According to the all-knowing internets, YA books are targeted to teenagers from 12-18 years old, but publishers sometimes market their books to kids as young as 10 and as old as 25. (And people older/younger than that are certainly reading these books too.) That's cool. I'm all in favor of promoting reading. What I don't like is the cover art.
We've blasted magazines, television, and product advertisements for photoshopping their subjects out of reality. (They're not really listening to us, but at least we're raising awareness.) But, as far as I know, no one is talking about the negative and misleading messages sent by YA book covers. To me, this is even more problematic than a digitally enhanced lipstick advertisement. Here's why:
1) When we read books, we become friends with the characters. We know them. They become people, like you and me, not some distant celebrity doing a commercial. But, according to these book covers, all these people we're reading about look exactly the same: skinny, attractive, and constantly wearing ballgowns. If our friends constantly looks like this, there's probably something wrong with us if we're not. This only heightens the idea that something is wrong with us if our feet are larger than size 6.
2) We've moved away from putting illustrations on the cover of YA books to putting photoshopped photographs on these covers. The purpose of these book covers is the same as the digitally altered lipstick advertisement: to convince you to purchase the product. There's nothing wrong with wanting your advertisement/book cover to be appealing. But I think publishers have an ethical responsibility to look into the messages they are sending with their selected advertisement/book cover. And if their advertisements/book covers are sending false and damaging messages, they should be called out on it.
3) These books are specifically targeted to young people! Hello?! How about a little market management?!? Why don't you just put lipo ads in your books. Does anyone else have a problem with this?
Ahem. Anyway. Looking over YA novels, I've seen that they tend to fall in one of the following categories:
The Ballgown Obsession:
The "Faceless Shot" and the "See-through Dress" and the "Close-Up-Of-One-Body-Part" covers all send one basic message: Judge Bodies. The purpose of book covers is for you to judge them as appealing enough to purchase. But you have nothing to gauge your judgement on besides a human body. Therefore, you judge the body. Both the male and the female bodies portrayed are very idealized, and several of those covers leave little to the imagination. While I like that they let you imagine what the protagonists' face looks like on your own, I dislike the resulting emphasis on appearance, the normalized p0rnography, the rampant photoshopping, and the encouragement to judge other people's bodies.
You might have thought we were only propagating this kind of twisted thinking in magazines and on TV. But it's everywhere. This was rated the #1 YA book cover according to Goodreads. That's right: a wet, naked, skinny, faceless girl on the cover of a book we market to children: