It’s one of the notable things in popular entertainment and advertising that while variations are allowed in the attractiveness of men, the same is not true of women. With the exception of character for whom fatness is integral to the part (and even then they are sometimes played by future anorexics that were never fat to begin with). But the rest of the time, unattractive means “hot but with braces and kooky glasses” or in other cases “hot but referred to as ugly.”

From which is born the term Liz Lemon Ugly. Liz Lemon is the main character on 30 Rock played by Tina Fey. According to Chloe Angyal, Liz Lemon is an archetype for the character that is deemed ugly by the characters on the show so that the audience knows that the character is supposed to be ugly because there is no way of knowing that by looking at their beautiful faces.

I sort of take objection to the characterization of Lemon. I have been watching a lot of 30 Rock during the move and few negative comments are made about physical non-beauty. Her lackluster romantic life is mostly attributed to her social ineptitude. Be that as it may, Angyal’s point still stands. Indeed, Fey was indeed used as the “ugly woman” in the movie The Invention of Lies. And the crucial difference between popular and attractive characters and characters cut from a more inconspicuous cloth has far less to do with the attractiveness of the actress in question (few are anything but beautiful) and more to do with what the characters say and context.

Angyal wants to see this change. I agree. There’s no reason why television can have room for men across the spectrum but not women. The problem is that Angyal and I are in the minority. This is an area where I would argue that men are not really the culprits here. Guys not only appreciate women in more size and shapes than we’re given credit for, but we seem to appreciate them in more size and shapes than women themselves do.

There’s been a push lately towards showing real-size women and plus-size women in advertising aimed at women. The idea is that ordinary women will relate better to more ordinary women in advertisements. I think it’s fair to say that men are more broadly represented not only because women are alleged to have much more tolerance for different kinds of men (an allegation I’m not sure is true in scope) but also because men are more likely to bond with guys as flawed as they are. We see a guy like Rob Riggle and see a little bit of ourselves and relate. Meanwhile, we often become excessively critical of guys that become heart-throbs. Bruce Willis up, Tom Cruise down.

Women… don’t seem to work that way. With the exception of a fascination for certain actresses (Angelina Jolie comes to mind), they seem to line up behind whomever it is that men are supposed to line up behind. Indeed, it seems at times that they flock to Kate Moss and then get upset at men for being fixated on waifs. Not that there aren’t men that consider anybody above a size two to be fat, but there seems to be far more women. The patriarchy is so successful in this regard that it no longer requires further male involvement.

Well. Further straight male involvement.


Category: Coffeehouse, Theater

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30 Responses to Deemed Ugly

  1. Kirk says:

    Regarding Tina Fey specifically, I saw her on SNL recently. (I think she was hosting.) She’s still maintaining the persona of someone who is unattractive. I find the schtick to be getting somewhat tiresome, as she’s claiming to be the victim of something she’s clearly never been the victim of.

    She’s been doing this long enough that she’s got to be doing it intentionally. I’m guessing it’s a tactic of using her looks to her advantage, then disarming any critics beforehand by constantly claiming that she’s not good-looking enough to get by on her looks.

    I’m waiting for Hooters waitresses to try the same tactic. Heck, now that I think about it, don’t all Sport’s Illustrated swimsuit models claim they were geeks in high school?

  2. cleared in hot says:

    This post is so on-target it’s not even funny.

  3. ? says:

    First, I agree with you entirely. But there is a hard ceiling to how far Hollywood can go with honesty about female appearance, and the movie Shallow Hal squashed itself on that ceiling like a bug. I have to give the movie credit for having the courage of its convictions, but to the extent that it tried to show the importance of “inner beauty”, it failed miserably. (What’s funny though is that the actress who played the “real” Rosemary is, as near as I can tell, uncredited at IMDB.)

  4. rob says:

    don’t all Sport’s Illustrated swimsuit models claim they were geeks in high school?

    They might not be lying. On average, tall women went through puberty later than shorter women. A girl who is developmentally like the average 13 yo when she’s 17 is going to be dorky.

    For both Swimsuit models and Fey, I can believe that they were the least attractive of their HS friends in high school.

    Tina Fey isn’t Hollywood attractive, so she won’t be cast as a romantic lead generally. That might be where some of the confusion stems from. On the other hand, she is gorgeous. Contrast Fey and Sarah Jessica Parker, who is Hollywood attractive, but is not pretty. Or the woman who plays Jenna on 30 Rock, she’s not nearly as pretty as Fey, but seems more sexual and is more likely to be cast as a romantic lead. Maybe Fey is a woman that women don’t find attractive, but men do?

    I think I remember stone referring to Tina Fey as not hot here. I could be misremembering, or it was sarcastic.

  5. rob says:

    Bruce Willis vs. Tom Cruise,

    I can see, so I know that the average middle-aged dude is not anywhere near as attractive as Bruce Willis. But he can fantasize that if he tried really hard, one day he could look like him. Very few dudes are delusional enough to think they could look like Tom Cruise no matter what.

    Plus, Bruce Willis’ career started with action movies for dudes. Tom Cruise’s started with teen romantic comedies. They never had the same target audience, and they still don’t. Unless Willis started with Moonlighting, in which case I’m wrong. Except pretty much no one can expect to have a career as a teen heartthrob forever. Look at the Cories.

  6. trumwill says:

    I have to disagree with you on Jane Krakowsky. The woman is absolutely gorgeous. Alas, she almost always plays irritating characters.

    Bruce Willis did get his start with Moonlighting, though he wasn’t adopted by men until his action movie career.

    Tom Cruise may not have been a good example, but I see it a lot with attractive actors. It took guys a looooong time to warm up to Brad Pitt. I can’t remember how many conversations I had where I took the side of “Put your envy aside and realize that the guy can act!” They also tended to load down on Keaunu Reeves even at the height of Speed and before his homosexuality was confirmed.

  7. trumwill says:

    Phi, I haven’t seen the movie but I thought I remember hearing that the fat Paltrow was Paltrow grotesquely made up. Sort of like how they made Whoopie Goldberg into an ugly old white man in The Accountant. I could be wrong about that.

  8. ? says:

    Trumwill: Crap, you’re right! I guess I got this movie confused with What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, wherein Darlene Cates really was that big.

    How did Gweneth Paltrow ever lift and carry Jack Black there at the end?

    I guess what I’m saying is that although the attractiveness threshold below which male audiences lose sympathy for female romantic leads is a lot lower than Hollywood recognizes, that threshold still exists.

  9. rob says:

    Keaunu Reeves even at the height of Speed and before his homosexuality was confirmed.

    I didn’t know he was gay. There is something about him that I really dislike, though. I thought guys despised him because he threw Ted into the acting wastebin after their xcellent adventure.

    There’s also whether men can tell if other men are attractive. I can tell Brad Pitt is. Colin Farrel and Vince Vaughn, though, I can’t tell that they’re more attractive than average. I just have to believe women.

    I’ve always wondered why Hollywood can’t find many pretty women who are really good actors. They must exist. Do they just pretend they’re in love with really rich men and skip acting? Actual ugly women women are pretty rare in Hollywood. Do you think there are lots of ugly women who become actresses to be cast as ugly?

    Remember Monster? It had Charlize Theron made up to be really ugly. They preferred spending extra money to turn a beautiful woman ugly rather than hire an ugly woman to play the part! Though Theron might have produced it, which would make it more understandable.

    Speaking of hot vs. not, how accurate is hotornot? After ~200 votes, I was 8.7, which the site said was hotter than 86% of guys on hotornot. I find that unbelievable.

  10. trumwill says:

    I agree, Phi, though I’ll worry about that problem when we get to it.

    There was a subplot on 30 Rock with the proverbial boss’s daughter (Baldwin’s boss’s daughter). The actress very average looking, but the combination of her acting skill and what the makeup people did to her just made it unpleasant to look at whenever she was on screen.

  11. Peter says:

    Let’s not forget the recently canceled Ugly Betty. America Ferrera is anything but ugly, without all the makeup.

  12. stone says:

    “I think I remember stone referring to Tina Fey as not hot here. I could be misremembering, or it was sarcastic.”

    Tina Fey is moderately attractive. She’s not someone who’d make it in entertainment on her looks — she’s attractive for a normal person, not Hollywood attractive. She’s famous because she’s talented and successful, and decent-looking enough when she keeps her weight down.

    “Contrast Fey and Sarah Jessica Parker, who is Hollywood attractive, but is not pretty. Or the woman who plays Jenna on 30 Rock, she’s not nearly as pretty as Fey, but seems more sexual and is more likely to be cast as a romantic lead.”

    Rob, I think this is purely showing your personal preference. Jenna is much more traditionally attractive — she’s famous as an actress, Fey is famous as a writer. SJP got famous as a kid actress, so she had a foot in the door despite her quirky appearance. And she has a good body, if you like small.

    Phi: Yes, Paltrow wore one of those “fat suits.”

  13. rob says:

    Huh, the woman who plays Jenna does nothing for me. I didn’t think she was more than average back when she was on Ally McBeal. I agree that Fey would not have made it as an actress alone. I just think it’s because she isn’t blond with big boobs.

    But if people generally think Jane Krakowski and SJP are prettier than Tina Fey, I’ll accept the diff. as a personal preference.

  14. stone says:

    You know, TV and movies are full of decent-looking guys playing losers. I watched “Zombieland” last weekend and was reminded of that. They hired a cute actor and just because he’s not Rob Lowe, we’re expected to buy him as a virgin recluse who stays in his apartment playing video games all the time.

    “I just think it’s because she isn’t blond with big boobs.”

    Because those are the HOTTEST WOMEN IN THE WORLD and don’t you forget it!

    Rob, speaking of “Hotornot,” I wonder what the average score there is for a guy. Women don’t tend to go out of their way to insult men’s appearances the way some men do for women. So it’s possible that only women who found you attractive bothered to rank you at all.

  15. trumwill says:

    Sheila, Even Freddie Prinze Jr played a hapless geek in one movie. Yeah, it happens going both ways, but not evenly. At least with women, though, there’s an excuse because there is a dearth of mediocre-looking women in Hollywood.

  16. trumwill says:

    Rob,

    I don’t like Keaunu Reeves, either. I remember when he was replaced on Speed 2 I thought that might have actually improved the movie (it didn’t, nothing would have). Anyway, it’s just a general thing that I’ve noticed: whenever guys go out of their way to dislike a male actor, he’s almost always someone that women swoon over.

    Regarding Vince Vaughn, my old flame Libby developed the biggest thing for him. We actually talked about it since it was one of the few “safe” subjects after we parted ways. She didn’t view him as being particularly physically attractive. It was more of a package thing. He had a genuineness, she said. Then she found out he is a Republican and she hated him with a passion after that and we had to find something else to talk about (or maybe that was about when we stopped talking).

    I am not the least bit surprised that women find Colin Ferrel attractive. He strikes me as more conventionally so than Vaughn, though there may be some of the “package” thing there, too.

  17. stone says:

    “He had a genuineness, she said.”

    Amazing that an adult would think this about an *actor.* Whose profession it is to convince you he’s something he’s not.

  18. rob says:

    “I just think it’s because she isn’t blond with big boobs.”

    Because those are the HOTTEST WOMEN IN THE WORLD and don’t you forget it!

    I don’t like large boobs. Blonde I don’t feel one way or the other about. Besides, most blondes aren’t. I think this is also where we miscommunicate. When I say Holywood attractive, I don’t mean attractive enough for Holywood. I mean has the traits that Holywood uses to deem attractiveness in a role. The stripper that married a billionaire and overdosed had that: she had big boobs and long blond hair, but she was not attractive.

    On hotornot, to get rated you have to rate people, and you can’t skip. I’m pretty sure its anonymous: I can’t see who rated me and spam them. The women’s ratings seem higher than I would expect, or I have very unusual tastes. I suspect that HON cheats with the ratings so 5 is not 50th percentile. I also don’t know if it age-adjusts.

    I suspect quite a few of the people rating dudes are gay dudes. If that’s true, that alone would explain my rating: gay men have always been into me. I have no idea why.

    But if I’m really in the 83% percentile (of dudes with low enough self-esteem to put a pic on hotornot, which should take like 4 or 5 poins off a holistic score) then it’s worth shaving and showering. It is my facebook picture, maybe anyone looks hot holding a tray full of jello shots.

    I reloaded my picture, and now I’m down to 8.0, only the 78th percentile, but it’s on 20 instead of 200 votes. With 200 votes, noise should average away and only systematic bias.

    If I’m an 8.3, then my relationship failure is based on personality. My personality would have to suck along the lines of “Hitler, yeah he’s cool.” “Rob? That guy’s a dick!”

  19. Maria says:

    “Liz Lemon Ugly” used to irritate me as well. It’s been done by Hollywood for a very long time — put a pair of weird glasses on a pretty woman and then have everyone in the film or TV show treat her like she’s the ugliest thing they’ve ever seen.

    Funny you should mention Moonlighting. I just bought the first three seasons on DVD and am currently going through the first one. It’s almost shocking to see the vast cultural changes from 25 years ago. First of all, everyone is really, really dressed up for work, despite the fact that they only work in a small office. The men wear suits and ties, and the women are either in skirted suits or very elaborate silk dresses (even Ms. Dipesto looks dressed up, although she’s dressed up in a kookie sort of way); stockings, high heels, full make-up and matching jewelry. The women also look a lot less fakey: there’s no Botox, no breast implants,no elaborately highlighted hair with the three or four-color stripes, no hair extensions. And they are not stick-thin either: Cybil Shephard has an hour-glass figure and looks great to me; she’d be considered “fat” today. And Cybil acts pretty girlie despite the fact that she is a single, successful “career woman.”

    There’s not much “diversity” on display, and LA looks like it is still part of America, rather than part of Northern Mexico. And the cultural references are so much more sophisticated and intelligent: references to Shakespeare, Orson Welles, the Iceman Cometh, etc., that most people would be too uneducated to “get” today.

    On the whole, viewing the series is kind of a downer. 🙂

  20. Peter says:

    Funny you should mention Moonlighting. I just bought the first three seasons on DVD and am currently going through the first one. It’s almost shocking to see the vast cultural changes from 25 years ago … The women also look a lot less fakey: there’s no Botox, no breast implants,no elaborately highlighted hair with the three or four-color stripes, no hair extensions.

    There is another, vastly more significant difference in the way women looked back then and the way they look today. Of course it wouldn’t be visible in a TV show.

  21. SFG says:

    Nobody’s mentioned nerd fetishes yet? Oh well.

  22. Amanda says:

    I agree that there needs to be a greater representation of female shapes on TV, including using unattractive people for unattractive roles. i do not, however, think that Liz Lemon is an example of this. I’ve always taken the other characters’ negative responses to her appearance to be a statement on the superficiality of people in TV– after all, in the episode when she visits Cleveland, she’s asked if she’s a model. She clearly is NOT unattractive, it’s just a statement on the blindness of the people she works with.

  23. rob says:

    Women… don’t seem to work that way.

    I think that was the motive behind Dove’s real beauty campaign. They get good publicity for using “real women” even though the models are thinner than the average woman. In addition to free advertising, the commercials make women feel kinda bad, which they will hopefully remedy by buying Dove soap or whatnot.

    SFG, is a nerd fetish a fetish held by nerds, or fetish for women dressed up as nerds? If it’s the latter, I’m guessing it comes from movies where the nerdy girl was a hot girl with her hair up and glasses. Those movies convinced nerds (subconsciously probably) that if the could just find a nerd girl, she’d really be hot and into them.

    Maria, thinking back, yeah, people on the show looked like real people. As for general cultural decline, wasn’t Moonlighting a good show even back then? There’s a lot of tv that doesn’t survive. It’s possible that the average show then sucked as much as the average (non-reality) show does today.

  24. trumwill says:

    Amanda, that’s a fantastic point.

    Rob, the Dove article is actually mentioned in the linked article. They advertise on the back of Readers Digest. The funny thing is that I didn’t know that they were supposed to be “real women” in terms of looks because they’re substantially more attractive than average women. At least the one’s I’ve seen. That seems kinda like a double-slap: See this woman more attractive than you? She’s what we chose to be the average woman!

  25. Maria says:

    She clearly is NOT unattractive, it’s just a statement on the blindness of the people she works with.

    Good point. Kind of like the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Anne Hathaway is ridiculed for being a “fat” size six.

  26. Maria says:

    wasn’t Moonlighting a good show even back then? There’s a lot of tv that doesn’t survive. It’s possible that the average show then sucked as much as the average (non-reality) show does today.

    Yeah that is true, it was considered a show for “smart” people. But the cultural references seemed to be a lot more sophisticated than what passes for “smart” today.

    It’s like the scene in “Juno” (an alleged “smart” peoples’ movie) where the pregnant girl references “Thundercats. Moonlighting referenced Eugene O’Neill.

    I also notice the distinct lack of a political agenda in a show like Moonlighting, vs. “smart” shows today. Compare to a show of today like “Eli Stone” which is an otherwise charming series based on a very creative idea, but which relentlessly pushes a particular political and social agenda in a very shrill way.

  27. rob says:

    It’s like the scene in “Juno” (an alleged “smart” peoples’ movie) where the pregnant girl references “Thundercats. Moonlighting referenced Eugene O’Neill.

    The awkward moment where I reveal knowing more about thundercats than O’Neill comes now. OTOH, “Thundercats, HO!” is more appropriate for Juno. I kid…

  28. rob says:

    I also notice the distinct lack of a political agenda in a show like Moonlighting, vs. “smart” shows today.

    Political humor doesn’t age well. Murphy Brown was great at the time. Watching it now, it isn’t nearly as funny.

  29. Maria says:

    It isn’t the political humor I was talking about, it’s the political agenda. In Eli Stone the relentless pushing of the SWPL agenda in every episode is painful. But it’s not humorous, it’s sanctimonious and self-righteous and shrill. Without the political agenda, it’d be a good show.

  30. Mike Hunt says:

    There are a couple of points that are important to mention…

    1) Tina Fey is much thinner than she was during her Second City days. If she didn’t lose weight, she might not have gotten to SNL in the first place, or might not have lasted long, much like Casey Wilson.

    2) As for someone who is actually ugly, Rachel Dratch was originally supposed to play Jenna, but she was deemed too ugly to be in that role.

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