Far in the future, teens can design their own looks, from pulsing heartbeat tattoos to eye shape. The only guarantee is that they’ll leave the world of being Ugly—unmodified—far behind. Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series explores this dystopian future, showing what teens will become in a world in which appearance is the only status. Even the terrible Specials live by appearance, with needle-sharp teeth and frightening aspects.
As the heroine, sixteen-year-old Tally, discovers, becoming Pretty changes more than a face. The operations that make the teens fascinatingly appealing to behold also make them easy to control – frivolous perpetual teens interested only in parties and fun. Beauty becomes identity, as teens no longer resemble their families or bear the marks of experience on their features, but instead recreate themselves according to their childish whims. With the surface becoming such a priority, less and less remains beneath.
Other books like The Hunger Games or Brave New World address one society genetically altered to be unnaturally beautiful and youthful, who are conditioned to care only for luxury and entertainment. The cities of the Uglies and Pretties alike have disposable clothes, gadgets free for the asking, and a society filled with unnecessary inventions designed only for pleasure, from hoverboards to bungee jackets. There’s unlimited food and medicine. The other side, the have-nots, are condemned to live without genetic modification as they struggle for resources. This literary trend seems to contrast our own society of beautiful people with the have-nots of our own culture. This isn’t just a dystopic future—it’s the dystopic future of America
When Tally leaves the city, she’s struck by how differently the outsiders of the Smoke live. They hand-knit their sweaters and grow their own food. Unlike in her throwaway culture, items have value and must last. There are different manners in the outside world, different priorities and values. Love is forever, and the only unmodified young man she’s ever met, David, loves her for her unmodified face.
From this moment, discovering she’s lovable without artificial beauty and the vapidity that comes with it, Tally becomes a freedom fighter. She fights through four books for the right for each person to choose his or her destiny—Pretty or Ugly, they have the right to think for themselves. She provides a bridge between different societies, even counseling the primitive forest dwellers to venture beyond “the edge of the world” and find freedom from exploitation. She’s escaped her own conditioning, so she insists on a world that carries the same strength.