Are Hermione's looks--or lack thereof--a problem?

Posted at 12:22 PM Jul 24, 2009

By Andrea Grimes

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Is Emma Watson's Hermione Granger too pretty? It's a topic of discussion over at the Feministing community forum where "Sunfollower" describes herself as being "in a snit" over Watson's looks and, as a result, the character of Hermione as portrayed in the Harry Potter films:

Watson is undeniably pretty, beautiful even, and for awhile now I've been mad that the hair-and-makeup crew, the producers of the movie, even Watson herself did nothing at all to hide that fact. Nothing at all in spite that fact that Hermione is supposed to be the smart one of the trio, the talented and ambitious one... not the pretty one.
Apart from the perhaps misguided thought that Watson should somehow be responsible for uglying herself up in the faces of makeup artists and producers, Sunfollower's concerns do bring up issues surrounding beauty, brains and who is allowed to have one or both of them. But what I have always loved about Hermione as a character and Emma Watson's portrayal of her is that her beauty and her sexuality are, I feel, appropriately acknowledged and ignored, depending on the particular situation. (Cases in point: can we really complain that Hermione is too pretty considering what hyper-sexualized teenage girls wear in Bring It On, Gossip Girl, etc?) Like a lot of teenage girls, Hermione gets gussied up sometimes. And most of the time, she doesn't, because for heaven's sake, she used a Time Turner to take extra classes. Who's going to do that in heels?

Rowling certainly described Hermione early-on as a child with buck teeth and bushy hair, but is that to say she can't also be beautiful? Or plain? Or fat? Or thin? We know almost nothing about the way she looks besides a few key characteristics. Why? Because that's part of the excellence of Harry Potter -- the story is about the characters, not what they look like beyond some key elements that help explain who they are as people. Really, how much do we know about Ron and Harry's appearances? We know about their hair, their height, their scars, their glasses (or lack thereof). We know that Harry found Cho Chang pretty, but we do not really know what she looked like. It's a brilliant way of creating a world where physical appearance is extant but not emphasized.

I find the fact that Emma Watson's good looks are a point of discussion--rather than how handsome Daniel Radcliffe is or how gawky Rupert Grint can be--to be more than a little dismaying. No one is asking whether Radcliffe is too handsome to play Harry.

Too often, women are marginalized--and marginalize themselves--because society needs to classify, place and sort women into easily understandable terms as if our little lizard brains can't handle the non-male default. This furthers the conception (which is backed up by, oh, I don't know, every women's magazine ever) that women are problems that need to be fixed instead of humans who need to be celebrated.

And so I say hooray for Hermione and Luna and Ginny and all the wonderful Harry Potter girls.

Comments

chad said:

I don't think you really have any place to comment here, Andrea. You're way to pretty to be that smart.

Red said:

Well said.

I always imagined Hermionie was bucked toothed and bushy haired early on, but became better looking as the story continued...as Emma (and every other woman ever)has. I mean, Viktor Krum fell for her pretty immediately, based mostly on her looks, and we all know how shallow professional Quiddich players can be!

ensie said:

I totally agree with Red. I have always pictured Hermione growing into her looks. Her teeth were also resized at some point when some magic was done for another reason.

But what's really bothersome is that she can't be pretty AND smart. What kind of fucked up logic is that?

Steve said:

I mostly have a problem with the guy who played Neville Longbottom. In the first movie, he was appropriately chubby and withdrawn, but as the movies progressed and he aged, he grew really tall and lanky and he seems to show signs of self-confidence. They should have written it into his contract that he remain Neville-ish. Just because Jerry O'Connell can go from the fat kid in Stand By Me to leading man with washboard abs doesn't mean EVERYONE can do it.

Get short, Neville actor.

As to Hermione, I agree with everyone else. It's perfectly understandable that a girl would change as she gets older, and there's a good possibility that change might be for the "better." (And yes, I'm still looking at you, Neville. Change back!!)

tiff said:

Someone who, I'm assuming, identifies as a feminist is ragging on a teen girl for being "too pretty"? How about congratulating her for getting into a great college? How about celebrating the fact that despite her youth and looks and money, she's studying literature instead of driving drunk and showing her privates to the paparazzi?

I think Watson's done a fantastic job of playing Hermione, and she did it by (gasp!) being talented and very intelligent. I even think (double gasp!) that had Watson NOT grown up to be such a beautiful young woman, she could portray her her character just as well. You know, because of the brains and the talent.

So too bad, people who want an ugly Hermione. Go write some crappy fanfic and leave the actors alone.


Mjx said:

I definitely agree that there is something disturbing about treating intelligence/studiousness and physical attractiveness as mutually incompatible, particularly given Emma Watson's off-screen life (not to mention that, as Hermione, she looks naturally pretty, not 'done').
I admit, however (as a curly-haired person who fought with her hair in adolescence) I really would have enjoyed seeing her hair as bushy as it is described in the books, at least until she goes to that ball...

tmellis8 said:

I always imagined Hermione as starting out awkward, but getting prettier as she matured. She did have the magic to straighten her teeth and get rid of the glasses...

Mochene said:

Oh, so you have to be pretty or smart, you can't be both? And what about kids who go through awkward stages growing up and become really pretty as they become adults? And the fact that she's in a snit about a fictional character is beyond me. Can't she find a better cause to argue about?

SJ said:

Don't follow Harry Potter myself but maybe the person who made that comment would have liked the character to look more plain because there are no non-pretty female characters who are young and she would have liked someone to represent the non-pretty people.

Just a theory but I know growing up people like characters with flaws that reflect their own in some way.

Dan said:

Well, and her parents are dentists, so I would imagine that they would have her in braces as a teenager. Perhaps the only reason she isn't is because they would take her to a wizarding "dentist" instead. Either way, I would think that dentist parents are certainly going to do something to fix their daughter's "buck" teeth, assuming she didn't just grow into them.

Vox said:

Feminazis like the one who made the original comment should be taken out back and beaten with a cane.

Women can be smart *and* pretty...why should they uglify themselfs to look "smart"? 2 out of the 3 smartest women I know are drop-dead-gorgeous women (the third one is merely pretty :) I really hate feminazis that try to bring women down.

'sides...women who try to be like men lack ambition.

Oh, btw...I'm a guy :)

Cecil said:

Let's face it, Emma Watson is just plain looking.

atrick said:

most films follow the "only the bad guys are ugly" rule, the potter series is no different

noodles said:

All of you people whining about the whole "can't be smart AND pretty?" thing need to hush. You're morons.

Regardless of whether or not there are exceptions, in the REAL world most people who value intelligence over appearance spend little time attempting to make themselves look anything past bathed/groomed. That is not just a stereotype, it is the way things typically are. Are there exceptions? Sure! However, I would posit that it is more likely that they "grew into their body" much like Hermoine does in the book.

Hermoine was awkward and fuzzy headed the first two movies as a little girl, then became more girly and attractive as the movie stories progress. It's the same way in the books.

I would argue that her character achieves both, in that she is pretty, but also doesn't have her scholarly achievements handed to her. She works her ass off. However, she is also decently socially awkward, which I find realistic for ANYONE who spends that much time in the library.

noodles said:

Oh, and since it hasn't been mentioned, in one of the books Hermoine accidentally gets her bucked-teeth hexed and they grow gigantic. They mention that when she has the nurse shrink them, she cleverly waits until they are smaller than they used to be to "say when". That means no bucked teeth smarty-pantses.

Yoya said:

I feel neither people should be labeled, nor beauty and intelligence be thought as incompatible,however it is truthful that people who worry more about intelligence than about appearence make little to look less than untidy.
Personally I can't stand Emma Watson's Hermione but it's not her fault as much as it is from screenwritters who-I think-portray her as someone who's only goal in life seems to be right which makes her look really obnoxious,which is not true with the character in the books.
Also, as atrick pointed out, movies change the sense of who should or shouldn't be beautiful.

And thanks noodles for pointing out the teeth hex.

Sorry for any mistakes in grammar or spelling but English is not my mother tongue.

Yoya said:

I feel neither people should be labeled, nor beauty and intelligence be thought as incompatible,however it is truthful that people who worry more about intelligence than about appearence make little to look less than untidy.
Personally I can't stand Emma Watson's Hermione but it's not her fault as much as it is from screenwritters who-I think-portray her as someone who's only goal in life seems to be right which makes her look really obnoxious,which is not true with the character in the books.
Also, as atrick pointed out, movies change the sense of who should or shouldn't be beautiful.

And thanks noodles for pointing out the teeth hex.

Sorry for any mistakes in grammar or spelling but English is not my mother tongue.

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