much as the next reader, I want to fall in love with new MLI that have different physical appearances as my other bookish husbands.
(Small note: I really enjoyed doing the wee graphics for this Let’s Talk About. Are the dividers too much? I went with them 90% for the hell of it, and 10% because I thought they were funny.)
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT IT
So this has been me spewing my opinions, but I’d love to hear what you guys think! Unleash your inner fangirl! (Or fanboy, or fanperson.)
- What do you look for in a love interest? What makes you go “HNNGGHHHHH”?
- Do you think most male love interests have similar appearances – why or why not?
- What would you love to see more of in portrayal of love interests?
- And, for fun, who is your favourite male love interest of all time? Do they represent what you look for in a significant other?
Let me know in the comments below! ♥