Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 11:59 am
Can anyone think of sympathetic female protagonists who are shown caring about their physical appearance and/or actively trying to look more feminine and pretty more than some/all of the other women in the story? Not sympathetic side characters where it's seen as a forgivable flaw, but protagonists.

I'm conflating "trying to look good" with "traditionally feminine" a bit here, I realise they're not the same thing and if people have examples which poke at that I'd be interested too.

EDIT: I'm looking for PROTAGONISTS, not secondary characters/non-main parts of an ensemble, and they have to be EXPLICITELY MORE into dressing up etc than other female characters in the same story.

I've been thinking about the "default woman" in fiction: she looks traditionally feminine, but either she "doesn't try", to the extent that she's shown waking up in the morning with perfect mascara, or she does try but so do all the other female characters and it's implied that that's just what being a woman is. (In some especially awful cases there may be Not Women who don't try and are seen as almost subhuman as a result. This is not the counterexample I'm looking for)

Which alienates everyone: women who try to look feminine are told they're being shallow for trying, and women who don't are told they look wrong.

The only counterexample I can think of is Buffy, who tries harder than Willow. Willow herself is a pretty straightforward example of "default woman: nerd edition", she was way more conventionally pretty than made sense for the narrative. And Cordelia and Harmony are pretty straightforward examples of the Mainstream Catty Girl Who Cares Too Much About Looking Good, even if they were sometimes sympathetic. But off the top of my head I can't think of any stories which do better!

Obviously this is not the only good kind of story, there need to be protagonists who don't care about being pretty/feminine as well. But I can't think of any equivalent simple test, I think good portayals are just a matter of more realism: if a woman doesn't wear makeup, she should look like it. There shouldn't be scenes where she's "forced" to dress up pretty and loves it and is The Prettiest. If she gets crap for looking "ungirly" she should actually look ungirly, and so on. Are there some other key aspects that narratives ignore?

Something I find depressing about canons which do manage to have more realistic depcitions of less feminine women is how easily and frequently that gets erased or subverted by adaptations/later canon/fandom etc :( See: any woman in a practical job on tv who starts out with her hair up and always ends up with it out by the end of the show.

EDIT: some examples from further thinking/other people:

  • Buffy from Buffy
  • Elle from Legally Blonde
  • Aisha from Aisha and Cher from Clueless, both modern retellings of Emma that turn Emma's advice to Harriet on being more upper class into fashion advice
From memory, Legally Blonde is the only one that really treats caring about fashion etc with much respect. With Aisha and Clueless I think it's an artifact of "being upper class while female" translating most easily into fashion consciousness, and it could be argued that it's still more about class than gender. But Buffy and Legally Blonde are explicitely designed to be stories about the kind of girl who never gets to be the heroine.

EDIT: Followup post.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 04:21 am (UTC)
Rachel from the Animorphs, maybe?
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 12:12 pm (UTC)
Technically, I guess, but the ensemble is only four or five humans throughout the entire series, and even when it's not the POV of characters 2, 3, 4, and 5, they're all still main characters in the each book.

Solo main characters for entire series... hm. Now realizing how many of my faves don't even do solo main characters... [headscratch]

edit: on whole-thread read, is the concern that an ensemble member is a secondary character in some way? Because all the humans of the main ensemble are on equal footing; it's not "main character X and three or four friends".
Edited 2016-04-23 03:27 pm (UTC)
Sunday, April 24th, 2016 04:02 am (UTC)
Scarlet O'Hara.
Monday, April 25th, 2016 09:55 am (UTC)
The book is basically all about how the men fail to realise that the women spend their lives leading them around and making them do what they want. And a big part of how Scarlett achieves this is through dress. note the iconic drapes scene.
Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 10:02 am (UTC)
There'sa line in a bbq scene, when some girls take their beaux off, away from Scarlett who is in full on flirt mode. 'Not a man present observed their strategic retreat, not a woman failed to see it'.

Scarlett is just better at it than any of the others.
Wednesday, April 27th, 2016 10:03 am (UTC)
Also, Barbie from the Barbie DVD and book series is all about fashion. To the point where there is one movie where she becomes a super hero whose power is to fix other people's fashion emergencies!
Thursday, April 28th, 2016 09:18 am (UTC)
Barbie totally cares about fashion. I'll lend you a dvd if you like!
Thursday, April 28th, 2016 10:24 am (UTC)
It isn't about whether Barbie cares about fashion. It's about whether Barbie cares about fashion more than another woman within the same story as her. Women protagonists aren't generally written as totally apathetic to fashion, but they're generally contrasted with another woman character who likes it more, and who is seen as shallow for liking it more. Protagonists generally perform femininity passively ("oh, vanity is terrible and selfish! but ooh, they're making me wear a pretty dress for this event, and if I have to do this anyway, then I am going to love the hell out of being a beautiful princess for the night"). If they're active about it at all, they're going to be notably less active than someone else.

So if Barbie loves fashion, but she loves it less than her frenemy Catty McShallow, that's still an attempt to downplay how active Barbie is in performing femininity. If Barbie loves fashion and so does every other sympathetic woman in the story, then you have a story where every sympathetic woman character is interested in fashion. If Barbie loves fashion, and at least one other sympathetic woman doesn't, then she's a character who likes fashion more than other women in the same story, and that's what sqbr is looking for.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 06:00 am (UTC)
Rarity in My Little Pony Friendship is Magic.

She's very High Femme, and uses fashion as a means of self-expression / creative expression.

She works as both a fashion designer and as a seamstress at her own shop.

In the show she represents generosity.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 06:07 am (UTC)
It's an ensemble cast - she's not the main character (that's Twilight Sparkle), but she is one of the main five characters, so she gets a lot of screentime / storylines.

She's Willow or Xander.
Sunday, April 24th, 2016 04:00 am (UTC)
Rarity definitely. I was predisposed not to like her as she seemed shallow and traditionally girly but I realised that she is 1, super generous and kind and 2, creative. She is definitely one of the main characters.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 07:38 am (UTC)
Person of Interest is kind of weird on this one - none of the main female characters express interest in looking good/girly and one (Shaw) is actively uncomfortable with it, though will do it for espionage purposes. She also usually wears heels: in character this is because she is very short, but most other female characters "just happen" to wear heels too. A second major female character, Root, is aware that she is conventionally attractive and sometimes flirts to get what she wants but generally expresses disgust and/or boredom when men respond.

However, the main female character of the first three seasons, Carter, is mostly seen in sensible work clothes or in uniform, but also sometimes enjoys dressing up and looking attractive. This is not shown as negative, but I wouldn't say it was a major part of the show.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 10:08 am (UTC)
I was thinking of the episode where Shaw, Zoe Morgan and Carter all dress up to catch the serial dater who might be a killer, but I guess you're more looking for a single protagonist.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 11:58 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's what I meant - Shaw fits right into the "forced to dress up" trope, but Carter and Zoe enjoyed dressing up, and Carter dressed up on other occasions.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 09:08 am (UTC)
i'm not sure it's entirely what you're after but lisa cuddy from house might fit here? she was the main female character on the show. not that all the women on it weren't ridiculously conventionally attractive, but she was always well-groomed, dressed in very feminine clothes, and was invested in her appearance professionally. despite being repeatedly sexually harassed and objectified by house himself, she was pretty kick-ass. as far as i can remember there were a lot of haters, which generally happens with women in a position of authority, and also when that woman is seen as getting in the way of the main slash pairing. but in terms of the narrative itself she was definitely a sympathetic character.
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 11:47 am (UTC)
Hmmmm, would Kyoko from Skip Beat! count? She explicitly WANTS to look feminine/pretty more than most of the other characters do, it's just that she doesn't usually have the means to do so, and the manga is pretty explicit about how much money and work goes into achieving the fashionable looks that she occasionally gets to rock.

The protagonist of Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold series, iirc, spends a lot of time on fashion and vintage fashion and putting together cute quirky outfits; of the two main secondary female characters, one also cares about fashion and dress and prettiness and one explicitly does not care at all (but is effortlessly beautiful and Does Not Have To Try Regardless.)

Extremely Fashionable Regency Sorceress Jane Lambert is a sidekick to a protagonist Who Doesn't Care About Her Looks in College of Magics, the first book in which she appears, but she gets bumped to female protagonist in the sequel Scholar of Magics. That said, the male lead in Scholar of Magics is probably more protagonist-y than Jane is.

Antimony Carver, the protagonist of the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court is explicitly always shown wearing makeup, which is something most of the other female characters in the webcomic, especially Tomboy Secondary Protagonist, don't do and don't care about. The decision to always wear makeup I thiiiink turns out to be part of emotional issues and dramatic backstory mom stuff which I don't remember very well because I'm not caught up and have to do a reread soon.

I will try to think of more, I feel sure there must be a few I'm missing!
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 12:13 pm (UTC)
Have you read the Circle of Magic books by Tamora Pierce? I can't recall if you've ever mentioned them, or if I've mentioned them to you (I recommend them to people a lot, especially people who are looking for queer women and/or PoC in fantasy).

There are four co-protagonists, three girls and a boy, and one girl - Sandry - is definitely much more into fashion, clothes, and dressing up than the others. This is not portrayed as a negative thing at all, just an aspect of her personality. Generally it comes up as it relates to her magic; all of them have craft magic of various kinds, and since Sandry is a thread mage, her magic primarily expresses itself through spinning/sewing/weaving and control of things that can be spun/sewn/woven. Some characters dismiss her magic as less powerful/dangerous because it's associated with femininity and doesn't seem suited for combat, but that... doesn't tend to go well for them. (Everyone wears clothes, as Sandry points out.) Other main characters don't dismiss her on that basis at all. In later books, all of the main characters frequently wear clothes that Sandry made for them (magically resistant to stains and wrinkles!) and appreciate her work; even if they don't care much about appearances themselves, they take it as a sign of Sandry's love and care that she wants them to have comfortable and attractive clothes.

Of the main female characters, Sandry cares about her clothes and looking good/pretty/put together; Tris is the grumpy bookworm who hates the whole social interaction game (and gets some nastiness from other characters about not being traditionally femme or pretty, but not from the other protagonists); Daja is from another culture and doesn't have quite the same ideas of femininity in the first place, but also doesn't seem to care much about her clothes or looks. (Daja does notice beauty in other women, and has a love interest in a later book who is very femme and, as Mistress of Wardrobe to an Empress, sets fashion for an entire empire. Her job is treated as a meaningful and powerful one, worthy of respect.)

It's an ensemble series, but the first book is named after Sandry (each of the protagonists gets one of the first quartet), and she's the one who brings the four together, so insofar as there is a "main" protagonist, she's it. She's very sympathetic, and while she has her personality flaws, caring about her clothes and appearance are never treated as among them.

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 12:27 pm (UTC)
Huh, weird. Why is this screened?

ETA: oh, must be your journal settings, nevermind.
Edited (sorry for the multiple comment notifications!) 2016-04-23 12:30 pm (UTC)
Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 12:14 pm (UTC)
Omg this is so hard! The only one I could think of, didn't count (Agent 99 from Get Smart, but of course, she's a side-co-character, and therefore secondary omg).

The only other one I could really think of, was Torrance from Bring it On, while I'm not sure she cares *more* than some of the other girls in the film, she certainly cares, and is shown caring about her appearing etc. especially when contrasted with the other main woman character played by Eliza Dushku? But I'm not sure if that would count enough at all.

I am kind of confounded by how difficult this is. O.O

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016 12:16 pm (UTC)
Maaaaybe Bo from Lost Girl? She certainly cared as much about her appearance as Kenzi did, getting excited about dressing up for events etc. But I don't feel like they made a 'point' of it with her character. Especially as they still tried to highlight some of the more tomboyish aspects of her character, and they also made a point of her almost always wearing entirely black.

...This is so haaaaard, lol.
Wednesday, May 4th, 2016 11:46 am (UTC)
Carrie from Sex and the City, perhaps? All four women care about their looks but with Carrie it's pretty much a personality trait.
Wednesday, May 4th, 2016 11:57 am (UTC)
Also, Fran in the Nanny? Not that she can hold a candle to her gran.
Wednesday, May 4th, 2016 01:33 pm (UTC)
Less loudly, I'd say. Apart, again, from her gran — but her style is a world unto itself.
Wednesday, May 4th, 2016 01:36 pm (UTC)
I watched the whole thing (though now when I see reruns I cringe at how the characters were treated) and yeah, they all look good in their own way - Charlotte with her old fashioned class, Samantha stressing the sexy, and Miranda going for the business-above-everything feel - but Carrie with her shoe addiction and constant hairstyle changes etc etc stands out.