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Sexy Librarian Isn't Ugly: The Fallacy of the Ugly/Hot Woman in Hollywood

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | March 4, 2011 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | March 4, 2011 |

We ran a list of “ugly-hot” men yesterday, and inquiries were made as to when our list of “ugly-hot” women was coming out. Since we fancy ourselves an equal-opportunity outfit, that should be a pretty straightforward question. And yet somehow, it is not. Because women continue to be judged based on their fealty to a relatively narrow version of beauty in most cultures, a lot of what passes in Movies or on TV for a female “ugly-hot” is actually just hot, with glasses, or hot, with an over-sized sweatshirt. See, for instance, Jennifer Aniston in the recent Adam Sandler comedy Just Go With It:





Or here are two women that some might mistakenly categorize as ugly-hot:

Tina Fey


Judy Greer


These women are totally cute, endearing and fun to look at, even before they take off their glasses or pile on the cosmetics. Perhaps most crucially, these women are all very slim.

If ugly-hot means unusual yet alluring (think Adrien Brody), Tyra Banks’ “America’s Next Top Model” provides any number of great examples. Tyra often chooses women whose faces are arranged in arresting and striking ways, people with aggressive bone structure or far-set eyes. Even still, these women’s bodies are uniformly rail-thin. The few “plus-size” models on the show have all been conventionally beautiful, with faces that look more like Botticelli’s Venus than Gemma Ward. Bigger models and actresses have to be conventionally beautiful (Emme, Queen Latifah) or cute (Nicki Blonsky, Jill Scott); and unusual-looking women have to be thin and toned (Juliette Lewis, Jamie Lee Curtis).

Who wasn’t shocked at the idea that, in The Truth About Cats and Dogs, the premise was that JaneaneGarofalo was incredibly unattractive? In fact, head shot to head shot, Jeannine (especially then, before the weird plastic-surgery situation) was far more conventionally attractive than Uma Thurman, who falls right into that model ugly-hot mold. Yet according to the logic of the movies, because Uma was tall and blonde and skinny-skinny, the running joke of the movie is how dowdy and frumpy Janeane Garofalo was (so OK, maybe the big-Doc-Martens-with-babydoll-dress isn’t the best look for shorter women, but still!) And yes, she gets the guy (and the script is horrible, I know) but the point is, this is a classic example of a truly cute woman being cast as an ugly one just because she doesn’t completely conform to a ridiculous standard of (emaciated) beauty.

When it comes down to it, women in entertainment are very rarely successful if they are genuinely unattractive. Whoever the female analogue is to Steve Buscemi, she’s not in TV or in movies. Not to take anything away from her performance, but what does it say about Hollywood that they hired the fifth hottest woman in the world to play Aileen Wuornos? Is there such a shortage of unattractive actresses that number 11 on Maxim’s Hot 100 had to de-prettify in order to fill the role? Or what about the fact that Renée Zellweger had to put on 30 pounds to look “frumpy” for Bridget Jones:


Does she look frumpy to you?

Instead of casting someone legitimately unattractive for the lead role on “Ugly Betty,” they cast American Ferrera and put her in glasses and braces. Look at the example of “Doctor Who,” a show that — with Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith — has cast goofier, “ugly-hot” men to play the Doctor, but what if the Companions had big ears or large Adam’s apples or no lips and a goofy smile? And Britain is less strictly confined to a certain idea of beauty than America. What about Hollywood romantic comedies? Male best friends go to less attractive “The Daily Show” and “SNL” cast members, while the female best friends go to Krysten Ritter or Kat Dennings or Ginnifer Goodwin. Because apparently we can stomach bald fat men on the big screen, but ugly overweight women? Not so much. There are no counterpoints to Dan Fogler in Hollywood.

With few exceptions (all right, Tilda Swinton, if you insist), there are two types of women in Hollywood: Hot women and hot Women designed to make you think they’re ugly. But they’re all just a pair of glasses away from being hot. The ugly-hot woman in Hollywood is a myth, and I’m not about to be the guy that tries to shoehorn gorgeous women like Toni Collette into an ugly-hot list simply because they don’t conform with the Brooklyn Decker idea of beauty. But if you want to try to make an argument for someone who should fit into such a list, feel free in the comments. I look forward to watching other commenters smack you down for even suggesting that Maggie Gyllenhaal might fit into such a category.