Emotion is virtually inevitable in humanity. It can be held accountable for both victories and downfalls, making it one of the most dangerous motivators. Because of this, governments must operate in a system that takes this into consideration to avoid conflict with their citizens. Scott Westerfield’s Uglies dystopian society is an example of their government failing at that.
The citizens in Uglies are split into two social classes; uglies and pretties. However, all uglies get to undergo a beautifying procedure when they turn 16 to become a pretty. After that, it’s partying and happiness for the rest of their lives. This doesn’t sound nearly as bad as a dystopian society, except that the first 16 years of their lives are to say the least, miserable. Not only are they labeled “ugly”, but they live in considerably substandard apartments in comparison to the pretties mansions. For 16 years, they’ll believe they’re worthless until the treatment, envying the pretties every moment—but why not just tolerate those 16 years and live the rest of your life in an ecstasy with no responsibility? Because freedom and individuality is part of being human, and that is something Uglies emphasizes a lot. Emotion is a dangerous motivator, and until the procedure, the citizens in Uglies will feel an overwhelmingly amount of it.
It’s also absurd that the society operates on appearance and attractiveness, especially when it was revealed that “uglies” basically look like humanity today.
“In a world of extreme beauty, anyone normal is ugly.” (Westerfeld, 132)
“Pretties” are just perfected versions of themselves—but there is a certain standard of “perfect” that the procedure is based on, making every pretty look relatively similar. Distinctiveness in appearance is not the only thing the procedure takes away from individuals. Turns out, the operators plant lesions in their brains to dumb them down, to say simply. Their personalities are dulled into a typical bubbly, go-with-the-flow attitude. Of course, they don’t really know nevertheless care about this change after it happens, especially with their new temperaments. However, more intellectual jobs require this lesion to be removed. The secret of the lesions was discovered by doctors (and couple) Az and Maddy, who became one of the first people to run away from the city. Together, they started the Smoke, a small rebellion society completely separate from the city of discrimination.
Eventually, Tally Youngblood would run away to the Smoke on a mission from Special Circumstances to find her friend Shay, who ran away before her operation. The deal was that if Tally didn’t, then Special Circumstances would refuse to perform the operation on her. Tally came to the Smoke initially wanting to turn in her friend and become pretty, but instead she learned about the defects in her city’s government system, and what freedom truly means.
“Out here, you find out that the city fools you about how things really work.” (314)
The citizens’ lives are separated into two main sections. Their 16 years of being an ugly, and the rest of their life as a pretty. Both parts have a completely different standard of life, except that’s not how life is supposed to work. Humanity is never simple; it’s unpredictable, difficult, and ugly. Every mark, scar, wrinkle, and “imperfection” that is considered to be ugly tells a story and shows what your body has gone through. It’s a fair assumption that the government would think that everyone would strive to be pretty, except that “pretty” can’t be defined by one certain appearance.
“What you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful.” (287)
Freedom and individuality is part of being human, and in this case the citizens’ freedom is determined with their attractiveness, and their individuality is stripped away in the operation. So while this society may work in theory, it was inevitable that the government in Uglies was going to fall at some point.