By Joyce Lamb, USA TODAY
Eloisa: I grew up with the conviction that I was ugly. One day a teenage boy compared me to a canine; after school my mother assured me that he was wrong. “Your eyelids have a very sexy fold,” she said. No boy I’d ever heard of spent his time checking out people’s eyelids. Obviously, I would never have a boyfriend, get married, or even be considered pretty … except maybe by a plastic surgeon.
Five years later I was recruited by a modeling agency and spent a year modeling in Paris. Boys made themselves available for dates. I’m married.
You’re probably thinking that my mother should have been less precise in her assessment. But she was an intellectual who despised judgments based on mere appearance: To her, eyes were truly the windows to the soul.
My latest novel is a version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The ugly Duckling, a romance called The ugly Duchess. I shaped the plot around the fact that people’s standards of beauty — a teenager’s, my mother’s, a Parisian modeling agency’s — are all radically different.
We can never be beautiful to everyone. all we can do is learn to be beautiful to ourselves, and realize that “ugly” is a word that exists to wound, and never to describe. The ugly Duchess pairs an “ugly duckling” with a particularly beautiful pirate. It’s a novel written for everyone who has feared the word — and fought it.
I am very happy to say that The ugly Duchess has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist. Library Journal described it as “a joyful work of art,” with “fast-paced, witty dialogue, flawless plotting, exquisite sensuality, and a delectable dusting of humor.”
The joy I put in this novel was hard-won. I hope that my tale of Theo and her pirate brings all my readers the satisfaction of realizing that no one, not a teenager or even your mother, should be allowed to shape one’s self-image. Beauty is not in anyone’s eyes (or even eyelids): It comes from the heart.
To find out more about Eloisa James and her books, you can visit her website, EloisaJames.com.
So, readers, was there a time in your life when people were rude about your looks? how have you learned to protect yourself against that sort of unkindness?