The Case for Ugly Romantic Interests


Beauty and the Beast - original painting by Walter Crane. {{PD-US}}

Good-looking romantic interests can be fun (and too-good-looking-for-their-own-good romantic interests can be even more fun). But I’d like to suggest an ugly romantic interest for a change of pace.

This post was inspired when I recently read a book describing the romantic interest as having “mushroom-coloured skin.” The book didn’t turn out to be all that good, but I was intrigued how the author unflinchingly faced the fact that her romantic interest was ugly. Then I started thinking about how uncommon that was. The closest thing I could think of was Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre – “colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth…” Of course, once Jane Eyre falls in love with him she doesn’t think he’s ugly, but that is something quite different. The conventional idea of being in love is that you don’t care if the one you love is ugly or not.

The other example I could think of was the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. The whole point of that fairy-tale is whether someone can fall in love with someone who is ugly. In fact, the villain in the Disney movie just happens to be conventionally good-looking! Unfortunately, this is rather ruined when the Beast transforms into a handsome prince at the end. Belle might love him as a beast, but the author(s) have no confidence the readers/viewers will, so they manage to turn him into the expected version of the romantic interest.

Disney tried this again in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, except it’s obvious from the start the girl’s going to end up with handsome Phoebus, and not the hunchback. It’s slightly different in the actual novel, but in both of them the poor hunchback loses out.

And beyond that, I can’t really think of any more… Edward Cullen is nauseatingly, gush-inducingly good-looking. Rhett Butler is a dashing black sheep. Everyone agrees Mr Darcy is handsome (even if Jane Austen doesn’t exactly describe him in detail). And as for Romeo… who knows what Romeo looks like?

Okay, I guess I don’t just mean ‘ugly,’ I mean different too. I’ve read far too many books about well-muscled guys with a cleft in their chin (unfortunately, their personalities tend to be about as interesting to read about as their looks – as if being good-looking makes up for it somehow for both the heroine and the reader). In real-life, being conventionally good-looking isn’t necessarily all that interesting either. You know, if he has a big scar down his face, you wonder why. If he looks like a young Brad Pitt, there’s not much to wonder about, except if he gets sick of having females hang all over him all the time.


Would you read a story with an ugly romantic interest, or do you demand good looks at all costs? Come to think of it, does it make a difference if it’s a book, or a movie? And can you think of any better examples than I can?


Filed under True Romance

13 responses to “The Case for Ugly Romantic Interests

  1. Jessica

    Good thoughts. I actually have a situation something like this; one of the main guys in one of my WIPs has red hair. I don’t know how that happened, and I don’t find redheaded guys attractive at all. That makes him tough to write through the eyes of his girlfriend, but it’s a good challenge.
    I do think writers need to be braver about making their male protagonists more believable. Because, let’s face it, guys in the real world usually aren’t movie-star quality, don’t always get how we think, like to bore us with talk of cars and hockey, and aren’t overly sensitive. Writing fairytales is fun, and real life may have elements of fairytale, but some of life is ugly.


  2. Hmmm… now that you say this, I have to agree with you. There really aren’t ‘ugly’ love interests. The closest thing I have seen is PUCKER by Melanie Gideon. In this the narrator has scars and burns all over his face, and falls in love with a girl, but at the time he doesn’t have his scars… that comes later. Then they are still in love. So I guess, that doesn’t really count, but that is a good book just by the way! I really haven’t seen any ‘ugly’ love interest… huh.

    I think it would be an interesting concept to read about. I would at least give it a shot! Nice post!


    • I think especially in books, it’s worth giving a shot writing about. In movies, you have to have stars to get people to come watch it, but it books you have a bit more freedom, I think!


  3. Connor MacLeod

    Cyrano de Bergerac.

    Admittedly, it is a play not a book, the protagonist, Cyrano, is unattractive (perhaps rather comically so.) Though initially the female lead, Roxanne, is initially smitten with another, she grows to love Cyrano for his musketeer of a soul, in spite of his appearance. Though both aspects of Cyrano, his personality and appearance, are hyperbolic, It is a fine example of a story with an “ugly” romantic. I must admire your post however; it is not often that one finds a clear, concise, and enjoyable critique in which the author presents, not only an original view but also an admirable selection of literary examples.

    Greetings from Reddit, and thank you for your time,


  4. You forgot about Shrek which doubly subverts this trope. Not only does the green, chubby ogre get the girl in the end, but the princess also turns into an ogre. So you have a conventionally ugly male and female love interests.


  5. Alexia

    Hum, Cyrano de Bergerac is a great play, but Roxanne never really falls in love with Cyrano. She loves him like a brother until the very last page when… But I won’t spoil the end for you 🙂

    Disney did get the hunchback a girl in the sequel though. I bet Victor Hugo didn’t see that one coming !

    You should read Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, it’s actually really interesting.

    Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney but I’ve always hated the fact that he becomes good-looking.


  6. Pingback: Top Ten of 2011: Ugly People, E-Publishing, and Limericks | Stories and Stuff

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