Hollywood has been setting the bar for all sorts of standards since its creation in the early 20th century. Whether or not we're aware of it, it impacts the way we see how the world is running, what's considered popular, even what we're attracted to. The interesting part about film in the Hollywood industry is that as movies are released, it shows us what's considered socially acceptable in terms of trends, behaviors, interests - but in its own heavy hand of Social Darwinism, it tells us what is NOT acceptable, and what should be shunned from society.
While we look to the movies to escape our current reality, what we are actually doing is adding content to our subconscious, subsequently impacting the way we see and act in the world. This gives these moguls a ton of power, right? And for many of us, the weight of strong, emotional storytelling can be much more charming and persuasive than a conversation with your relatives at Sunday dinner (no, thanks).
Here's the problem: in terms of beauty standards, while there are most definitely unconventional, exotic beauties thrown into the mix, there is a message being sent out that only picture perfect individuals are going to make it to the big screen. This is particularly true with women.
Sure, there are anomalies out there, and it IS getting better (especially in more independent film) - but we clearly have a long way to go before all types of women are given a fair amount of screentime and character depth. While there are actresses out there who are allowed to exist in Hollywood without being perfect, most of the time, they hire these drop dead gorgeous superstars to be "uglied up" with makeup in order to appear more relatable. It's true they're likely using their fame to attain a following - but to me, it would be much more interesting to see realistic depictions of women portrayed by women who look like my best friends, my coworkers, my grandmother, the grocery store lady I see every week...real, untouched people.
Beauty doesn't just impact the way we see the characters; it affects the way the characters grow and change in the film themselves. The most frustrating example of this for me is the adaptation of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films. Mind you, I read the entire series at least 7 times and had a very clear idea of who I thought the characters were prior to the movies being made. Harry was the hero stumbling his way towards victory, Ron was the loving and unwavering underdog, and Hermione was the annoyingly brilliant and stubborn intellectual. No projections here - she was intended to be a bushy haired, buck-teethed braniac whose persistent questions pushed everyone's buttons. And for this, I absolutely loved her.
When the first film was about to be made, J.K. Rowling mentioned that she spoke with Emma Watson over the phone and felt that her energy fit the part perfectly. When she met her, however, her only hesitation was that she was undeniably cute - a characteristic that completely altered Hermione's arc. Not only this, but when fleshing out her character in the films, they stole quite a few of Ron's decent traits and attributed them to her, creating almost an archetypal perfect heroine that's completely unrelatable.
Tyrion Lannister is another great example of misportrayal in film.
Now, we can argue that it's necessary to have a role model for young girls to look up to, someone to aspire to be. We can forgive attributing powerful traits to the sole female protagonist as a way to inspire women to be empowered. But Hermione was never described as stunningly beautiful - and it affected the way people treated her. During one particular scene in The Goblet of Fire, she attends a school dance completely made up in almost a Cinderella moment, where she's almost not recognized because of her beauty. It's a huge moment for her and the characters around her; we find out that the Quidditch superstar, Viktor Krum, has more depth than we realize by valuing her intelligence instead of going for the hot Beauxbaton girls. We get to see how immature Ron's character truly is in that moment due to his shock, jealousy, and mistreatment of her. Finally, we get to see Hermione value herself in a way she has never felt before, and receive attention that she has likely never had. These sorts of moments change a person, and are quite telling.
So what happens when we cast Emma Watson, an actress with virtually no physical flaws, to play the role of someone insecure about her appearance?
First of all: it makes it really unbelievable that "looking beautiful at a ball" has much of an impact on her character at all, and that, well, of course Viktor Krum asked her out. It makes the whole notion of the three of them being dweebs sort of absurd. Again, J.K. Rowling had an idea of these three being relatively nerdy looking kids surfing the outskirts of popularity - and it's lazy storytelling to think that we need to rely on her physical charm to get us to care about her character.
While it might not seem important, a character's attractiveness impacts their arc and the way the story plays out. Take Fleur Delacour, for instance: she was described as intoxicatingly beautiful right from the get-go, and most everyone was into her. However, it was clear her charm affected the way she treated men to the point where she disregarded most of them through manipulation and only showed vulnerability to the close women in her life. There were female characters in the book who felt resentful towards her because of this power she wielded, including Hermione.
More than anything, the biggest frustration I have with adopting this choice is that they're saying the way Hermione is supposed to look in the books isn't okay. While looking like a normal person is much more normalized in the books, the only girls in the films with this trait are often considered abrasive, weird, or boring. They certainly didn't have any problems casting Neville Longbottom as he was described in the book (no matter how hot he grew up to be). What does it say about Hollywood that they need to cast attractive people in order to make a story more appealing? On that note, why does a 12-year-old girl need to be visibly appealing to maintain interest?
I mean, damn.
Don't get me wrong: I absolutely loved the films, and have no beef towards Emma Watson the muggle. I actually think it's quite wonderful that she's used her fame to work towards positive social reform. I'm not sure what my experience would have been like if I hadn't read the books first, but it takes some pretty powerful storytelling to be able to get a book lover to be so captivated. Still, I felt really bothered and disconnected from film Hermione because of how perfectly she was depicted. She wasn't nearly annoying enough, she kept her cool way too often, and seemingly had no real idea of what it felt like to be treated differently because of her supposed "awkwardness". I could not relate at all to the character from the book that I so aspired to be, and it made me resent rather than admire her.
Here's the way I see it: I honestly feel like the women (and men, and everyone in between!) I see every day are insanely beautiful, and they often never get to hear or believe it. There are so many types of beauty in this world - why should it only exist as one specific standard? Why can't we empower instead of creating this invisible glass ceiling that no one can ever get through? Without bashing people who are stereotypically stunningly beautiful (because yes, they're people with feelings, too), what can we do to create more beauty in a way that makes people feel beautiful without having to change who they already are?
Posted by Sadie Upwall
Project Manager and Editor for the best little beauty business in town.