Kent thinks I like unconventionally pretty actresses. Tilda Swinton. Emily Blunt. Zoe Saldana. Krysten Ritter. I didn’t know if I agreed, on whether I did or if these actresses were in fact “unconventionally pretty”. What’s your definition of unconventionally pretty, anyway? Beauty that doesn’t appeal to everyone? Does Emily Blunt not appeal to everyone? Blasphemy!
I didn’t give it much further thought, but while I was in the tub tonight, I found myself unable to stay focused on the book I was reading, so I ended up taking selfies. Looking at my bare face with my hair slicked back, I thought that I looked quite weird in certain angles. My first instinct was that I looked ugly in those angles, but really, I just looked different.
Which made me think about Kari, a female contestant on America’s Next Top Model Cycle 21 (what? I love this show. I have no shame). She had a unique– strange, even– beauty. Don’t get me wrong, she still caught the eye of every single dude in the contest on the first day. But then she completely lost her confidence after she had a drastic makeover, in which her hair and eyebrows were bleached to platinum blonde.
I remember Kari sitting in her chair and watching her beautiful reddish-brown curls get stripped of their color and shape, trying not to cry. There was vulnerable moment where she was sobbing, her face blotchy and red with invisible eyebrows, as she looked at her reflection and didn’t recognize what she saw. She criticized herself: “My forehead is huge.”
Throughout the competition, Tyra Banks– a fellow model with a self-proclaimed large forehead– kept telling Kari that she might have looked weird and even alien-esque now, but that was what made her special. She was all the more beautiful for that. She just needed to own her beauty. Kari couldn’t, though, and packed her suitcase halfway through the cycle.
I had rooted for Kari. I had wanted her to make a comeback. I wanted to see her owning the photo shoot like the otherworldly ice queen she had in her, but wouldn’t channel. Did that mean that Kent was right; I do like unconventional beauty?
I wondered if I was so drawn to Tilda Swinton because she could do this, channel an incredible range of beauty. She is often unrecognizable in her roles (have you seen Snow Piercer??). What I love about her is that as I watch her onscreen and become mesmerized by the soul she brings to her roles, she’ll have those flashes of striking beauty in unexpected moments, in the right angle with the right expression.
Her beauty is changeable, and that’s what makes her real and exhilarating to watch. Even when Tilda looks stony, masculine, exhausted, or– god forbid– old, she still owns it. As fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent said, “The most beautiful makeup of a woman is passion. But cosmetics are easier to buy.”
The thing is, everybody’s got beauty, but few actually see it for what it is. Those who do are my favorite kind of actresses. They use their quirks, rather than hide them, to seduce the camera. It makes me want to own it, too. I love it when actresses inspire me in that way. Last year, when I was feeling low, I was inspired by Kerry Washington playing Olivia Pope and spontaneously cut my bangs, à la Olivia during the campaign era. I wanted to channel Olivia’s quick wit and determination. I don’t know if it worked, but it had some effect on me. The short fringe I had defined that time in my life.
I think it’s because it rubs off. When you see a person being shamelessly who they are, it subconsciously gives you permission to do the same. But fuck permission. You don’t need permission to own it. You go and fucking own it.
Own who you are and make no apologies about it.