“All the people seem beautiful, with skin in various colors, from fresh cream to a drizzle of honey to a square of chocolate; their hair is in blond waves or brunette curls or raven coils; body shapes are petite, round, or somewhere in between. They’ve all paid to look this way.”
Where do I even begin with this book? The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton got a huge amount of hype. For the longest time, I was utterly positive that I couldn’t turn around without finding another (usually raving) review about this book. And so, naturally, that meant I needed a copy to read immediately. And I was blown away.
The Belles begins in a cotton candy machine of flowery descriptions, so sugar sweet that you’re certain it’s going to give you a cavity. The world is filled with so much confectionery that I genuinely felt I might vomit at some point. All the pink and the “beauty” and the sweetness just surrounds you from the moment that you lay your eyes on the first chapter. “Don’t you want to be beautiful? … Oh, but of course you do. Everyone does.”
Following the life experiences of young Belle, Camellia Beauregard, we are immediately brought into a world where the population is cursed into a ghastly appearance and the only way to circumvent the dull grey skin, disturbing red eyes, and brittle straw-like hair is to subject themselves to the treatment of the Belles, a painful and expensive process through which they are able to change their appearance to fit whichever beauty standards they are following at that given moment.
Orleans is ruled primarily by the Queen who sets out beauty laws to control the trends. The royal cabinet, the newspapers, and nearly every person in the world are completely centered around beauty from one’s physical appearance to their own mannerisms. The world is fascinatingly shallow in a way that is both ghastly and beautiful all at once. And as is the case with the obsession of perfection, there is a darkness behind all the bright and pretty things that are being showcased.
There’s an underlying message to The Belles that digs at the very core of the beauty industry in our society, how appearance has shaped and cut away at our very souls. The importance of looks is taken to such dangerous and painful extremes to the point that literally everyone is partaking in it. The fact that this book brings to light such a disturbing trend that we often see in our own world makes this an incredibly important read for young girls today and a breathtaking read in general.
And while the bulk of this novel is focused around beauty, it touches on a number of disturbing trends within our world that fuel our decisions, albeit briefly, but enough so that I felt truly appreciative of the issues Clayton tackled. Suddenly it becomes essential to question the darkness in ourselves, the monster that tells us we are not good enough unless we are perfect in every way. It becomes imperative to recognize the darkness and cruelty in the idea that our personal beauty is more important than the damage our selfishness causes to the backs of people we stand on. I was incredibly impressed with the world Clayton laid out for us, the issues that she discusses through her prose, and the very imaginative story she tells. And all I have left to say is that I would like the sequel soon, please!