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.


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