This weekend I went to see Beastly in theaters because my boyfriend was covering it for his job and needed the moral support. Considering that the movie has been delayed for months, I’ve had a lot of time to consider the filmmakers’ questionable choice of using tattoos and scars to make Alex Pettyfer‘s character “ugly.” As you can see from the photo, poor Kyle Kingston is cursed by a witch (Mary-Kate Olsen) to be utterly revolting to all eyes. He’ll be stuck in this form if, after a year, he has found no woman who can say, “I love you.” Except, he looks more like the hot biker guy your parents warned you against and who you totally want to go after. Vanessa Hudgens certainly doesn’t look repulsed here.
Penny Arcade sums up this movie the best:
Brooding and scarred… yeah, that’s really terrifying.
The idea of monsters who inspire tenderness isn’t new: Who can forget the most bittersweet part of the original Frankenstein book, where the monster befriends a family while hiding out in their cottage? But once they see him in broad daylight, they try to attack him until he’s forced to flee. His ugliness matters; it separates him from the society that will never accept him.
Kyle Kingston is in a league with Edward Cullen and other classic monsters who have gotten the teen hearthrob treatment: Their alleged ugliness makes them instantly more desirable. Consider how many times in Twilight that Edward tells Bella she shouldn’t be with him because he’s such a monster, and her immediate response is, “No, Edward, you’re beautiful!” It’s downright laughable. To add insult to injury, there’s even a Beastly bobblehead!
This new clique of desirable monsters brings to mind a stock female character from movies in the ’90s and ’00s: The Pretty Ugly Girl. She’s best known as Rachael Leigh Cook in She’s All That: The dowdy, untouchable loner who undergoes a miraculous transformation once she simply removes her glasses, shakes her hair out, and puts on formfitting clothes.
As this EW column from 2002 points out, the stereotype suggests that ugliness is a choice, that these uptight girls don’t want to be cool even though they have the power to join the popular crowd. Similarly, TV Tropes refers to these ladies as Beautiful All Along.
The frustrating knowledge that all average-looking, and therefore relatable, heroines are really knockouts in disguise translates to our current dilemma: That all of the alleged monsters look hotter than their “normal” human counterparts. Dastardly movie execs… Let’s bring back the guys who, instead of having some facial tattoos, have no face! Or melted skin! Or extra arms!
No? OK then, at least let us stop pretending that they’re anything less than the hotties we know them to be.