Friday, January 21, 2011

Anne Hathaway: "I'm Not Very Pretty"

Anne Hathaway thinks she has weird features. And, you know, she’s kind of right. Not that I’m critiquing her looks, but she has large eyes with wide brows and generous lips. Without putting her features on a grid or something I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing she falls pretty high on the features-to-face-space ratio.

But what I take from this is not that Anne Hathaway is a googly-eyed freak any more than that she’s a doe-eyed beauty. It’s a case of two things: 1) Someone not valuing in themselves what other people single them out for, and 2) the beauty standards for actresses being different than the rest of the population.

The latter gets attention on an evaluative scale: Oh, these professional beauties, we see them everywhere and it’s hard to live up to it. (Well, sure, but there are lots of actresses who are actually not so much beautiful as they are symmetrical and slender, which, when toyed with by a small army of makeup artists and hairstylists, is handily transformed into what we think of as beauty. My interview with Sarah gets into this, in the last section.) But on a different level: Large features invoke a child-like vibe, and on an adult woman that can communicate a lot of what we associate with femininity. As an audience, we simply see Anne Hathaway’s face and maybe feel protective, or sympathetic, more so than we might with performers with subtler features. Is it any surprise that the fine-featured January Jones was cast as a largely unsympathetic character on Mad Men? We’re supposed to find her beautiful but aren’t necessarily supposed to like her.

In a world of shifting astrology, it's good to know that face reading remains reliable.

I don’t believe in physiognomy (though I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to find a practicing phrenologist, out of sheer curiosity) but we are prone to associating certain physical traits with certain personality traits, or at least recognizing that to some degree you’re “supposed” to. (When was the last time you read  a book and the protagonist instead of the villain was described as thin-lipped?) And casting agents are fantastic at this. Certainly delicate-featured actresses aren’t left scaring up work, but a good look at Hollywood will show a lot of people who might look a bit weird on the street because of their face-to-feature proportion. (This is in addition to the lollipop-head phenomenon, which somehow made news in 2005 with the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie. Their exaggerated thinness was what was “newsworthy” at the time but performers frequently have somewhat large heads—they telegraph better both onstage and on film.)

But Hathaway follows up her statement about her “weird features” with this: “I’m not very pretty.” And this is such a weird paradox. The very thing that makes her watchable, the very thing that announces her beauty to her audience, is what she winds up being self-conscious of. Is that true for all of us?


  1. I find Anne Hathaway's eyes a bit offputting. They are big but they are domineering and too dark, rather than pretty or childlike. While there are general ideas of beauty we probably all agree on, if someone has harsh feature (like Hathaway's eyes) I think it is more about one's personal taste whether they find that attractive or not.