Everyone knows the stereotype of the blonde-haired bimbo who can’t tell her right from her left and wanders through life succeeding by the grace of her good looks and naïve charm. There are so many versions of this trope that persist–just look at Sandy in Grease or almost any movie featuring college girls, like House Bunny. On the other side of the spectrum are women who achieve high levels of success, but it has often been assumed that they will be the personality-less girls with few friends and poor social skills.
But thankfully this stereotype is being broken down especially in this new age of bossgirldom. And although you cannot imagine how fun it is to have people completely peg you as one thing only to begin talking and confuse the heck out of them, it can also be super frustrating when it’s assumed at face value that you are dumb. It’s an extra hurdle to deal with and it’s just getting annoying at this point.
Now don’t misunderstand me, I’m not trying to whine that being seen as “pretty” is a burden. What I’m saying is that caring about your looks and wanting to feel beautiful inside and out is too often written off as shallow and mutually exclusive of any deeper level of intelligence.
No one would assume that just because a man is attractive and buys himself nice suits and keeps his face clean shaven that he is any less intelligent. Yet the opposite is true for women. Imagine a woman who spends hours on her hair and makeup, who carefully selects each outfit she wears, who obsesses over fashion magazines and beauty blogs for fresh styles – what conclusions did your mind start to make? I would stand to guess they weren’t about her attention to detail or her implied work ethic.
This is a large part of why Elle Woods and characters like her resonate so powerfully with me. She chose to live her undergrad life as a sorority girl, attending social functions and primping in her hot pink bedroom for nights out with the girls, falling into all sorts of negative paradigms that movies and TV shows tend to exacerbate. But when she set her mind to something as difficult as admissions into Harvard Law School, of all places, she worked her butt off to get where she wanted to go. For all intents and purposes, Elle Woods was the antithesis of the Harvard Law girl, as embodied by Vivian, yet the that montage of Elle working hard to study shows just how powerful the ditzy could be. Easily the best line of the whole film occurs when Warner, dumbstruck that Elle got into Harvard, questions her, to which she replies with a bouncy smile, “What, like it’s hard?”
Of course it was hard! She spent hours and hours preparing and studying and researching and working. Yet when it came down to it she bore it all with an exuberant smile and great hair, downplaying her extra effort like it was no big deal. And she looked great the whole time. Hard work pays off!
More recent examples of ladies who break the outdated stereotype and assert themselves as smart, strong, and beautiful are women like Mindy Kaling’s fierce and pop-culture-obsessed character Dr. Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project, and Amal Clooney who is absurdly brilliant and impactful as a human rights lawyer fighting to make the world a safer and more equal place for all (whilst consistently remaining polished and put together, I may add). Mindy Lahiri flips all sorts of the beauty stereotypes including body type, ethnicity, height, sexuality, parenting, eating habits, sleeping habits… And she does all this while being an OBGYN–a highly skilled profession that within even the past 30 years would have been considered a male occupation.
Yes, I know Elle Woods and Mindy Lahiri are fictional and we can’t just montage our way through life (wouldn’t that be great!). But art imitates life and this girl exists. In fact, she might be in you too.
We are a highly visual society and form so many of our opinions at face value, but somehow feminine beauty has become this hugely convoluted issue. Some think that if you aren’t putting effort into looking good, then something must be wrong with you. And on the other hand, if you put a lot of effort into looks, then you must be shallow and care about nothing else. We are expected to look good, but also judged for time spent trying to make yourself look good. There is no way to win.
Caring about your looks does not automatically mean that you are selfish, just like being smart and working hard does not mean you don’t know how to have fun. Can we as a modern, progressive society stop conflating the two stereotypes?
Who’s with me?
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