On book covers? Am I nuts? #notosexism #isitjustme #yesitisjustme

Today, McMini was invited to a tenpin bowling party and I went along. As we stood watching the kids bowl I was chatting to the Birthday-ee’s mum and we got talking about the portrayal of women in the media and how difficult it was to find books to read. Run with me, I’ll get to the point but the background makes sense, I promise.

It turns out that, as a teenager, she, like me, discovered fashion magazines. I enjoyed many aspects of them, as in, I loved clothes and fashion, but we agreed that both of us found them a bit depressing because the women in them were always the top 1% of beautiful and yet presented by the magazines as the norm. And because of that, we both found that though we loved clothes, and fashion, buying the actual magazines was a slightly depressing experience which left us wondering why we didn’t look like the glossy women on all the pages, whether we should, whether the fact we didn’t was normal, and whether finding out about clothes and fashion was worth all that shit; all that angst that we didn’t conform to the magazines’ idea of ‘the norm’ which wasn’t normal at all. As a teenager, I was pragmatic enough to decide that life was too short to feel shitty about myself. So I stopped buying them. So did my friend. For each of us, meeting another person who felt this way was a first.

As a kid, at school, my study walls were plastered with pictures of animals and stunning views clipped from the pages of National Geographic. The only people on there were the Beatles. Most other study walls in that school were covered with pictures of the kind of women my peers aspired to being; fashion models who were miles prettier than any of us … because well not necessarily because they were but because … Photoshop. And mostly, when they stuck them on the wall, that’s all my peers knew about these women. That they were pretty. And they thought that’s all you needed to be. Pretty. And I’m not 100% certain that magazines, adverts, book covers, or anything else that reinforces this view is a great idea. Because if you self actualise through your looks, you’ll never know who you really are, and when they start to fade it will do your head in.

You see, I’m older now, there’s a lot of spare M T where the bump was when I was gestating McMini and it has forgotten to spring back. I still have an hourglass figure but it goes further out and less far in. I need a lot more whalebone to keep my boobs in a place where they used to sit quite happily without artificial help. I often lose them under my arm pits at night and yes, dropping a couple of dress sizes would be convenient because it would make clothes easier to buy. And yes, some mornings, dressing myself feels like trying to find the most interesting and artful method to drape camouflage netting over a Zeppelin. But I’m OK with that because I may be a bit of a twat, a lot of a twat to be honest, but I am nearly fifty now and I’ve learned to like me, on the whole, and what I look like is just puff.

So, what worries me about all this body idealisation is that I can’t help wondering if the reason I’m content with my greying hair and ageing looks is because I was pragmatic enough, as a kid, not to buy into this women should be beautiful and look decorative shit; to avoid fashion mags and the idealisation of physical beauty for its own sake. And what happens to the folks who did? As their looks fade, are they hanging on by their perfectly manicured fingernails, surgically nipping, tucking and enhancing themselves until they finally wake up one morning, look at themselves in the mirror and think, who the fuck is this?  Is the loss of their looks like the loss of their personality for them? Is that what’s wrong with us today? Is that why the current POTUS would rather walk about looking like an oompah loompah with a brillo pad on his head than admit that he’s knocking on a bit and going bald? Fair play if he wants to but …

A few years ago, I read an article which cited a study into male eating disorders, needless to say I can’t find it now but, basically, the posit was that male eating disorders were growing. The article claimed the rise of eating disorders and poor body image in men was directly proportional to the increased portrayal of perfect six pack wearing chaps in lad mags. I admit I found it kind of strange, at the time, that there was more for me to ogle in a copy of Loaded than there was in Cosmopolitan, but I’m drifting off subject.

What my conversation, today, revealed was that I am not alone. That, there is another person who thinks that, self image-wise, fashion magazines are full of bollocks that makes us feel shit about ourselves, and therefore best read with the cynical goggles set to maximum, or, if that doesn’t cut the mustard and they still make us feel shit, not at all.

So we went from this to a conversation about book covers. Friend went on to say that she also hated book covers with people on, found them hugely off putting because:

  1. They’re always unrealistically attractive.
  2. Most of us want to imagine the protagonists for ourselves and if the image doesn’t match what’s in our head it will be annoying and possibly off putting as we read the book.
  3. Most women have trouble identifying with some pert, impossibly thin, scantily dressed, six foot teenaged girl model so it puts them off buying the book because they think they will not identify with the protagonists.
  4. It’s fucking sexist for heaven’s sake. Enough of the bowling ball bums in leather onesies or chain mail bikinis. It was shit the first time in the 1970s and guess what? Yep, it’s still shit.
  5. Same for the guys, but at least if it’s a ripped torso the head is usually cut off, because otherwise we can’t imagine our perfect man’s head on top. Well that isn’t a pleasant thought is it really? But it’s the truth and at least, on the upside, we’re not, by implication, telling blokes how their faces should look.

Or as my friend put it.

‘I won’t buy a book if I don’t like the cover and if it’s sexist or objectifies women then no, I won’t like it. In fact that’s the main thing that put me off reading sci-fi and fantasy books when I was young. Also, why would I be interested in reading about someone I cannot realistically identify with? If the cover shows a skimpily dressed size zero model, I’ll assume it’s erotica, or that these are characters I will have no sympathy with and I’ll move on. Where is the logic in cutting off half your readers?’

This is why almost all the scifi and fantasy I enjoyed as a kid, short of a few titles, was stuff I saw on TV. There might have been scantily dressed ladies involved but the big difference is that they were never pitched as the reason to watch.

So, that’s two of us, then, standing alone among the sheep. That’s how it feels, anyway. At times like this I feel my fellow authors are bastards and my fellow humanity comprised of pliant idiots but that’s just hormones messing with my donkey.

Obviously, that isn’t how it is but oh how glad I am that, finally – probably thanks to some severe tweaking of the algorithm by Amazon, I am, occasionally, able to find fantasy book without a really off putting picture on the front of some young woman, who’s way more attractive than me, and far younger, pouting grumpily at me the way the girls who bullied me at school used to do, or a muscly torso, neither of which will encourage me to pick up a book. Maybe that’s why the main readership of my books turns out to be older, wiser men and ladies between 45 and 50. Perhaps I’m not the only one who feels the way I do about the images of humans that surround us.

There are so many ways to make a book look interesting. Fine, I know I’m on very shaky ground critiquing covers with the ones I have which I, personally, love but which, I appreciate, are an acquired taste. Also there has to be a grain of truth in the idea that having people on stuff sells, and my psychometric profile is rare: something like 6% of humanity – or was it 4% – so I’m unlikely to ‘get’ what the rest of the herd loves but guess what? Of the three books I have on instafreebie, this crappy home made cover is the one that gets the most downloads when I do a promo. Crappy home made cover, 6,000 words as opposed to 103,000 or 80,000 respectively. Hmm. Go figure.


Runner up for instafreebie downloads is this one, even though, from the point of view of appealing to American readers, I might as well have called it ‘Escape From B-Movie C**t’ since they seem to view the word ‘hell’ as about the same level. Null points for research there! MTM slaps own hand.


So basically, I, the very very murky looking pot, am about to accuse a kettle trend of blackness. But the fact is, I would prefer to avoid contributing to the deluge of images of ‘perfection’ which, I think, cause damage to young women and men and cause mid-life suffering to the pretty ones who come idolise their looks above all else as a result. So I will not knowingly put attractive models on the front of my books, unless it’s really obviously a joke.

So, back to sexist book stuff.

Here’s an advert that made me think, eeeeesh.

So, it’s a great design, the colours are fab, the idea is great, and even though the actual cover of the book (bottom left hand corner) is fine. Even if it looks more like the cover of an issue of Cosmo than the cover of a book it’s a cool image.

However, back to the surrounding advert. There are some things about this advert that make my skin crawl. I feel really guilty about only picking the one I’m displaying here, because it is a very skilful drawing and it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into it and the author is extremely professional and talented. But I think there’s a judgement error here.

First up, it’s quite a sexual image. There’s a LOT of flesh on display and there is also a hint of nipple, but our skimpily dressed elfin lady has the body of a teenager, a young teenager, and I think that’s why I find this image disturbing. Which side of the age of consent is she? I’m wondering. And the answer I’m coming up with is, the wrong side. OK, look, getting a bit basic here, but if she had any pubes they’d show at the bottom of that v in her trousers, so now I’m thinking please let them be waxed as opposed to not there yet. And worse, if you look at her, her features are kind of simplified, so not only does she have the body of a 12 year old and NO pubes, but she has the face of a child which is really freaky. I am absolutely certain that wasn’t how it was intended, indeed, I’d lay bets that’s a truly excellent book, but I just can’t bring myself to read it, because of the way that ad comes over. Am I the only one who thinks this is creepy, a bit paedo-tastic, and somewhat demeaning to women?

It is becoming a parent that has made me see the world differently. Or I am just turning into a massive prude. I probably need to lighten up. After all, t’was ever thus; catsuits, or the lack thereof, perky nipples and bottoms like two bowling balls in a sack have always been ten a penny on sci-fi and fantasy book covers.

But listen peps, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing, or that we have to carry on with that shit now many of us are in charge of artistic direction, ourselves. Three examples of buttock clenching cheesiness in the modern vein, though drawn with consummate skill, can be found under discussion here. I’ve included one of them here.

Hey big boy, if you think you’re hard enough, take your hugantic weapon and … yep. Freud would have a field day with this.

Hey big boy, if you think you’re hard enough, take your hugantic weapon and … yep. Freud would have a field day with this.

All three of the ones on the page linked, and this first one especially, would get a ‘not on your fucking life’ vote from me despite the artistic skill of the drawing – although on the poll in the article, many women really liked this image. At least it’s a lot clearer that this woman is not a minor.

Talking about cheese, if you want a good chuckle, there is a selection of amusingly dreadful sci-fi and fantasy book covers on display here – and yes those are the kinds of things I was trying to take the piss out of with B-Movie Hell.

So what’s to do? Nothing really, I can’t stop over-excitable folks from drawing shag-worthy fantasy vixens and I should probably be saying, ‘she can dress the way she likes even if the sword is a really cheesy metaphor for a schlong.’ Likewise, I can’t stop people thinking that a bitchy-looking pouty girl on the cover will sell books. Especially when it appears that they do, indeed, sell books.

And to women.

But why?

Heaven only knows.

And will I?



Filed under General Wittering

29 responses to “On book covers? Am I nuts? #notosexism #isitjustme #yesitisjustme

  1. I used to get really depressed thinking about how I have gained weight and my red hair has gone this weird blond color. Sometimes I feel invisible, and I hear younger people talking about getting old like it was some type of dreaded disease. But I am okay with it now. Granted I do need to lose weight, and I will, when I am ready to do so.

    I think the media does a horrible job of portraying women with any type of respect. I watch so many movies, where young women are fawning all over the main character , doing lap dances and all that stuff and it pisses me off so bad, I wont watch the rest of the movie. According to the movies, women are just collectible items to be used and discarded. Doesn’t seem like anything has really changed much at all.

    • I think you could have saved me about 2,500 words of whinging by saying that! Amen to that. 😉 What the smeck happened to women’s liberation? Now, somehow if women are portrayed as objects, it’s my problem.

      • I think women’s liberation has slid back centuries. We are allowed to work and bring in an income, but we still do the majority of the housekeeping, the cooking and the child-rearing.
        And how women are portrayed in the media is really having a horrible effect on how these young girls act, with their duck-lipped, pouty selfies taken in bathrooms and plastered all over their Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. They have no respect for themselves.

      • This … “their duck-lipped, pouty selfies taken in bathrooms and plastered all over their Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. They have no respect for themselves.”

        Just brilliantly put. But yes, there’s this thing now that women should be allowed to act like that and if I say otherwise, I’m just bitter and twisted about being old and curbing their freedom. Which is bollocks. I suppose some of us girls like slagging up. For me it was always going to be tricky as I have always had big boobs and when I was a teenager, women with chests like ironing boards were ‘in’. 😉

  2. Agree with every word, which is probably why I grew up reading David Eddings and Terry Pratchett (not much nudity there) and now read MG or YA fiction, and the only time I buy a glossy mag is when there’s a fiction competition that I need the entry form for!

    • Mwah hahaharhg! Yeh, me too.

      It was only when thinking about this post that I realised why I watched so much TV rather than reading the books. Captain Kirk always snogged the blue skinned alien lovely but the trailers never picked that as the only reason to watch. And these books are just picking one aspect of the story, and to me, not only is it the wrong one, but as folks who, in theory, might be influencers one day, we have a public duty to act with thought about the images we use.

  3. On the one hand, I was lucky enough to be giant-sized at age 12 so I never felt that the stick insects were anything to do with me, and never read fashion mags. On the other, it may be why I have a perpetually screwed up body image, and found the programme on C4 last Tuesday about superslimmers REALLY HELPFUL. Because it showed growing scientific evidence that the more we diet, the worse it gets, but gave me some new tips and hope that might help stop more weight piling on.
    I was also lucky to get into fantasy and scifi slightly before the awful women that you described starting appearing on the covers. In fact, the most sexist book I think I read (series drawn into mediocrity by the publisher wanting too many more) was the Tarnsman of Gor, where the spaceman found himself enslaved by the women of the planet he crashed on…. Good teenage stuff, but very repetitive!
    Chuck Wendig (terribleminds.com, lots of rude words) has ranted heavily about sexism in scifi and Fantasy, especially on covers and especially when not even relevant to the book. I think women get desensitised to it, simply because for today’s teen, there’s a perpetual onslaught, whereas you and I still fight the good fight against it. And, as it always has been, publishers perceive (or know from their sales data) that their prime audience is puerile men. Then again, because of those covers, that may be WHY it’s puerile men.
    Whether it’s scifi or not, I’m with you on this one. I rarely even pick up books with glamorous stickinsects on the cover, of either sex, although I did the other day for one I helped on launch day… but they are fully clothed and not glamorised.
    I could write more… but you know I needn’t!
    Great post, as always.

    • Thanks, and I hear you on a lot of this. And now I’m wondering if maybe that’s why my books appeal to an older audience. People ‘in the know’ who read them before I published said they were for teenagers. I think they do work for teenagers but it’s a state of mind and a communality of outlook they work for really. It’s like the whole Kojak C**t thing which comes from folks watching so much porn (where bald makes for a better view) that they think it’s normal. So glad I’m not young now. Waxing is not my friend. Phnark. Also, I, too love Chuck Wendig’s blog the bloke is a top star. We’ll probably run into one another in the comments section on there before long.



  4. Lynne Jones

    I totally agree with you and I love your books. I am a 67 year old granny, who also loves sci-fi fantasy and a lot of YA books

  5. T4bsF

    Your readership, you say, between 45 & 50……. well I’m 65 and bucking the trend!! Hooray – kick ass oldie!!!

    • Indeed, actually I do have an older group of ladies in the 60 and above age band, in fact there is always a good response, ladies and gents to facebook ads if I aim them at 60 and over! You are, therefore, officially, kicking donkey.

  6. I feel modestly chuffed that none of my books actually have people on them 🙂
    As I read I found myself nodding in agreement

    • It’s good to hear. I was a bit worried about posting this one as it makes me look a right prude but I genuinely think this kind of imagery is wrong.

      • I think enough people find it wrong, or disturbing, for it to be counter-productive. Your comments about the elfin advert were perceptive and point to a dangerous can of worms

      • Yeh, it’s OK 12 year olds posting sexy selfies for one another, but on social media, who else sees them. And this is kind of like that. Fine if it’s aimed at 12 year olds here’s another 12 year old being ‘mature’ but who else is looking at her, seeing that endorsed and thinking it’s OK?

      • Getting awfully close to ‘Hentai’

  7. I don’t know how I missed this! Well said.

  8. I like books about exceptional people doing extraordinary things. Some readers are the exact opposite. They’d read some of the books I like and immediately start yelling about the protagonist being a Mary Sue.

    If you don’t like the covers you see, maybe it’s just because you’re not the intended audience. There’s no reason that every book written has to conform to your tastes and sensibilities.

    • I confess, I have never encountered the expression Mary Sue and I had to look it up. It actually sounds as if you and I like quite similar books. I love a good messianic plot, rags to riches, or people who end up with some kind of power, like telepathy or something.

      If you’re around, I’d be really chuffed, if you have time, if you could read my post again and point to the bit where I say every book published should conform to my tastes and sensibilities. I must be going a bit dotty in my old age but, blow me down, I can’t seem to find the bit where I said that.

      Likewise, switching it back, just because, by your implication, you like the kind of artwork I’m talking about: artwork that promotes both women, and men, as little more than something to fuck, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

      Similarly, if you are fine with the way women and men portrayed around us are Photoshopped exaggerations of the real thing, that’s fine, but just because you think it’s grand, it doesn’t mean everyone else has to. Especially when there is growing evidence that these kinds of impossible body tropes are causing actual mental harm to people.

      My big beef with the woman featured in the ad I chose was that she looks borderline underage. More than borderline. I know kids are sexual, and some are sexually active, way before the age of consent, this isn’t about that. It’s about those of us who are older and wiser, exploiting them. If only 12 and 13 year olds were going to see the elfin lady image, I wouldn’t have a problem. Obviously, I’m going to think it’s yucky, because I’m over 40 and she’s only about two years older than my 8 year old, so unless I’m a paedophile it’s never going to float my boat.

      The problem I have is that to me, it’s irresponsible.

      The thing is, when you say or do something on the internet, everyone sees it, including people who shouldn’t. And posting an image like that says is that it’s OK for a very young, pre-pubescent woman to flash nipple at us, and it’s not just telling the 12 year old lad thinking, ‘woah shagadelic’ that it’s OK. It’s also saying it’s OK to the 45 year old pederest, thinking, ‘hmnur hmnur hmnuuuur.’

      You have to be a bit more anodyne on the internet than you are in real life. You have to police what you say a little. That’s why I think that particular piece was a dodgy judgement call.

      Likewise, yes we’re all people, we all like sex, we are all sexy in our own ways, but what I’m asking, if you actually read what I say, is why the women on book covers are so often depicted displaying their sexual side, or with some kind of glassy-eyed, chin-raised, eyes-closed come-face on.

      And I’m asking why the women on book covers fight in a bikini, instead of body armour like the men.

      And yes, I’m sure those kinds of covers are not aimed at me, which is lucky because objectification of women isn’t my thing. But my beef is that everyone is doing it, even people writing books that are aimed at me. And when they do that it does piss me off.


      You are fine with it, I’m not.

      That’s OK.

      We can beg to differ.

      But don’t make out that I’m at somehow at fault for having a different viewpoint from you, or that, by expressing my different view – with a reasoned argument – I am somehow telling you and others who are into that stuff what you should think rather than explaining what I think. I’m not, and if you’d done anything more than skim-read what I wrote, I’d have thought it was bleedin’ obvious.



  9. I like this. Bit moderate for my taste, but still good. Couple of points (which probably means twenty two).

    Yes the anaemic pre-pubescent kid looks exactly that. Because, TMI alert, one of the reasons some women don’t wax, shave, whatever, is because they don’t want to appeal to some pervert’s paedophiliac fantasies. Grown-up women have public hair. It’s a fairly well known fact. They also have hair on their legs and their axillas. The only reason these are normally shaved is to comply with male objectification.

    Next. I don’t know whether you saw it but I moaned about Dylan’s cover for Genesis Redux on the typical stereotyped female image grounds. It ain’t easy rocking the patriarchal boat. I think Susan Toy was the only one who supported me amidst the gushing gorgeouses.

    I recently received a book to review from Susan. I immediately complained about the space babe cover. With which she agreed.

    For my part, I don’t understand why you think you are being prudish. Objectification of women has nothing to do with age or sexual values, rather, ethical and moral thinking.

    FWIW we should have swapped generations. Being the ironing board type back then, I longed for breasts. Now I have them. And I realise I was lucky. But being flat-chested and looking like a boy wasn’t exactly hot back in tne 70s.

    • Actually, I think I do recall you saying that Dylan’s cover was sexist.

      We are of one accord! Yay! I dislike covers with people on them, full stop, because I want to imagine the folks in a book for myself. But the women are always portrayed in a way that worries me. Why the fuck does image carry such weight?

      Worse, is that fact that when I do complain about this stuff people act as if they’ve no clue what I’m on about, or as if there’s something wrong with me. If a woman decides she wants to use her own looks and body to sell something like records, books, whatever, that’s up to her. But I wish people wouldn’t try to kid themselves it’s post feminist Sassiness. It isn’t. It’s her using the world’s inherant sexism to her own ends. And while it’s not my business if she wants to promote herself as an object, it’s still sexist.

      But what do I know!

  10. Aaagh. Autocorrect. Bad halpad. Public hair 😀 Snortle!

    Slight digression. I’m editing a book for someone and there is the most tedious description of who is sitting where on the L-shaped sofa. I asked why this was included and apparently a beta-reader asked for it to be included. Lacking in imagination or what? We should credit readers with some intelligence and visualisation skills. Or maybe not. Blame it on Trump I say 🙂

    You do realise that radical second wave feminism is the preserve of old women and not youthful sprogs like you? You should be embracing the liberal post-modernism sex-positive pro lap-dancing travesty that claims feminism. /snark

    Actually it is *everyone’s* business because it continues the indoctrination and affects everone else. If it affects me, it’s my business.

    • Lord no! It’s not feminism, it’s just younger, attractive women twigging onto the fact that when women go along with this objectification, some of them make A LOT of money, eg Madonna, Lady GaGa, Britney etc, all that cavorting about in basques and bugger all else on stage gets them shock value and that gets them notoriety and cash. A different kind of whoring I guess, but the same thing, even if the basic premise is get liked by teenagers by being what their mothers disapprove of!



  11. You’re not alone. This is one of the reasons I gave one series comic book style illustrated covers and the other a collection of items significant to the story. Going forward, I plan more of the same. Then again, when writing Humor or Alternative History, it’s much easier to buck the pouty beautiful people cover trend.

    • Yay! Good for you. It is heartening to see people feeling the same. You’re right it is easier with comedy to go cartoon. Indeed it says comedy then I always think.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.