"The most frustrating thing about 30 Rock, an otherwise excellent show, are the constant references to the fact that Tina Fey's character Liz Lemon is ugly," Chloe writes, "The thing is, Tina Fey fits conventional standards of female beauty almost to a T." Chloe then goes on to note that other characters on television have been "Liz Lemoned," including Rachel from Glee and Ugly Betty's America Ferrera, noting that "in reality, those "ugly" women look an awful lot like the beautiful ones." In other words, isn't it time everyone just admits that Liz Lemon is like, really pretty?
Slapping a pair of glasses on a woman and declaring her "ugly" is nothing new; the website TVTropes sums it up quite nicely with a category called "Beautiful All Along," noting She's All That's Laney Boggs as a prime example, and adding that the phenomenon is "mainly possible because most of the 'ugly' women on TV are beautiful actresses in bad clothes, though it also has something to do with narrow standards of beauty in movies and TV."
Discussions surrounding Fey's looks are always a bit weird, which I suppose speaks to the fact that, as Irin noted, Fey is often presented as a "relatable sex goddess." Tina Fey seems to be the type of woman who can admit that her transformation is a bit of a Hollywood Cinderella story while simultaneously calling bullshit on Cinderella stories in general.
But this "relatability" factor causes a weird defense that seems to spring up whenever anyone points out that Fey actually fits into conventional beauty standards: she's thin, white, glossy hair, always looks glamorous at events, and so on and so forth. People rush to point out that Fey used to be heavier, or that she has a scar, or that she wasn't always as glamorous as she has appeared over the past six or seven years. It's almost as if people feel the need to justify the fact that Tina Fey is actually quite traditionally beautiful in the Hollywood sense by attempting to point out the days when she wasn't.
I'm not exactly sure I agree with Chloe's post, in that I think Liz Lemon is a character whose self-deprecation speaks more to her internal state than her external one, though I do think the idea of trying to pretend some women are "ugly" simply because other characters on a television show tell them so is a bit tired and played out. Liz Lemon is actually a bit of a step in the right direction, in that her truly "ugly" moments come from poor decision making and selfishness and have very little to do with her looks whatsoever.
It's the narrative that surrounds Fey off-screen that's a bit more puzzling: she's not your typical starlet, sure, but she's not Marla Hooch, needing "a lot of night games," either. Fey made fun of herself (allegedly) in a press release wherein she described her Vogue shoot as what it "would be like if Vogue gave your 40-year-old sister-in-law a makeover." But the makeover happened years ago, and it's probably time we all just stop acting surprised whenever Fey shows up looking absolutely gorgeous. That should really be the territory of every dumb magazine that can't get over the fact that yes, women can be smart, funny, and pretty. I know, right? Madness.
Pretty Ugly: Can We Please Stop Pretending That Beautiful Women Aren't Beautiful? [Feministing]
Earlier: Tina Fey Pulls Off The Relatable Sex Goddess Thing
If Vogue Gave Your 40-Year-Old Sister In Law A Makeover