Who Would Want to be Pretty?

When does beauty start to become too much? “Is it not good to make society full of beautiful people?” (Yang Yuan, quoted in the New York Times) Yet the price of beauty for Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies is that everyone looked, thought and acted the same. Tally Youngblood, the protagonist of the story just wants to turn “pretty” when she turns sixteen. Yet she meets Shay, a teenager around her age who doesn’t want to turn “pretty”. Instead, she leaves for Smoke, a city of people who has never turned “pretty”, but not before leaving Tally coded instructions as to how to get there.

The character who represented the theme that I am working on the best is Shay. Shay was introduced as a fun loving friend from the same city as Tally. From teaching Tally hoverboarding to helping her get into trouble, Shay just seemed like any other ugly, being mischievous and daring. Yet she knew a secret that the society of pretties were trying to suppress, she knew a way to get to Smoke. This is the first time where we see a character who actively goes against the idea of being pretty. After that, she just seemed like a loyal friend, determined to go to Smoke, and to take Tally with her. “She and I… Shay changes her mind pretty quickly, you know” (Westerfeld, p237) Shay is not loyal nor does she want stubbornly stay in Smoke. She just wanted to be wherever her friends are.

The main theme of the story is definitely that even a perfect society has its flaws. If you looked hard enough, nothing is ever perfect. The pretty’s society was presented as a perfect society that has moved on from our own after a near apocalyptic event somewhere in the future. The society is virtually flawless, relying entirely on renewable resources. The people are happy, “new pretties”, or teenagers who had recently got their surgery, enjoys a life full of partying for almost every second of their lives. “We exist in equilibrium with the environment, Tally, purifying the water that we put back into the river, recycling the biomass, and using only power drawn from our own solar footprint.” (p103) Yet as Tally learns from David, Az and Maddie, the idealistic world that Shay and herself had grown up in and has been conditioned to trust hides many secrets. To keep the pretties placated, most of the ones who goes through the operation also has a lesion planted into their brain, making them unable to react to situations quickly, among other things. And the Special Circumstances would do anything to keep it that way, even if it means killing to silence those who knows the truth. “He lay on his back, his head turned at an angle that Tally instantly knew was utterly wrong… She remembered what the Special Circumstances had said to her more than once: We don’t want to hurt you, but we will if we have to. (p316)

Although mocked in the story as being a terrible practice, the world of the pretties probably started with a desire to be the same as models or idols. It also represents the theme well as idols and models are supposed to be beautiful and great. Whatever brands they promote will always sell out within the first few days, especially if the idol was really popular. Yet the lifestyle that they lead is not always the healthiest. There is fierce competition in the industry as more and more young people tries to be idols. Even after that, the idol’s lives are almost entirely controlled by their companies. Uglies probably represents the youths who longs to become the idols that they looked up to, without considering the pain they had to go through. The Uglies were taught from a young age to want to become pretty, thinking that it is only normal and anyone who wasn’t pretty was a freak. This could possibly compare to children who compares themselves to others, admiring the ones prettier then themselves. “Tally stared at the picture and shivered. Why go back to this? “Spooky, huh?” Shay turned away. “(p 191)