Today I took an hour to get dressed. I labored over what sweater to wear, my hair and make-up. Was it for a lovely evening out with my husband? No.It was all for a school visit, in a wooded suburb of Upstate NY with a group of third graders.
And why so much care? Because the mother who arranged my event, the one who cut through all the bureaucratic red tape and offered to pay my fee from her own pocket, told me why she wanted me to come to her school so badly.
"Every year," she told me, "My daughter gets teased about being Chinese. She's the only one here and it's hard."
With those words, I wanted to be beautiful. I wanted all those third graders to see an Asian as gorgeously different and enviable, not alien and undesirable. Suddenly attractiveness became less about vanity and more about representation.
And that is why looks matter. Fair or not fair, they do. When I was a child, I wanted my princesses pretty and my witches ugly...and I wanted to be the princess. Blame Disney, blame the media, but the reality is kids want to be with the pretty people.
I think as authors we have an opportunity to show kids that people involved with books and literature are pretty people. I'm not saying we have to need to plastic Barbies or be size zeros; but we could show kids that bookworms and smarties are not nerds relegated to the corner but are real people that are bright and attractive. Because if we do, they just might look to us as role models instead of Paris Hilton.
And that's worth an hour of prep time.