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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

you’re not helping: Hollywood’s rediscovery of nonblond nonbimbos does not a revolution make

How many things can you find wrong with Nicole LaPorte’s Daily Beast ode to “The Backlash Against Blondes”:

The hottest young actresses aren’t blond or conventionally pretty—they’re surly and wisecracking. Nicole LaPorte on the geeky ladies who are taking the industry by storm.

Already I’m pissed off. Blondes can’t be surly and wisecracking? Surly wisecracking girls can’t be conventionally pretty? There are no pretty, blond geek girls? WTF?

I might hold off from blaming LaPorte for this first bit, since this is the “deck” or the “teaser” and might well have been written not by LaPorte but by her editor. Yet the rest of the article, which is credited to LaPorte, is no better. She goes on to highlight the casting of Emma Stone in Easy A, Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Rooney Mara in the upcoming American adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Kristin Stewart in everything as evidence of a “revolution” that is “afoot.” But to suggest that any of these young women are not “conventionally pretty” is preposterous: they are all, without qualification or caveat, gorgeous, and within the very narrow strictures by which our cultures judges women (they’re all white and slender, for instance). LaPorte hints that she recognizes this, with this parenthetical aside:

(Stone is certainly very pretty, but is far more real than ethereal)

But I don’t even know how to interpret that. There’s hardly anything “ethereal” about the busty, skinny blonde Barbie-doll model that appears to be the only thing Hollywood of late typically recognizes as female. Is there something “ethereal” about silcone breast implants and bleached hair?

Of course it’s true that Hollywood is insanely unfair in its treatment of women, both onscreen and on the path it demands a woman take before she’s even allowed onscreen: it’s true that Hollywood doesn’t think Kristin Stewart is “conventionally pretty,” and does think that there’s something weird about Emma Stone. But we in the real world don’t have to buy into that and shouldn’t. LaPorte doesn’t help when she classifies these actresses as “sassy, oddball ladies.” She’s buying right into the notion that Hollywood prefers blondes (and that a woman with blond hair, natural or not, couldn’t be sassy or oddball), and hey, aren’t we lucky to be getting a little variety at the moment? Isn’t it cute? (Just once, I’d like to see a trend piece about the brand of man that is in vogue at the moment, in which the guys are snidely referred to as “gentlemen” over and over again.)

And LaPorte misses another point, too, when she gets to this:

If anything, the new trend is a throwback to the 1930s and 40s, when actresses like Carole Lombard—to whom Stone is already being compared—and Katherine Hepburn wore their intelligence and wit on their sleeves. But those stars were unquestionably beauty queens, a standard that is not being applied in the same way to today’s young actresses, whose looks, if anything, are downplayed. In Scott Pilgrim, Winstead was “made to look funky,” says Allison Jones, who cast the film. “You wouldn’t normally think of her as at a loss in the looks department. She’s gorgeous. But they played down her looks.”

Lombard and Hepburn were sex symbols for portraying adult women in their movies. Easy A and Scott Pilgrim and Juno and Twilight and almost every other example LaPorte offers features grownups actresses portraying teenagers or characters who are ostensibly adults but are as unfinished as teens.

Emma Stone is awesome. But let’s not pretend that the color of her hair or the smirk on her lips will ensure her a long career if Hollywood suddenly decides that “sassy, oddball ladies” have gone out of style.

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