“It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” – Leo Tolstoy
Wherever we go, there’s usually a prevailing theme – one so incredibly ingrained in our brains that it’s hard to shake off. It’s the simple matter of goodness equating to beauty and evil equating to ugliness. We can see it in most media. That dude has an eyepatch? Evil. That woman is wrinkly and covered in warts? Evil. That girl is beautiful and wears flattering, mildly conservative clothing? Oh, she must be a sweetheart (Do not confuse this with “sexiness = goodness,” because that generally proves to be untrue in fiction and is a whole ‘nother can of worms by itself).
It’s no surprise. As far as our brains go, we’re drawn to things that are beautiful, and because of that, we want to believe that these beautiful things are also good, so that we can continue to enjoy them. However, there are quite a few human affections that create sour, toxic ideas, and this is certainly one of them, because not only is it not true, it reinforces ideas that can are harmful to others.
Note: This post has major spoilers for the movie “Frozen.”
Why it’s bad: We immediately judge people when we see them. For a long time, first impressions were how we kept ourselves alive. However, this idea of lumping people we find beautiful into the “good” category and those we find ugly into the “evil” category creates a sinister idea in our head. You know people in real life who might not be the greatest looking in the world, but they are undeniably good. And you surely know gorgeous people who are the most disgusting human beings you’ve ever had the displeasure to know.
Despite these daily anecdotes, media constantly blasts in our mind that those who are beautiful are almost never evil – and if they are, they can be redeemed, probably as a love interest. Ugly people, though? Ugh, probably not. If you can redeem them, though, it’ll probably be as a comic relief character; they may even marry another ugly person (since an attractive person could not possibly love them).
Do you see what I’m getting at here? With these ideas constantly sent to us, it leaks into real life. We treat people differently based on their appearance, we offer them different jobs, we even pay them higher wages. Meanwhile, people deemed less attractive are sometimes shunned by their peers and bullied for how they look. While media isn’t the reason for this, it aids in cementing that false idea in our brain.
How you can fix it: I’m going to direct you to Frozen‘s Hans. Beautiful, charming, gorgeous Prince Hans…
Who charms Anna (and the audience) into believing he’s in love with her, then tries to kill her and her sister so that he can have the castle and kingdom for himself. And why do we believe his lie? Because he’s intelligent and charismatic and beautiful.
Frozen is a perfect example of turning this trope on its head, because unless your audience pays very close attention to the small details about your character (he’s the youngest of 12 kids and will never have a chance at his own throne, not to mention that villain song), they’re probably not going to catch on that your character is evil until the big reveal if you keep bringing up how beautiful they are. After all, when you compare two characters: a young, handsome prince and an old, balding duke with a gargantuan nose-moustache combo (who turns out to be bad, as well), who do you expect to be the Big Bad of the story?
Bottom Line: I’m going to leave you with a quote from Nenia Campbell.
“The villains were always ugly in books and movies. Necessarily so, it seemed. Because if they were attractive—if their looks matched their charm and their cunning—they wouldn’t only be dangerous.
They would be irresistible.”