Folks who write and read in the romance genre deal with beauty a lot: heroines and heroes are often (almost always?) physically attractive. Even Margaret Mitchell's assertion that "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful" is disingenuous considering the novel that followed. None of this is unexpected: it's part of the fantasy that we want to buy into, and there's nothing wrong with wanting to be beautiful.
Perhaps the danger is in wanting it too much or in going to extremes to achieve beauty. Recently, Isabelle Caro, a French model who openly struggled with anorexia, died, likely due to complications of her condition. The extremes are stark.
But even less severe attempts to sate an overblown vanity can have consequences. For instance, in their quest to "feel pretty," women submit themselves to dangerous diets and elective surgeries. Even when they experience negative outcomes, such as complete loss of nipple sensation after breast augmentation, some women count the cost as worth it.
In recent years, popular press has paid a lot of attention to body images promoted in film and magazines, and I submit that romance novels similarly reinforce the necessity of physical beauty. As a genre, they collectively feature and extol prettiness. For instance, romance novels rarely feature heroines with unibrows, big noses, or flabby thighs, and I have never read a bald hero with a beer gut. I can think of only one book I've read that starred an overweight heroine -- Lori Foster's Too Much Temptation -- and even then, the focus of the story was the character's flab and how she was likable despite it. I did read an interesting book, Mary Balogh's A Secret Affair, that considered the heroine's great beauty a social defect that she had to overcome, and I thought that was an interesting take.
I'm not saying that all romance novels should feature physically unappealing characters, but an angle on this issue might be the fresh twist that some writer (or reader) is looking for. It would certainly be a challenge of characterization: writing a believable attraction based on something other than the character's pretty eye color or ripped abs.
What about you? Have you read (or written) anything that deals with beauty in a head-on or fresh way? Recs appreciated.