I say “challenge” because there are easy ways and hard ways to go about this, from outright listing a character’s physical attributes to poetically waxing on a character’s appearance. It all works out, depending on the style of the writer.
However, there is one method of character description that I cannot tolerate. It’s the pop culture reference. Here’s an example of the style I’m talking about:
She looked like Madonna. Maybe with a little Cher tossed in around the cheekbones and eyes.
Ugh! I hate it. It’s lazy, cheap, sloppy writing. It automatically distributes the workload away from the writer and to the reader. The author might as well say "I didn't really feel like spending any time telling you what she looks like, so here's a popular cult personality and you can just paste that image in here."
The problem is that this technique is far more prevelant than it should be. I come across sentences similar to this all the time. When I do, I have to stop reading. Close the book and walk away.
Why should I continue when the author is too lazy to actually construct a real person?