It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in want of a Vanity Fair (or Esquire or Vogue) profile must be subjected to ham-fisted musings about her brand of beauty by a male writer.
Take the opening paragraph of today’s lengthy Vanity Fair feature on actress Margot Robbie:
She is 26 and beautiful, not in that otherwordly catwalk way but in a minor knock-around key, a blue mood, a slow dance. She is blonde but dark at the roots. She is tall but only with the help of certain shoes. She can be sexy and composed even while naked but only in character. As I said, she is from Australia. To understand her, you should think about what that means.
If you’re reading those sentences and thinking, hmmm, I know what those words mean separately but I don’t understand them strung together in that order, you’re not alone. Vanity Fair’s Rich Cohen is just one in a long line of male writers who seemingly become truly befuddled when confronted with the conventional beauty of a famous woman ― and subsequently take it upon themselves to “figure her out.”
Cohen’s profile traces Robbie’s path to Hollywood fame from Aussie soaps and looks forward to her role as Harley Quinn in the upcoming “Suicide Squad.” But those stories are obscured by descriptions of Robbie “wander[ing] through the room like a second-semester freshman,” and the way her hair fell “around those painfully blue eyes.” Six paragraphs in, we get a mention of her “ambition” but only in the context of how it was “masked” by her “beauty and speed of ascent” into fame.
Everyone wants to read a celebrity profile with a little color ― after all, these pieces are meant to give us some insight into who these famous humans actually are beyond the glamorous Instagrams and publicity-driven soundbites. But what does a writer’s lust for an actress’ “painfully blue eyes” really tell us about that actress?
The thing is, we know what Margot Robbie looks like! She stars in movies! She is photographed frequently! Those photographs appear on the covers of magazines ― like Vanity Fair!
Flowery, borderline skeezy descriptors about the looks of female celebs have practically become de rigueur for these types of long-form profiles ― Sky Ferreira “looks like a dirtier Madonna” with “killer tits” (LA Weekly), Megan Fox is “a screen saver on a teenage boy’s laptop, a middle-aged lawyer’s shower fantasy” (Esquire), Sofia Vergara has “Colombian curves” (also Esquire). And yet, it’s something we rarely see employed when exploring the lives and psyches of famous men.
As a thought experiment, writer and editor Donna Dickens swapped out Alexander Skarsgard’s name for Robbie’s.
“Yep. Still creepy,” she tweeted.
Famous women are expected to be beautiful at a bare minimum. When a female celebrity is young, that beauty is a puzzle to be solved by the men who gape at it. When she ages, it’s something she has lost, or worse, something she has attempted to hold onto by other means, in which case we accuse her of losing herself. (See: Renee Zellweger.)
So, major magazines who commission these celebrity profiles: Next time you have the opportunity to dive into the life of a fascinating famous women, hire a writer who cares to see past the subject’s eyes.