Reel Women: Who’s the Fairest of Them All?
We need to have a little talk because this is a problem.
There is a beauty standard. It is reinforced by movies, celebrity worship, magazines, trashy novels, commercials, music, and that holy bastion of knowledge — the internet. We as women are boxed in from all sides, told to pluck, wax, exfoliate, paint, tone, and crunch our way to perfection. And let’s not even get started on the cultivation, perpetuation, and humiliation of neurotic women with all of those aforementioned media tools (or weapons of torture, depending on who’s holding them), which is where all of this ultimately leads.
Comparing the appearance of different women and weighing their attractiveness against one another is degrading. We place two people next to each other — one will never be able to look like the other, but more importantly, one will never be able to be just like the other. They cannot embody that person’s particular traits, affectations, skills, thoughts, and feelings — all of which add up to make that person who they are. And our beauty is just as specific and individual to our person as those intangible qualities.
Saying that one person is more attractive than the other, when clearly these are two famous women who are — without a doubt — beautiful, is insane. According to society, once a woman becomes famous, she has relinquished all rights to humanity. This is why we get so excited every time an actress adopts a baby, or shows up somewhere with a giant nose pimple, or we see them eat. We don’t think that they are like us, which is to say that we feel they are better than us. They work out for hours every day and pay people to keep them as beautiful as possible. They are slathered in layers of make-up by people whose job title includes the word “artist.” They are groomed within an inch of their lives. You will never look like an actress because it’s unrealistic. But that’s okay because you’ll also never look like anyone else, either. You’ll just look like you. The media makes this a total burden for you to accept and does everything in its power to make sure that you will never be comfortable as yourself and you will always try to be something or someone you are not. The media doesn’t want you to be happy. The media just likes your money. I’m sorry if I just ruined the surprise for you.
So when we weigh one actress’ beauty against another’s, it’s not a simple subjective assessment of personal preference. It’s a nagging desire to knock them down, to make them appear less attractive, and ultimately, to humanize them.
But there’s something just so terrible about the whole thing — saying one woman is prettier than the other — because when you remove the element of celebrity, these are real women. Women who have also lived their entire lives in a society that tells them they aren’t good enough, and then reinforces that insecurity with articles on how to attract and keep the right man, how to not act like a needy psycho, how to look perfect all the time, and then kicks them in the ass by ensuring they’ll always be paid less than their male counterparts, regardless of profession. Being a woman gets real exhausting, real fast.
You may not be saying that Charlize Theron is prettier than your friend or your girlfriend or your girlfriend’s friend, but what you are doing is reinforcing negative ideas about self-image, wherein a woman will always inevitably be compared in your mind to another woman, to see how she measures up.
And then you’re really missing a big point that most are glossing over in ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’ — the idea that someone can become so obsessed with beauty and the power it grants them that they become horribly ugly on the inside, unable to empathize with anyone — their humanity shriveled to nothing. When the power is stripped away and the beauty fades, what matters is who we are. Theron’s character is a woman so truly hideous — who has become a monster because she believes beauty is the only weapon a woman has — that she can’t even look at herself in a real mirror. She treats beauty as currency and enforces this idea on her kingdom, to the point where women cut their own faces so they’ll become worthless and undesirable.
Her character has seen women tossed aside by powerful men as they aged and their beauty began to fade. It doesn’t justify her actions, but it’s strong enough commentary on the way we turn beauty into a commodity that it makes this argument over which actress is more attractive even more absurd. The film makes it clear that true beauty is within and women are beautiful in many different ways — basic ideas we’ve been well aware of since we were children, but that we still have trouble implementing.