Here there be rantings.
I was rereading a series recently, and by the time I got to book 4, I’d noticed something that had escaped me the first time around. Every character was described in terms of their weight, usually before anything else about them was even mentioned. Overweight men were “beefy.” Or “solid.” Women, on the other hand, were nearly always “fat.” Men who weren’t fat were “athletic.” Or “wiry.” Women who weren’t fat were either super-model perfect or skeletal drug users.
I tend to skim character descriptions when I’m reading fiction; I pay attention to anything unusual (I assume that it will be relevant, at some point), but for the most part, I prefer the pictures in my head. I might not have noticed that weight was the defining characteristic for every danged character if I hadn’t started reading the books one right after another. When you go a year or more between installments, it can be a little harder to spot a pattern like that. It feels like I should have noticed it before.
Then I started rereading some other books, and I think that I’ve been glossing over these things in my head. I think that I didn’t want to notice them, because I didn’t want yet another author/actor/movie/song/whatfreakingever WRECKED FOR ALL TIME.
Do we really need to read things like, “Well, she would have been attractive if she got rid of the glasses and put on some makeup”? (I’m paraphrasing big time, here.) Does every secretary have to be female? Do you really think it helps when every single time you have a female doctor in your story, she must first be mistakenly assumed to be a nurse by the male protagonist? I mean once, sure, maybe you’re making a point. Once in every single book stops feeling helpful and starts feeling like you’re just being crappy. And I just love how the female cop always joins the menfolk in being lewd, crude, and generally potty-mouthed, because who wants to actually read a scene where she tears the guys a new asshole for being oinkers in every sense of the word? Or… even worse… actually explore the fact that the whole thing makes her uncomfortable and sick, but she feels pressured to go along with it, and the emotional fallout that goes along with that? (/sarcasm) (For that matter, it could be a male cop stuck in the same situation with the same feelings, because that happens.)
Someone on Twitter (I’d credit, except I can’t find it again… it was at least a week or two ago, which in Twitter years means that it happened eight thousand four hundred and fifty-two years ago) pointed out that skin color is often only mentioned when the person is non-white, because apparently, there’s a rule somewhere that says that all fictional characters are white by default. The proposed solution was to describe everyone the same way, which I think is a good idea. I went in the opposite direction, though, partially by accident and then later on purpose. I try to avoid assigning skin color, because anybody can get blonde hair out of a bottle, or blue eyes via a recessive gene (or contacts), and I don’t care what color the skin that goes with it is. If someone makes a movie or TV show out of the books, I’ll be on the sidelines hoping that they’ll just go crazy with the casting. Pick the best actors for each part, and who gives a double rat’s ass what they look like?
I’m certainly not perfect, but I’m trying to be at least somewhat aware of the language that I’m using. I’m sure that I’ve fucked up at some point and just haven’t realized it yet, and it’s likely that I’ll fuck up again in the future. Granted, the books I was rereading were older, and it’s entirely possible that some of those authors became more aware of their language and have improved since then. I’ll have to check on that. I hate writing things off, but sometimes, I just can’t help it.