Sunday, September 16, 2012

On the roles of unattractive, badly weathered and ugly women in fiction

Attractive or well aged women can be anything in fiction. While predominantly representing the good side of things, or the naturally and innocently sexy, they can also easily be greedy, malicious, manipulative, wanton, power hungry, vengeful and so on and so forth. An attractive woman can really be anything in fiction. Not so for the unattractive, ugly or badly weathered woman. The unattractive, ugly or badly weathered woman is far more often than not relegated to the dark or bad side of things.

Within this class of fictional women though, there are different fates or story lines that are generally applied. The unattractive woman is often written as an ugly duckling, one only in need of a little love, consideration and respect to be able to transform into a beauty. Most of the time such a goal is attained, whether that goal is actually someone else's or hers originally. The story is supposed to be give hope and inspire those real women who feel themselves falling a little short of beautiful, namely saying that they could be beautiful if only they put in some effort, became nice or gracious or lovely enough to gain everyone's consideration and then maintained their new appearance to gain respect. Really though, the fictional message is that unattractive women just aren't good enough as they are, no matter that they might be golden hearted and kind, be able to cook a mean apple pie, fight with the best of them or hold a position of power. Such stories of gaining through change or metamorphosis are really a slap in the face for women not of the current definition of beauty (it does change and rather dramatically). It is how many find themselves insecure from an early age, even if they don't follow fashion.

Actually, strangely enough, the ones who don't follow fashion in preference for the knowledge and adventures found in books get hit with the same stereotypes and expectations as found within the fashion world. Luckily, there are few illustrations of what is considered beautiful unless you get into Disney books. Still, that knowledge does float around in the back of a reader's mind and when an unfashionable fanatic reader finds herself having to make a social appearance, bam, up comes that knowledge and all the problems that follow. 

Rarely is an unattractive woman left as she is but still written as gaining the attentions and adoration of a man, power within the business world or anything else she's after except the ability to provide a good home, if only someone would join her. Still, in those rare occurrences in which she does manage to gain what she desires and/or save the day we find a little relief from the rule of beauty.

Badly weathered woman find themselves in an odd position in fiction. The weathering might be impermanent and the person underneath beautiful, in which case the story becomes that of the ugly duckling. Then again the weathering might be permanent in which case the story becomes that of the ugly woman. Weathered women however, come in a range of ages. The age of a weathered woman also greatly impacts upon the woman's role in a story. The older they are the more likely they are to become classed as ugly women rather than unattractive women aged gracefully. Or even beautiful women aged badly. The younger they are the more options as to why they're weathered are given. It isn't always a case of aging anymore. It can be a reflection of living badly or wildly, not taking care of oneself, being rotten in the core or some other issue that isn't directly to do with the aging process. In the worst cases morals enter the fray. If only they hadn't done some awful deed or been too greedy etc then they would have remained pretty.

Lastly there are the ugly women. The most maligned, miss-represented and under-represented of all the women yet the ones most likely to fill in the role of power hungry baddie (not the sexy bad girl role), evil witch, jealous rival etc. This type of characterisation is seen at its most powerful in stories like Cinderella (if ever there was a god-awful story...) . The ugliness of these fictional women is rarely ever caused by genes, their parents or 'birth' alone. The ugliness just has to be a reflection of their hearts. There are, of course, a few that are written as naturally ugly from birth but the morals are soon in place once the woman becomes jealous, angry, bitter, vengeful and/or greedy. Then it seems as though this is a natural state for the woman as she is ugly. It is rather like the catch 22 of getting your first job or the chicken and the egg question. Round and round the causal circle goes.

For those ugly women who aren't written as being such from birth there remains either a hint that they always were ugly or a tale is woven as to how they became so as a result of their darker desires. They become the symbols of what not to do, what not to be and what is wrong with the womanhood. They are maligned and hated, vilified and misunderstood. There is also a case that can be made that many of the ugly characters are victimised by those around them, forced into positions where the only road to survival is to strike back. And striking back is rarely, if ever, pretty. Most of us find the stoic character more appealing than the defensive one although both have the merit of strength of will. It all depends on what is done and how the character looks.

No one needs to hear the old saying "beauty is only skin deep" as this saying comes into play quite often when a beautiful character is seen to be rotten inside. But that can't be said for the alternative: "ugliness is only skin deep". Ugliness is unfortunately still seen as a representation of the heart and mind rather than just the skin, the bone structure, the lack of symmetry or the odd hair pattern of the character in question. (Don't get me started on the fat issue as this is another conversation entirely. Suffice it to say that fat is applied to the unattractive or ugly female character more than the beautiful one and is seen as caused by gluttony or greed or some other character flaw.) The question is, why do we see women like this? Or rather, why do we portray women like this? The representations aren't nearly close enough to reality to be justified. The only things that can be said to be true is that with a lot of effort and heartache an unattractive or ugly woman can look beautiful in whatever current sense that is (but why bother if you're loved the way you are and/or don't care to put in such effort), that victimising an unattractive or ugly woman is likely to result in bad behaviour due to the need for one to defend themselves (just the same as if you victimise anyone) and that if those picking on her are all beautiful she will have a vendetta against the beautiful (simple psychology here so don't step on this landmine in your personal life), and that some lifestyles do weather a person more than others (drugs and alcohol are bad m'kay so take it easy). Otherwise, the rest is a pack of lies. But then, pretty much all fiction is a pack of lies built on a few simple truths.

Of note: 

  • A nerdish woman is not an ugly woman so don't lump such characters into the wrong category. Ask the men, they all know that if you just take of those glasses...
  • Anyone is ugly with just a change of expression.
  • The concept of what's beautiful is constantly changing.
  • An unattractive woman can become more beautiful than those originally classed beautiful simply by taking care of herself while the beautiful ones party too hard.
  • Any woman becomes more beautiful when they care and are kind.
  • The reason a person is loved is rarely to do with their looks. Lust is, of course, another matter.
  • Cinderella is a sucky story all round. The sisters are put upon and expected to be more than they can be and/or are and get nasty because of it. The mother's wants the best for her daughters and some other kid with better looks barges in to threaten her daughters' chances of getting married making the mother into a nasty defensive witch as she fights for her daughters. The father is an absentee bastard. Cinderella needs a major makeover before anyone pays her attention and the makeup artist fails to make any lasting changes. The prince can't identify her after falling in love with her. Competition drives the sisters batty and they do themselves physical harm trying to secure a dead-beat hubby who doesn't recognise his love. Cinderella chooses a deadbeat over slavery and lives with said deadbeat for the rest of her life. Supposedly happily. Sum it up? Geh of tragic proportions.

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